Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
Pictured: Kate Hawbaker-Krohn (far left) and ensemble. Photo by Anna Sodziak.
Review: GENDER BREAKDOWN at Collaboraction
By Bec Willett
The stats are revealing. Kay Kron’s research shows that only 36% of directors and 25% of playwrights for Jeff-nominated shows in Chicago are female. 30% are scenic designers and just 12% are sound designers. Of these only a tiny percentage are women of color. There was no data to be counted on transgender, non-binary or gender nonconforming individuals. It was this “gut-punching data” that inspired and drove the cast, creator Dani Bryant, and director Erica Vannon to create Collaboraction’s latest production GENDER BREAKDOWN.
Utilizing a collage style, GENDER BREAKDOWN is part sketch, part storytelling, part docu-drama. While some of the casualness could have been forgone in favor of impact, as a whole this style engaged the audience with a warm conversational tone. The most affecting and challenging portions of the show were those that fully integrated words with movement: where we were shown instead of told. This included a dance piece where Mia Vivens and Carolyn Sinon physicalized the emotional and mental effects stereotyping in casting has on women, especially women of color. Another instance was a powerful ensemble scene led by Kamille Dawkins. Dawkins asked repeatedly what she could do to make her lovable enough for a male lead: Silence? Lipstick? Abuse? As she enacted these things the ensemble gradually joined her, becoming a chorus of women asking the same question. It was no longer one woman being abused but many. Vannon’s direction here was purposeful and timely, giving life to the recent revelations of the culture of abuse in Chicago theater.
GENDER BREAKDOWN is not about the spectacle of the stage but the power of the content. Given this, the sound, lighting and scenic design were basic but well-executed and purposeful. Ellie Terrell’s props were often a highlight, many times using simple yet clever designs to emphasize the ridiculousness of a situation.
As a female theater artist I could not help but identify and empathize with this work. However, its opening and closing statements of “we don’t want to have to say it again” led me to believe that the goal here is not so much to encourage catharsis but change. I was left wondering: will those from whom change is most desired choose to attend? And more importantly, if they do, will they engage?
If you are a female theater artist GENDER BREAKDOWN is sure to make you laugh, sigh and get that all-too-familiar tightness in the back of your throat. If you are not, while you may not have this experience I encourage you to go anyway. Take yourself with an open mind and a desire for change and I guarantee you’ll learn a whole lot.
Gender Breakdown runs through March 19th. For more information collaboraction.org.