BWW Interview: Cast And Director of COLLECTIVE RAGE: A PLAY IN FIVE BETTIES at Open Stage Of Harrisburg
Karen, Ruch, director of Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties at Open Stage Harrisburg, comments, "It's interesting that the Urban Dictionary explains that 'a betty epitomizes a modern day queen, commonly associated with increased levels of self-worth (because she continues to create it). She has the power and agency to be irresistibly sexy and feminine minutes after effortlessly emasculating a mere dozen men with her intellect and ability to deliver. She is educated, deep, witty, simple and young-hearted. She is naturally beautiful, honest, brave, loyal and nurturing. She is the whole package; balanced, quirky, open-minded, complex and flawed. She can be raw with her words, and gentle with her touch. She is soulful, connected and driven. A modern day triple-threat, go-getter. Most commonly found being creative. An entrepreneur, wife, mother, daughter, sister, girlfriend.'"
Collective Rage by Jen Silverman first appeared on stage at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington DC in 2016. "COLLECTIVE RAGE: A PLAY IN 5 BETTIES; IN ESSENCE, A QUEER AND OCCASIONALLY HAZARDOUS EXPLORATION; DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL AND YOU READ ABOUT SHACKLETON AND HOW HE EXPLORED THE ARCTIC?; IMAGINE THE ARCTIC AS A P**** AND IT'S SORT OF LIKE THAT " is the full name of this dark comedy. I had the joy of spending some time with the director and cast of this astonishing play.
BWW: Tell us who you are and your favorite role to date
Kelly Strange: I play Betty 1. I don't have a favorite role because I'm primarily a choreographer. I haven't acted much since I left New York 20 years ago. But I am really enjoying Betty 1.
Amber Mann: I am Betty 2, and one of my favorite roles was Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Amber Zambrana: Betty 3. My favorite role so far was Maureen in Rent.
Aneesa Neibauer: I'm Betty 4. I played Teach in American Buffalo.
Manuela Hooper: Betty 5. One of my favorites was Delores Van Cartier Sister Act.
Karen Ruch, Director
BWW: Why did you decide to audition for this show?
Amber M.: I really like working on new plays because they feel like they're always growing and changing. I also really love working with Karen (director) because she brings so much that I haven't thought about, and I feel challenged by that in the best way.
Kelly: I didn't. Well, I sort of did. They had another person for Betty 1 who wasn't able to do it. Karen saw me in the Vagina Monologues here and asked me to read for Betty 1.
Manuela: I have been wanting to find dramatic roles for a long time because I've mostly been doing musicals for a while, but my heart is for more dramatic roles. I wanted something that would help me grow as an actor. When I first read this, the character was so far removed from me, at least on the surface, so far from who I think I am. I thought I would grow and learn so much doing this.
BWW: What do you hope audiences will experience through this show?
Manuela: Discomfort. I hope it challenges their perceptions and makes them think differently.
Aneesa: I hope they see the humanity in these characters. Even though they're a little absurd and the world they inhabit is a bit left of center, there's real humanity to all of them, and I hope people see that and see it in themselves. I hope people have fun, too.
Kelly: I think people will laugh, but maybe cry, too. There are some scenes that are very touching. They should experience a range of emotions during the show.
Amber M.: I think there's something in every character that just about every woman I know can identify with.
BWW: What is your favorite thing about your character?
Kelly: I like the fact that Betty 1 is willing to stand up to the outside world and take her emotions into her own hands. She learns how to deal with her emotions instead of just whining and bitching and complaining. She actually goes out and steps up to the plate. While she's figuring out how to deal with her emotions, her whole life changes.
Amber M.: Betty 2 finds courage in herself that she did not see coming and was not looking for, or maybe she was looking for it, but when she feels it start to happen, she lets it happen. She builds on it and becomes a very different person at the end-a brave and courageous person-her own person.
Amber Z.: Betty 3 has a line about how when she was younger nobody valued her, so she didn't value herself. She goes on this journey of discovering her self-worth and what she has within her and where she wants to go in the future. As she goes along, she lifts others up and helps them find their self-value. I think that's what our role as women or just as humans should be-to reach back and help pull others forward to find their self-worth.
Aneesa: Betty 4 is really a sweetheart at her core. Not necessarily in her physical package where people would be like "oh, what a sweetheart." I think she's the only character you see at the start of the play who is in love with someone, and that's what you see right from the start. I enjoy exploring what love means for Betty 4 and how she feels it.
Manuela: With Betty 5, the first thing that comes to mind is loyalty. Betties 3, 4, and 5 are the "original Betties", and with them she's the rock, the one who is there for the others. The other Betties may be all in love or whatever, but she is always loyal to them. While she portrays this super-strong woman, she has a moment to be vulnerable. There's a moment with Betty 1 where she is so vulnerable and just out there. It's something a lot of women of color don't allow themselves to do, so that's something I've loved working on in her development.
BWW: What is your favorite scene in the show and why?
Aneesa: There are a lot of great monologues. I don't have a favorite, but I am drawn in to the monologues.
Manuela: Some of Betty 2's moments are just very touching. I also love the scenes between my Betty and Aneesa's Betty. While they may not be the most dramatic, in-your-face scenes, they are the scenes that help me really fall into the story and my character, and it sets the stage for those characters.
