Welcome to the Doll Den Blog — 2016 Production
Welcome to the Doll Den is a devised production, which means that it is created collaboratively by the actors and production staff. Much of the material, including dialogue, music, and staging, is generated in the rehearsal room. Take a peak inside the creation process that led to our 2016 production, as shared by the members of our ensemble.
Rev. Yolanda — Ensemble Member
The experience of co-creating "Welcome to the Doll Den" with this amazing cast and crew has been one of the most spiritual and healing processes I have experienced since I created my own MAC award-winning show, Rev. Yolanda's Old Time Gospel Hour. I am an artist who believes that personal stories are universal if they are told with integrity and creative fearlessness. This production is certainly rooted in both. I love the process of the cast and crew sitting in a circle and discussing the issues of the time period and relating those issues to our personal lives. When we get on our feet for improvisation, the feelings of the people involved in the stories of WHER come alive and move through the cast. It's beautiful to watch. I see real actors struggling with real feelings that are inspired by the real stories of people in 1968 Memphis, Tennessee.
Since I grew up in that area of the South, in that time period, and my family knew Sam Phillips (founder of the radio station in this story) and his family, the lives of the Jockettes and the events of the Civil Rights Movement are so alive for me. As a trans person growing up in the South at that time, I feel the struggle of the Outsider, as well as the dominance of the male, white privilege that surrounds us all. It was a difficult emotional upbringing for me. I still see so many of the same problems in America today and I'm really happy that the young cast members are willing to explore this connection. I believe in the power of this show and am looking forward to continued work on this devised production as we move into the Fall. I am grateful for this experience and for all the cast and crew.
Rev. Yolanda is a singer/songwriter/trans-femme performance artist, and Interfaith Minister whose works as an Artist and Sacred Activist has been honored as a Blues Hall of Fame award-winner, 2 time MAC award-winner, and as a member of The GLBT Hall of Fame. Rev. Yolanda's live music ministry is called: "Rev. Yolanda's Old Time Gospel Hour." Rev. Yolanda's Old Time Gospel Hour is also a full feature documentary by AVAIYA MEDIA - trailer and more info: www.goyolanda.com, or view the movie on AMAZON.
Clarissa Marie Ligon — Lighting Designer
Working on a devised production as a lighting designer is a wonderful adventure. I am able to step away and watch as this show grows into something much bigger than first anticipated. I am in this incredible position where I am able to watch it grow while I am also building on the amazing work produced by cast and creative team.
As the lighting designer, my job is to not only add light to the story but also add depth and color. After our preview at the Drama League on June 3rd, one of our actors said "it doesn't feel like a show until there's light on stage," and I wholeheartedly agree. Light and shadow conveys emotion that is hard to do with language. But I won't say conveying that emotion is easy. Working on WHER is a bit different from a typical play. Since it is devised, there is no set script I can look at to start brainstorming ideas. In the beginning there were only concepts which meant there was just the idea of light and dark. I saw WHER, the station, as one set of brightness, and the Sanitation Worker's Strike as another. It wasn't until seeing more concrete ideas develop in rehearsal that I could envision lights as more than concepts. And even then nothing is set in stone. I may formulate a vision based on a rehearsal, but after a few days of changes we suddenly have an entirely new and BETTER show. This also means that the lights will change to something new and better. It's a thrilling journey.
What I enjoy most about this production is that, as designers (lighting, sets, sound, costume and puppetry), we also have a large say in what we want to see on stage beyond our respective disciplines. For me, that is true collaboration! I am also so happy that I'm helping tell a story about people who are "me". We are telling stories about women and about black people and as a black woman in America, it is very cathartic to see those stories on stage. Our team has been doing a phenomenal job at making sure they are representing the truth of gender and race, and I'm just happy that I can help by shedding light both figuratively and literally.
Clarissa Marie Ligon is a full-time student at Brooklyn College studying Theater Production. Self-proclaimed "Renaissance Woman," Clarissa has done it all: from stage managing to costume and lighting design, to producing and directing, to her first love, performance art. Clarissa's ultimate goal is to combine her many talents into something that will allow her to give back while continuing to do what she loves most, sharing herself through her craft. Past productions include: Harper Regan, V-Day Taconic 2016, When We Wake Up Dead, Middletown, Rachel, The Death of Bessie Smith, and Recess.
