I also attended the staged reading of A Chip on Her Shoulder by Honest Accomplice Theatre with Dana and Zeynep on March 27th. The reading was brought to the audience as a workshop during which the small crowd was encouraged to fill out feedback forms before the production went to its next iteration. The piece was a devised work that began with interviews with women in the STEM field from Virginia Tech. Through minimal staging and low, yet compelling light design, the cast weaved together the similar but different experiences of several women.
I think that this reading was as successful as it was unsuccessful in several regards. The way each actor personified the wide range of characters delighted me. In particular, I was happy to see trans actors playing characters whose stories were not completely contingent on their trans-ness. At the same time, I definitely feel like the script and staging could have used more work. The stories the women were telling, at times, were awkwardly paired and way too long or otherwise just not very interesting. The staging, while logical, also sometimes strayed towards boring.
Nevertheless, the story made me think about the seven years that I was a STEM student. Listening to the women express their grievances about being underrepresented and underestimated made me reconsider my experiences. Was I a “bad” engineering student, or was I just led to believe I was because my teachers didn’t take my work seriously? Was I drawn to studying the arts because it is where my talents lie or because it’s a field “for women”? If I had continued to pursue a career as an engineer or a doctor, would I be as trusted as my male counterparts? Even now: am I as incompetent as I feel, or am I suffering from imposter syndrome because our culture normalizes and encourages women to be insecure? Why is it that, at work, my words hold less value than my male coworkers? Is it my gender or my work experience?
The insight I was most delighted to take away from this show was how a reading works and what the right questions are to ask from an audience when seeking feedback. As I was preparing for O, Earth and Faust, I thought back to this production as a reference for the general structure of the way things “should be.” The simple yet efficient staging, suggestive costuming and thorough feedback form felt like the perfect baseline example of the essential elements a staged reading should include.
As an example of queer/POC theater, this felt ethically produced as actors were given the opportunity to represent the voices of others like them without being reduced to a stereotype. I am interested to see how this piece develops into its next form as a “docu-musical.”