Guest Blog: Portraying 'The Woman' in THE YELLOW WALLPAPER at OUT LOUD Theatre, Part 4 - Escape

Guest Blog: Portraying 'The Woman' in THE YELLOW WALLPAPER at OUT LOUD Theatre, Part 4 - Escape

by Erika Rethorn

BWW Rhode Island welcomes the four-woman cast of OUT LOUD Theatre's The Yellow Wallpaper to the BroadwayWorld guest blog. The Yellow Wallpaper, directed by Kira Hawkridge, is the second installment in OUT LOUD's fifth season, "That Way Madness Lies." This production presents a fully immersive, four-part experience; each part tells a complete story from beginning to end, but the individual pieces - RITUAL, LIGHT, COLOR, and ESCAPE - provide meditations on Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper as viewed through varying lenses. Erika Rethorn joins BWW RI to explore "Escape" in the fourth and final part of the guest blog series.

Over the past five years I've seen OUT LOUD Theatre grow with each production. Trusting her ensemble to build with her, Kira [Hawkridge, Artistic Director] has encouraged this company to explore the mental through physical storytelling. This piece is a perfect example of this process, having built specifically from the work done in Season 4, our "free" season. We were free to explore themes of justice and truth, challenging ourselves to use our entire bodies. This allowed us to take the beautifully chilling story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, meditate on her themes, and realize there's no one way to do this piece.

We've meditated on this production for almost a year. We've screamed, cried, and laughed as we spoke of The Woman in this story and many others who have been in her shoes. As the five women involved in building this production, we have been able to create a vocabulary around this piece and a short-hand specific to this process. The ideas introduced by each of us can be nebulous at times, yet becoming clearer every day, which is only possible because of the trust we all have for each other and the piece itself.

As she tackles mental illness and does all that she can to protect herself, I'd like to think that, in a world seemingly devoid of hope, my Woman still has a bit of a twinkle in her eye yet. Discovering her has made me challenge my ideas of existence and reality. Is there harm in the fact that what we perceive as reality may not actually be? Self-preservation is an amazing, yet terrifying thing. Being in a position where I am still uncovering my Woman, I am confused, terrified, and delighted by what her world means.

Guest Blog: Portraying 'The Woman' in THE YELLOW WALLPAPER at OUT LOUD Theatre, Part 4 - Escape


It's so hard to speak directly about this piece because we're creating four different worlds that aren't easily defined. Which may be on purpose. I've translated the way I think about our world of The Yellow Wallpaper production to the way I've thought about The Woman's mental illnesses. Though she may be diagnosed by her husband in the story, I've not wanted to diagnose what she deals with. Medicine and society have changed so much in the past hundred years, I want to think of her as a person first, outside of her diagnoses. Similarly, though we have elements from which we can jump off, no one of our four Women is tied to or defined by her piece, i.e. "Light," "Color," etc. It's freeing and terrifying. But once you diagnose an illness, a box is created and expectations are set. With this Woman, many people, and our process, the human mind has boundaries that have a farther reach than those of which we are aware.

The theme of "escape" is present throughout the short story. The need to escape the room, her mind, her illness, and at times, reality. The way that this will manifest itself in our production will likely change and metamorphose many times over. After just two rehearsals, what we were anticipating "Escape" to look like was flipped on its head. Going into the week of devising "Escape" with no walls, no rules, only a goal to meditate on the themes that Perkins Gilman provided for us, the play truly revealed itself to us. It sounds fantastical, which is fitting for how it felt. Kira and I trusted each other, and the story, to help us begin to express ourselves in another totally individualized way.

Siobhan [LaPorte-Cauley], Ottavia [De Luca], Sarah [Leach], and Kira are women I dream about building with forever. It is very special, as an actor, to be guided off the creative cliff, and caught by such strong women. There is no judgement in our room. It's the most open process I've ever experienced. For me, the energy of this project's value is equal to that of the product. These pieces live and breathe, and could grow endlessly, which has entirely to do with the way each of these women have encouraged each other to grow and explore.

As we find with many pieces written over a hundred years ago, [The Yellow Wallpaper] is still relevant today. Taking the words of Perkins Gilman and being able to interpret them four different ways simultaneously is a testament to the writing in quite an eerie way. Something must be done about the stigmas toward mental illness and its treatment. This "season of madness" is the beginning of a conversation that is crucial to survival of many in the years to come.

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OUT LOUD Theatre Presents The Yellow Wallpaper: A 4-Part Immersive Experience: RITUAL | LIGHT | COLOR | ESCAPE from June 22 to July 9 at The Mathewson Street Theater, 134 Mathewson Street Providence, RI.

The Yellow Wallpaper is presented as a four-part series:

THURSDAYS - Part 1: Ritual (Featuring Siobhan LaPorte-Cauley)
FRIDAYS - Part 2: Light (Featuring Ottavia De Luca)
SATURDAYS - Part 3: Color (Featuring Sarah Leach)
SUNDAYS - Part 4: Escape (Featuring Erika Rethorn)

For full details and to purchase tickets, please visit www.outloudtheatre.org.

ESCAPE Website Page: http://www.outloudtheatre.org/escape.html
Erika Rethorn's Ensemble Profile Page: http://www.outloudtheatre.org/ensemble-profile-erika-rethorn.html

Photography by Piquant Photo | Justine M. Johnson.


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