What’s really exciting about the #MeeToo movement and Time’s Up is that it increased awareness regarding issues like the inequality between sexes and regarding the stories or fairytales we feed our kids’ imagination with (which ultimately influence their views of what behaviors are expected of them based on their gender), pointing us in the right direction and indicating what better choices we can make in order to turn this world into a better place for us, our kids, and the generations to follow.
In Transforma Theatre’s “The Female Role Model Project”, which was selected to be part of this years’ Edinburgh Fringe Festival at Bedlam Theatre, the ensemble devised a comic revue about the female identity. They combined interactive games involving the audience and a live Reality show in which they retailored some iconic fairytales themes and stereotypical characters present in today’s media.
What’s striking from the beginning is the diverse cast of all-female-identifying-artists of various ages, ethnicities and sexual identities. Formed by Tjaša Fermé, Gina Simone Pemberton, Yiqing Zhao and Meggan Dodd, they start by introducing themselves to the audience, telling us about their sexual orientation, their most profound secrets and the role models they grew up trying to emulate. We then notice they present similar patterns: they’ve all been exposed to fairytales that encouraged them as little girls to become people pleasers or to deny their own identity.
With the aid of EEG headsets that were being attached to the head of either a volunteer female audience member, or a cast member, “The Female Role Model Project” proposed to its audience a trip into the mind of a woman in order to prove how the outside world stimulates her inner world and is directly responsible for her behavioral transformation. The video projections on the back of the stage and the two sidewalls were visualizations of the brainwaves of the female subject. Radha Kumari, a bio medical engineer and Phd. Student – “The DJ of our brains” – translated the brainwaves to the spectator in real time, so that the audience could take in the message that this is a thing that we’re all being affected by! “There’s a lot of gamma activity!” was the remark of the bio medical engineer, who was seated off to the extreme side of the stage in a vertical configuration with two other technicians with laptops. It is a “Project” that we’re all part of, but fortunately now, as we’re shown its mechanism, we can regain control by starting to take responsible action.
Through this fun yet witty experiential project that combined devised theatre with neuroscience, Transforma also brought awareness to “how the role models that we choose throughout our lives influence us in becoming who we are and what’s the underlying neuro-biology that makes these processes happen”.
One of the interactive games, for which the audience members were invited to participate, referred to a famous theory of linguistics that explains how language affects gender roles in our society. The participants were asked to move to one half of the stage or the other, depending on whether they perceived words like “flower”, “car”, “money”, “confusion” as male or female.
Another interactive game had a girl from the audience become the jury of a beauty contest held between the actresses. For each category, she was asked her preference in the matter of Breasts, Legs, Beach Body, Height, and Skin tone. Her votes regarding her preferences were quite predictable, as we live in a world in which one’s likes and dislikes are generally influenced by what we’re regularly fed by TV or (Social) Media.
The second half of the show turned into a live Reality Show, where the performers impersonated strong female stereotypes of today’s media, figures like Kim Kardashian, Melania Trump, Oprah Winfrey or the Chinese movie star Fan BingBing. Under the form of a panel, they debated topics like sexuality, motherhood, careers, aging or plastic surgery. The audience had the last vote on which character was the most “influential”. The acting of the performers was brilliant, spontaneous and on point, making us develop sympathy for these characters, despite the horrific truths regarding the role of women in today’s world and in tomorrow’s America they were unveiling. A very interesting directorial choice, with a bit of Brecht flavor to it, made by director Ana Margineanu, was to have the actors break character from their portrayal from time to time, “take their masks off” to express a deep reflection or anecdote about certain topics. As we know, Media mirrors the society and its false values based on the power of money, always objectifying or victimizing the female. The Reality show proposition to its audience was a mere reflection on those ideas.
“The Female Role Model Project” was created by Tjaša Fermé, this adventurous “Wild Child” of her generation, the Founder and the Artistic Director of Transforma Theatre. She developed it with director Ana Margineanu and cognitive neuroscientist Natalie Kacinik over the course of several years. The high tech show was vividly supported by the artistry of: Justin Matthews’ sound design, Ayumu Poe Saegusa’s lighting design and John J.A. Jannone’s video design.
By showing how a female role model plays an influential seed in the development of a woman’s personality later in life, the show proved to be an active supporter of the Feminist movement. It highlighted that one’s problem is actually a general problem and that one’s flaws is actually everyone’s flaw and by not taking action to change something it could soon become – if it’s not already – a mass disease.
“The Female Role Model Project” was a huge success at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, attracting the company’s reputation of “the vanguard of performing art”. Now Transforma is planning to do a Male version of the show: “It will be called Men’s Circle, focusing on perceptions of masculinity and shifting paradigms of what being a man means in 2019 and beyond”. (Tjaša Fermé)
 Created by: Tjaša Fermé/ Developed with and Directed by: Ana Margineanu/ Composer and Sound Engineer: Justin Mathews// Producer: Transforma Theatre Inc