Jazelle Foster — Assistant Director & Stage Manager
There is nothing like being in the creative process and working on issues that are important to you. This show mixes two issues very important to me, Race and Women's Rights. There have been some beautiful moments in rehearsal where the lines of our show and our personal lives blur. It's in those moments where Theater is undeniably alive. This show is the story of the WHER Station and the Sanitation Strike colliding through the lens of our opinions, our struggles and our gratitude of this little diamond in history.
We've just had the chance of presenting our work with a talk back. It was unlike most talk backs. We had the opportunity to ask questions rather than answer questions. This invited us to allow the piece to really speak for itself. The feedback given wasn't just helpful, it also created new discussions and conversations around the world of the show. We have started exploring new avenues that we hadn't thought of before.
Jazelle Foster is an actor mostly known for her reoccurring role in ABC’s What Would You Do?! with John Quinones. She has been seen in commercials such as NJ Lottery and AT&T. Jazelle has a film in stores at your local Walmart called God’s Compass. Before moving to NY she spent two years on a national children’s tour playing roles such as Harriet Tubman. Jazelle teaches theater to students all over New York City through companies such as Actors Connection and Barbizon as well as independently through her young woman’s program Worthy By Design that is focused on building the self esteem of young women through devised theater and performance. www.JazelleFoster.com
Katie Andrew — Costume Designer
The 50s and 60s were an amazing time in fashion, and a time of great change in fashion. The stories we are trying to tell – about WHER and the Sanitation Workers’ Strike – are all about revolution, and the changes in fashion that happened in the 60s could be described as a revolution as well. Gone were the big, poufy, circle skirts of the 50s housewives, and in came the slim, short hemlines and radical colors and patterns that defined the late 60s. This has been an interesting dynamic to look at during the process of creating the look of Welcome to the Doll Den. The Jockettes of WHER are the image of the “perfect woman” – stuck in a time of propriety and 50s housewife ideals when so much change and turmoil was happening around them. Sam Phillips, the owner of the station, had the ladies sit for glamour portraits and insisted that the Jockettes emulate the Southern ideal of womanhood. As the actors sing in our opening song, “Don’t matter that it’s radio – you still put on your face.”
With this history in mind, we’ve been working on finding a balance between the perceived “female perfection” that the Jockettes personified on air, the freedom of late-60s fashion, and giving the characters their own style personalities within that framework. We’ve been using historical images that I’ve gathered throughout the rehearsal process to figure out what those fashions mean in a play that is being created in 2016. What’s been fascinating to see is that a lot of these silhouettes, for both men and women, have circled back and are in style again today. So what you’ll hopefully see in Welcome to the Doll Den is a modern aesthetic that nods back to this time of breaking through the perfect female veneer and embracing stylistic freedom.
I came to be a part of the Welcome to the Doll Den team quite unexpectedly and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’m new to Electric Eye and devised theatre, and have so far had a joyous, open, and wonderfully collaborative experience on the show. This team is creating something special, and I’m just excited to play one small role in its creation.
Katie Andrew is an arts administrator and costume designer. She is a graduate of American University with a degree in Theatre/Arts Management, where she costume designed bare: a pop opera, Talking With, Blackout: A Senior Capstone, built costumes in the AU costume shop, and worked with the Kennedy Center and Adventure Theatre MTC. She has worked full-time in the general and company management offices of Roundabout Theatre Company and, currently, Manhattan Theatre Club.
Leah Ogawa — Assistant Mask Designer & Ensemble Member
It has been an exciting process to be part of Welcome to the Doll Den as both assistant mask designer and as an ensemble member. I wanted to develop as a builder, so I was really happy when Monica and Sarah asked me to take on that extra role.
My first task as designer was to create the housewife masks. They were simple masks using paper plates covered with the image of a typical housewife in the '60s on one side and Marge Thrasher (one of the Jockettes) on the other. They weren't perfect masks, but we used them at our work-in-progress showing at the Drama League. Through that initial showing, I was able to see the next step for the masks. As the play grows, the meaning of the mask and the usage of the mask has changed. It is an exciting challenge to have because no one knows what the mask should look like or how it will be used. We create as we go.
