From the Director: Joanie Shultz
Women disappear. We have to search hard to find women in our history books, the literary canon, classical music, art history, and the history of drama, where women are footnotes, if at all — their work was “amateur” (because they weren’t allowed to be professional) and therefore wasn’t respected and documented, and so these women and their work simply disappear.
Frida Kahlo, obfuscated by her “genius” husband for most of her life, was too feisty to allow herself to disappear. She wasn’t a “nice” woman or a “good girl.” She made herself seen. And she forced herself to look at herself. She studied, and painted, and saw herself “as she truly is.” Frida reached a level of realness with herself, both inside and out, that few women had documented before. She showed the world her truth, her vulnerability, and her humanity. That was a revolutionary act.
We are drawn to self-portraits, memoirs, and other forms of autobiography; it makes us feel seen, and not so alone. This becomes even more important when we are those who disappear: women, people of color, people with disabilities, queer people, and trans people across the world look at Frida’s self-portraits and see themselves because they recognize the pain she articulates so well in her work. Frida has given the world a gift by being so authentically herself that she is all of us, and that we can see we exist because she existed, and she gives us permission to value ourselves and our lives, and our pain, and our thoughts, and our feelings as she did. No matter who we are.
Frida … A Self Portrait is a self-portrait both of Frida Kahlo the historical figure and Vanessa Severo the performer. An actor is an interpreter as a form of self-expression, and so, as an actor, what better way to create your own self-portrait than to perform someone else? This self-portrait, that is as beautiful and honest as Frida’s truth was, is created with the paints of an actor’s toolbox: language, characters, accents, movement, puppetry, and creative play. In this highly theatrical world, we are witnessing a conversation that Vanessa has been having with Frida for years. As the piece unfolds, there are moments where we are seeing an embodiment of Frida, or where we suddenly hear Vanessa’s voice, or where the lines become blurred between the two, actor and character. What we are left with is pure Frida and pure Vanessa: searching to be seen and understood and reaching a hand out to all the other “strange” people in the world through their honest expression of self.
I’m inspired by the unflinching truth from both of them. Not disappearing … and urging us not to disappear.
Portland Center Stage is committed to identifying & interrupting instances of racism & all forms of oppression, through the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, & accessibility (IDEA).