Kelly: Betty 3's monologue is one of my favorites. It's just outrageous, balls to the wall, I am fierce and the heck with anyone who doesn't think so. She speaks so "loudly", but not in terms of volume, and it's so cool to see.
Amber Z.: In the monologues about watching the news, Betty 1 talks about what she sees on the news and how angry it makes her. She wants to do something, but the people around her keep telling her she can't do anything about it. Instead of listening to them, she channels her rage into something that's healthy for her. She channels her rage into something that's productive.
Kelly: I think we see all of the Betty's doing that.
Karen: Self-care so that you can go out into the world and do better and be better.
Manuela: Aneesa had a great quote that summed it up for me. Something like "It's a show where stereotypes are living real lives in a fantasy world."
BWW: How does the theme of "collective rage" come out in the play? Or what has created this feeling of rage in your particular character?
Kelly: For Betty 1 it starts with her being in a loveless marriage. She is angry and frustrated by that fact. It is compounded by the fact that she's well to do, so she has a lot of spare time on her hands. In that spare-time she watches the news and becomes enraged by what she hears-what's going on in the world-all the horribleness.
Amber M.: Betty 2's rage comes from feeling utterly alone. She doesn't know how to break out of that. The one person she feels should care about that is her husband, and he doesn't care or notice. In fact, he's part of the reason she is alone all the time because he's never around, even when he's there.
Aneesa: Betty 4's rage comes from the fact that she thinks that everything in the world is changing. The people closest to her are changing, and she's being left behind. Her rage manifests as a defense to this change.
Manuela: 5's rage is a little different-much less external. I think it's collective or cumulative. When we start out, one of the first things Betty 1 says to me, is are you a girl or a boy, and that's something Betty 5 has to deal with every day. She has to bottle up how she feels about it, shove those feelings down and push them away. I feel like her rage is a really quiet slow burn, and I don't think it comes out in the angry monologues, self-destructiveness, or love-sick situations of the other Betties. It's just a slow-burn, and eventually she'll just burn up. That's why the other Betties don't see her rage.
Amber Z.: For Betty 3, it's about control, trying to take control of yourself and your destiny. But others try to shape you and keep you in a box. They don't let you grow because they don't think you should or can. Things are holding you back from where you want to go and barriers keep coming up to keep you from your dreams. But you keep fighting and fighting. You're being define by other people, but you want to define yourself.
BWW: Is there any connection to Betty Boop?
Karen: Because it's such a new play, we've gotten several drafts of the play. In this latest draft, none of them are called Betty Boop anymore, and all of the references to Betty Boop have been removed from the script. In 80s slang a betty was a really attractive woman, which goes back to Betty Boop, who was fetishized and sexualized. But if you look at Betty Boop, she experiences an evolution in cultural representations too where she becomes feisty and strong. This show is about not taking what others have defined you as, but being able to define yourself. You get to pick who you are-your sexuality, your gender identity, everything-you get to define it and be whatever you want to be.
Amber Z.: There's this thing on twitter about how men write women characters. The Betties make me think about that because they show us that you have to listen to how someone tells their own story. You can't assume you know how they feel and who they are. It's very important that stories about certain cultures, genders, identities are told by the people themselves because only that person knows what it's truly like to be in their shoes. This show tells the side that people don't know if they don't live it.
BWW: We don't often think of rage as a source of comedy, but I understand it is a funny show. How do these two things go together in the play?
Karen: There's a saying about how life doesn't cease to be a comedy just because someone dies or a tragedy just because someone laughs. Sometimes it's how we deal with rage, just to find the humor in something-just look at late night television. It's a pressure release. And I think people do funny things. So much of the humor comes from each of them having to step out of their comfort zone and how they transform and evolve. There's humor in the juxtaposition between the world they thought they were in and the world they actually wake up in.
Following our interview, I was given a sneak peek into a few of the scenes. As I watched, I was astounded by how relatable the characters were. There is a scene where Betty 2, portrayed by Amber Mann, talks about how she says "sorry" for everything-even when someone else runs into her or pushes her, she says "sorry". This is a common experience for many women-this feeling of needing to apologize for everything-sometimes feeling like we need to apologize for just existing.
As Betty 3 (Amber Zambrana) comes into her own, finding her own voice, following her dreams, and "developing her brand", Betty 4 (Aneesa) feels like she's being left behind, and she struggles to accept the changes she can't control.
In the final scene each of the Betties begins to let go, to break through the walls that were holding them back, and to see and value themselves. There is a very touching moment between Betty 1 (Kelly) and Betty 5 (Manuela) where Betty 5 tells Betty 1 that she (Betty 1) is different than she (Betty 5) thought she was. Betty 1 replies that she didn't really know who she was until she met Betty 5.
In just the few scenes I observed there is much to relate to, to find humor in, and to think about. So as to not give away too much, let me simply say that the pieces of the show that I saw are among the most thought-provoking and profound scenes I have seen on stage in a long time, and the cast handles them with beautiful strength, subtlety, and humor. I can't wait to see the entire production.
Collective Rage runs from April 27 to May 6 at Open Stage Harrisburg. Visit www.openstagehbg.com to get your tickets for this thought-provoking play.