I am thankful for working with amazing creators and people who are open to this process. It is difficult at times because I don’t know and no one knows the direction of this play, but I learn so much from others. Each rehearsal gives me new ideas for the mask or for the character that I am working on. I can feel the passion and the commitment that everyone, including the designers and the actors, is expressing. That in and of itself is an incredible atmosphere to be part of, and I am thankful for it. I cannot wait to explore more possibilities for the mask and play with it further.
Leah Ogawa is originally from Yamanashi, Japan. She is a puppeteer, performer, and model based in New York City. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, where she fell in love with puppetry through her training with Dan Hurlin and Tom Lee. Her recent credit includes Juniper Tree (The Hives), Dream of Land (Asian Arts Initiative), Shank’s Mare (La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club), and Tea (Sarah Lawrence College). Leah is also an artist-in-residence at The Unsoft War with her artistic collaborator, Valerie Pham.
Joshua Langman — Sound Designer
Working on Welcome to the Doll Den has been a blessedly unconventional sound design experience. I went into the project determined to make the creation of the sound design an aspect of the devising process and to avoid the common disconnect between actors and designers.
When Sarah gave me a rehearsal to devote to sound and music, I decided to use it as an opportunity for the actors to help find the sound of the piece. We began by exploring the dynamics of moving to and against various types of music, including found music that the actors contributed from their own research. We then focused on the idea of music as a tool for protest and activism. I asked the cast to generate a list of themes or events in the piece that might merit protesting. I then divided the cast into groups and gave each group a demanding prompt: using the list of issues we had generated, they had 40 minutes to write a protest song. Our cast, being habitually incredible, did an amazing job of it. We ended up with a lyrical ballad about workplace harassment and the wage gap; an upbeat folk ballad about female oppression; and a dirge of sorts about inherited systems of oppression.
One of these three compositions was chosen to become the basis for an original song that will introduce the setting of the piece and give each character a chance to present themselves to the audience. At the following rehearsal, we collectively brainstormed about what information we thought was necessary to convey in this piece, and then the actors each wrote a verse in the voice of their respective characters. Our dramaturg Julia and I then spent an exciting day taking the material that the cast generated and piecing it together to create a coherent opening number. I’m very excited about the way it turned out, and I’ll be even more excited to see it come to life in rehearsal.
This is why I enjoy designing devised pieces. I don’t come in at the end to make it sound pretty; I take part in the process from conception to opening night through several rounds of showings and revisions, and I get to have the actors as my allies. In this case, I am also acting as a lyricist, expanding upon the cast's words as I participate in the crafting of our song. And when we start playing with foley, recorded music, and live audio effects, I will don several more hats. Ultimately, I feel that I’m a collaborator on the project who happens to have a specific specialty, rather than a specialist who collaborates by necessity. And that’s what makes the devising process so artistically satisfying.
Joshua Langman is a theatre artist, graphic designer, teaching artist, writer, and company member of Electric Eye Ensemble. He has designed lighting, sound, and projections for Ensemble Studio Theatre, the Castillo Theatre, Teátrica, Brooklyn Gypsies, The 52nd Street Project, the Jim Henson Foundation, and many other companies. Josh is a teaching artist with Marquis Studios. He also writes and directs theatre for young audiences; his production Selfies recently toured Westchester County high schools. Josh is the resident graphic designer at Stageplays Theatre and Pioneers Go East Collective. He is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, and a student in the CCNY Educational Theatre graduate program.
Olivia Luna — Ensemble Member
I've been fortunate to have worked with Electric Eye on several different projects this year. I came into our first Doll Den rehearsals with an idea of what the devising process may be like. At first I was nervous about how the new faces might react, but everyone was incredibly open, invested and excited to dive in!
Our rehearsals thus far have been immensely informative to the time period and social conflicts of the late 60's. Digging into the personal narratives of each of the WHER ladies has been eye opening. Our research has impelled powerful conversations around race, gender, sexuality and the universal covering of "pain".
The best experience has been interviewing our panel of volunteers who were born and raised during the sixties and seventies. While hearing their stories, we had the honor of witnessing moments of self-discovery and realization in the present as they relived the past. It was humbling to share with people who were open to freely giving so much of themselves to this project. To also have artists who are so willing to receive difficult subject matter and transform it into pieces of compassion and integrity, makes me very excited to see how this project will unfold!
Olivia Luna is a working actress and teaching artist in NYC. In 2012, she received her BFA in theatre performance from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has recently been seen in ABC's How to Get Away with Murder and various national commercials. She currently teaches theatre in an after-school program for unprivileged public schools and communities.
