The Pussy Grabber

The Pussy Grabber Plays

Words Jaclyn Bethany

The Pussy Grabber Plays is a series of plays that give voice to the women who came forward after being sexually harassed by Donald Trump.

It was first presented by The Public Theatre in New York City in January 2019. After reading about the plays online and on social media, I knew I wanted to make a production happen. This led me to the idea of a one night only reading in London – where it hadn’t been presented before. I reached out to some like-minded female collaborators to help bring it to life, here I speak to two of them, Allegra Marland (Theatre Handmade) & C.C. Kellogg (Invulnerable Nothings) about their work, supporting female collaborators and why The Pussy Grabber Plays need to be heard now.

Jaclyn Bethany: Allegra and C.C. – why did you jump on board this project, and why do you find it important?

Allegra Marland: It feels like such an immediate and direct piece of theatre, for all the obvious reasons. It is vital that we hear a huge mix of women’s voices on this subject and I love the way The Pussy Grabber Plays bring these voices to life. Through (my company) Theatre Handmade, we aim to tell women’s stories through the form of new writing for the stage, it felt like fate coming across these plays as their intentions are directly in line with ours as a company.

C.C. Kellogg: These pieces are brave works, reflective of both the incredible women whom they chronicle/reimagine and the unique voices of some of America’s most significant young female playwrights. Too often the real stories of women are reduced to a headline or a sort of nameless number (for instance, “the 19 women who accused Donald Trump of sexual assault”) and I think it is vitally important to keep stories personal and real, to preserve individual rage and despair and experience. I also think that’s what theatre as a medium does best.

Jaclyn: It’s so cool and special that we are all in London to work on this together. I have worked in competitive environments with other women and I really don’t get it. You have to support each other, this industry is really hard anyway, why make it even harder.

Allegra: In the words of Susan Anthony – an American born Women’s Rights Activist from 1800s – “Wherever women gather together, failure is impossible”. It would be such a mistake to not make the most of the conversations and ideas that develop between women, on all kinds of subjects, but especially this one. To then take it to the next step, and support women through telling their stories is very powerful. It shows we are willing to stand beside each other, no matter what, and with this unity, great things can be done and real change can be made. I have loved working with and meeting the women on this project. I love the trans-Atlantic bond we have created and I’m very excited about future collaborations.

C.C.: I think it is crucial to support other women, to see their work and to commit to telling their stories. This is a group of far-flung and diverse collaborators, but I think one of our strengths as a collective is that we are all part of a web of support and cross-collaboration. I know I am thrilled to be working with many frequent collaborators as well as the frequent collaborators of my colleagues for the first time on this project.

Jaclyn: The range of voices (both writing and character-wise) heard in this collection are diverse. When I read them, I immediately responded to Troublemaker by Sharyn Rothstein. I immediately went to it I think because Tina Benko played the role of Jill Harth in the NY premiere and she also appears in my upcoming pilot (The Rehearsal). She’s just incredible. Did y’all have a favourite piece from the group?

Allegra: Oooh that’s too hard. So many of them are funny one minute and serious the next and all of them shocked me. Whilst reading and watching them you go on a real emotional journey.

C.C.: I love them all but have felt particularly challenged and excited as a director by Sam Chanse’s Credible Women, and it’s fearless and unsentimental look at how women’s experiences are (often self) silenced.

Jaclyn: How would you pitch the evening to someone who is thinking to attend?

Allegra: A collection of new plays based on the women who came forward about Trump. I’m there.

C.C.: It’s a fearless romp featuring kickass new writing about real-life heroes. With songs! And an unabashed dose of female rage…

Jaclyn: Since the me too movement being heard, it seems more female voices are being heard, especially in regard to sensitive subject matter. Although the plays are politically charged, I think they do quite a nice job of creating a tone that will definitely create conversation, but that is not overtly in your face. Most of the work I am drawn to is subtle and natural and because these characters are real women (or inspired by real women) finding these moments of truth in the text is key. I think it’s important to be mindful and respectful of the material, the subjects, and what the writers were trying to do. How do you feel about this, Allegra?

Allegra: Yes, it is important to keep in mind that these plays are based on real women, and to handle them delicately, with as much care as possible. It’s terrifying to think that without that movement we may not be hearing these voices. God forbid. Me too has certainly allowed us to be bolder and braver with the stories we tell, which is incredibly liberating when it comes to the arts. There is so much to say on this topic, in so many different ways and there is time and space for all those voices to be heard. It’s important we don’t become too preachy as the last thing we need is people rolling their eyes and saying ‘not another me too play’. We can be cleverer than that in our storytelling. We don’t want people to lose interest, as we need them to keep listening! I am excited to see more of the fallout from this explosive movement.

Jaclyn.: There’s also just so much exciting stuff going on in the arts for women at the moment. I’m telling everyone to see Hilma af Klimt’s exhibit at the Guggenheim in NYC. It’s nuts. It’s also nuts that I didn’t know about her. She was arguably the first female abstract artist and now over one hundred years later her work is finally getting it’s due. What have you seen recently that’s affected you?

C.C.: Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me at New York Theatre Workshop last year was a revelation. I’m so pleased it is headed to Broadway and a larger audience this spring. Hopefully, it finds its way to London audiences as well.

Allegra: Dance Nation by Clare Barron. If you didn’t see it at Playwrights Horizons in NY, or at The Almeida, then buy the play text. It is fabulous. I also came across a wonderful zine called Making Work Even When… by The Darlings Club. It celebrates the struggles of women working in the arts through hilariously honest accounts of personal experiences.

Jaclyn: I’m always working on several projects, and I know both of you are also multi-hyphenates! What are both of you working on next?

C.C.: Next up I’m workshopping a multimedia version of John Ford’s The Broken Heart with my theatre collective, Invulnerable Nothings, at our home in Brooklyn! Can always find more on our website — www.invulnerablenothings.com

Allegra: I have just finished writing my first play, Two the Power of Three, for Theatre Handmade. I’ll be in it alongside the brilliant Georgie Oulton and Kate Handford. It opens at The Brighton Fringe on 29th May until 2nd June. Come find us there at The Friends House! Keep in touch through www.handmadetheatre.org and @theatrehandmade on Instagram.

The Pussy Grabber Plays is presented in conjunction with BKE Productions, New River Press, Theatre Handmade & Invulnerable Nothings February 20th at 7:30 P.M. at The Playground Theatre, Latimer Road, London, all proceeds to go to Planned Parenthood.

The cast includes Greta Bellamacina, Jessamine-Bliss Bell, Nina Bowers, Lucy Chappell, Tallula Christie, Peta Cornish, Tamsin Egerton, Charlotte Hamblin, Kate Handford, Kat Hipkiss, Lily Newmark, Georgie Oulton, Luke Pierre, Tilly Vosburgh & Kristin Winters

Directed by Jaclyn Bethany, C.C. Kellogg, and Joanne Williams

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