In recent years, American culture has engaged in energetic conversations about women’s empowerment, disappointment and (understandably) rage. Recent novels, films and music have all raised questions about the gender gap in our society, and theater has been no different.
Clare Barron’s “Dance Nation” — a Pulitzer Prize finalist this year — is one such work examining these issues, and Theatre en Bloc is bringing the play to life at the Long Center in a production that opened Aug. 29. It runs through Sept. 15. Following a group of young dancers at the Boogie Down Grand Prix in Tampa Bay, Fla., the play explores the dreams, ambitions and fight for power that defines these girls’ lives.
We spoke with director Jenny Lavery to learn more about the regional premiere of "Dance Nation" and its resonance in today's times.
American-Statesman: What inspired you to want to produce and direct the regional premiere of “Dance Nation”?
Jenny Lavery: Dance Nation is unlike any play that I’ve ever read — it’s wild, raw, barbaric, sweet, insanely funny and tender. It feels like an authentic representation of the messiness of growing up and shows that what happens in our teenage years can linger with us for the rest of our lives.
But my favorite part is that it’s a ghost play, where these teenage characters are haunted by the adults they become. This means you’ll see a cast ranging from their 20s to their 60s dancing their hearts out as a troupe of 13-year-old dancers. Within this ghost play structure, we see these beautiful moments where the characters speak as their future selves, followed by these theatrical explosions where the writer rips open the characters and we see what’s going on inside: blood and fangs, darkness and light, desire and fear. It’s absolutely thrilling and completely unpredictable.
This play speaks to a lot of women's issues, particularly regarding the ways that women and girls claim power. How do you think it sits in conversation with our cultural moment?
I’m going to point at what some colleagues have said so well: If (an adult) can leave plays like 'Dance Nation' ... feeling 10 feet tall and ready to take the world in my hands and crush it, just imagine what a teenage girl would feel. She would see that it’s OK to be loud, OK to be rough, OK if her body isn’t stereotypically perfect — OK to be exactly who she is.
Every performance of "Dance Nation" will feature a talk-back. Why are these conversations with audiences important to what you're hoping to say with this play?
Theatre en Bloc does optional talk-backs every night, because I believe processing art publicly provides people the opportunity to hear a different perspective and question or rally behind their own perspective. In this way, I believe that conversation is part of the theater experience, whether it happens in our talk-back or in the car on the ride home with a loved one.
With "Dance Nation," I want to talk about how our society teaches women to minimize ourselves and our power. I want to talk about undoing that messaging and learning how to take up space, how to claim our successes and how to communicate our ambitions, passions and self-worth.