Julia Corrigan — Dramaturg & Choreographer
Being the dramaturg on this show has been an incredible experience. The late 60s was a time of great turmoil, of cultural reckoning, and of growth in this country. In a lot of ways, our society as we know it today has been shaped specifically by the events and movements that were going on at this time. There is a minefield of possibilities to explore when researching this time period, and I've been working to look at the material through a lens that addresses both the micro and the macro. For example, the individual stories of the WHER Jockettes would be so much less meaningful without the context of history. It's why I started my own research by spending time just getting a sense of the events that were occurring, specifically in 1968 - the year in which our play takes place. From that general research, we were in a place where we could understand the scope of individual stories in a deeper way. As mostly young people working on this play in the room, we needed that as a baseline for comparison. This story demands an understanding not only of popular culture, but also of the dynamic and pervasiveness of racial and gender inequality.
We were lucky enough to hear from people who lived through this time period, more or less as adults, through a series of interviews. The interviews were each about an hour in length, and we spoke to six women and one man, along with two women who conducted the interviews and imbued their own perspective along the way. They spoke about their neighborhoods, their parents and family relationships, their political views at the time, music and TV shows, and how the time period shaped who they are. These interviews gave a face and a name to the conditions we were reading about elsewhere in our research. I think the most valuable piece of the interviews is the diversity of perspectives on the time period. It's easy, in looking back, to generalize experience. But by hearing from these folks, we were able to see the spectrum of factors that contributed to their lives panning out how they have.
What we're finding in the rehearsal room is that even fifty years later, we're still fighting the same battles that our interviewees did in the 60s. Maybe they have morphed, maybe conditions have improved, but the fight for equality and power is far from over. That's why this show is important: our present and our history remain intertwined.
Julia Corrigan is a choreographer, dancer, and arts administrator. She is a recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Brooke Pierce Award for the Fine Arts for her piece Really Is, Always Was and the Friends of Goucher Dance Excellence in Choreography Award for her body of work as a student. Her work has been adjudicated at the American College Dance Festival. Upcoming work: PEER (Green Space). BA Goucher College.
Nehprii Amenii — Set Designer
Nehprii Amenii's title on Welcome to the Doll Den is "Set Designer," but her role extends beyond designing the physical set. Through her research, designs, and participation in group discussions, Nehprii is helping to create the rules of the world that our characters live in.
Nehprii has been especially interested in the metaphorical image of the WHER Jockettes being trapped in a cage. Historically, the studio the Jockettes broadcast from was a glass room that they called the Doll Den. What if we took this concept further to heighten the idea of their being trapped in the social conventions of womanhood? Nehprii proposed an idea to stage the show in the round, with the Jockettes in the center as if in the middle of a circus ring or a peep show. The audience would be on the outside looking in, and the women wouldn't have any way to escape their gaze.
Nehprii is also very interested in the convergence of the Jockettes' lives with those of the sanitation workers, and how we depict this onstage. One of the ways she's discussed showing this is to build a trashcan that opens up to reveal a working doll house. Also inspired by the Sanitation Workers' Strike, she's made designs of the city of Memphis spreading out in miniatures all around the audiences feet, allowing the audience to feel the true effect a sanitation strike would have on a city.
See more of Nehprii's design ideas and research below.
Nehprii Amenii is an artist, writer and director. As a theatre artist, she has a passion for both puppetry and grand-scale spectacle. She creates experiences that dismantle the wall between players and audiences aiming to enchant the imagination and inspire new ways of seeing and thinking. Nehprii uses words and images to create worlds for others to enter. She has created and worked with Penumbra Theatre Company, The Flea, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, La Mama Experimental Theatre , In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre, Bread and Puppet Theatre, and Cirque Du Soleil. For the past eight years, she has enjoyed teaching and staging puppet performances for The Alvin Ailey American Dance Foundation. She now serves a creative consultant for the Ailey foundation.In 2013 she was honored with the Stanley and Evelyn Lipkin Prize for playwriting, for her play Food for the Gods. Most recently, she was invited as a U.S. delegate for the 2015 Women Playwrights International Conference in Cape Town South Africa. She holds an MFA in Theatre Production from Sarah Lawrence College.
Sarah Plotkin — Director
Electric Eye Ensemble explores stories in American culture, the stories that have been left out of the history books that create our identity as a country. The intertwining stories of the all-women’s radio station, WHER, and the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike of 1968 couldn’t be better material for us to dive into. Both are stories of being trapped in a cultural identity. In the case of WHER, the identity is that of the “perfect woman,” subsequently reducing her to a cliche whose life is structured around her home and family. And in the story of the sanitation workers, dehumanizing a person because of his skin color and stripping him of his basic human rights, such as safe work conditions and fair pay.
But both stories also revolve around revolution. The mere existence of WHER, an all women’s radio station where not just the radio DJs were female, but almost all of the production staff, was incredibly revolutionary. And within the confines of the Glamour Barbie Doll role they were forced to play on-air they were still able to discuss real issues facing women, such as reproductive rights. The Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike itself was a revolution, demanding white society recognize black sanitation workers as human beings, compensated fairly for the work they do. Marching through the streets of Memphis they carried signs with the now famous slogan: “I Am a Man.”
The play we are creating imagines an intersection of these two stories beyond what occurred in real life. It imagines the effect reporting on the black sanitation workers’ strike could have had on the women of WHER, and how they then would have pushed against censorship from within and outside the station to tell the world about what was going on. It is not real life, but rather a looking back on the events of 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee by a multi-racial, multi-generational group of artists who can see the same struggles still being repeated today.
The most exciting thing about this play for me is that we are creating it in the room. It’s not being written by a single playwright, but rather by our ensemble as we explore the material as a group. It is unique to us, who we are, what we have experienced, and how we interpret the events we’re exploring. And most importantly, everyone in the room has a voice and is bringing something to the table. I can’t wait to see how things unfold as we rehearse this material over the next month, and I hope you follow our journey and join us on June 14th for our work-in-progress showing at Dixon Place.
Sarah Plotkin is Artistic Director of Electric Eye Ensemble and a freelance puppeteer. She co-facilitates Artist Gym, Electric Eye’s once-a-month creation and creativity workshop, and directed the company’s first production, Home in Motion: A Road Trip Play. Freelance credits include: Juniper Tree (The Hive), The Digger (La MaMa), Discrepancies, Meditation 1 (St. Ann’s Warehouse), Gravity Cannot be Held Responsible (La Mama Puppet Slam), and Antigone (Castillo Theatre). Sarah is a recipient of the Dorothy Stickney Scholarship for Women in Theatre. BA Sarah Lawrence College.
Monica Lerch — Puppet Designer
When Sarah, the director, first approached me about puppets for Welcome to the Doll Den, we spoke a lot about how we could use puppetry to portray the roles of men within the story of these women- the jockettes. Our initial idea was that the piece would have an all female cast, and that any male roles would be played by puppets. Though that idea has changed somewhat, we still wanted the role of Sam Phillips, the founder of the WHER radio station, to be a puppet that could be operated by the jockettes.
I did a lot of visual research on Sam Phillips before beginning to build. We decided to base the design of this puppet off of a previous piece that Sarah and I collaborated on last year called Gravity Cannot Be Held Responsible. In that piece the puppet is operated by two performers- each using one arm to activate a suit jacket and create the body of the man, the other activating the face of the puppet.
At this stage in the process I am creating the Sam Phillips half mask. I have sculpted a mold out of a soft Plasticine clay, which I then paper-machêd. Check out photos of my progress below!
Because Welcome to the Doll Den will be collaboratively devised by the design team and performers, we want to leave the design of the puppet open to any possibilities that could come up during the rehearsal process. He may need to be operated by anywhere from one to three performers, and the face may be worn as a mask or operated as the head of the puppet.
Monica Lerch is a performer, puppeteer and thing-maker from Chicago, now based in Brooklyn. Recent productions include Discrepancies, Mediation 1 at St. Ann's Warehouse Labapalooza and the original piece Gravity Cannot Be Held Responsible at La Mama ETC Puppet Slam. Previous work has been seen at St. Ann's Warehouse, La Mama ETC, Dixon Place, Incubator Arts, American Dance Institute, The New York International Fringe Festival, in an AMC commercial, and accompanying The New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in the Lincoln Center. Currently co-developing original puppet work The Juniper Tree for the 2016 Dixon Place Puppet Blok.