Sometimes events line up in ways so poignant that you could never have predicted them. For Richard Hess, a professor of acting at CCM, this has happened two years in a row when significant global events have lined up perfectly with productions he was directing.
Last year’s “Pentacost” — a massive undertaking depicting the struggles of a group of Eastern European refugees in the ’90s — was in rehearsal at the same time the Syrian refugee crisis was just beginning to take light in the media. And, during the rehearsal for this year’s “Her Naked Skin” — a play revolving around the Suffragette movement in Britain — the world’s largest women’s march in the history of the world took place.
“I’ve had two in a row where the script and the world just kind of went ‘bam,’ and that’s luck or something,” Hess said. “It’s a good opportunity for college students to look up and go, ‘Man, these stories are not old reenactments of something from the past, they are parallels to the struggles of today.’”
Hess was just as surprised as anybody that these plays tied in so closely with global issues.
He had chosen the script for “Her Naked Skin” a year or so before the elections were finished, under the assumption that it may be presented after the inauguration of the first female president of the United States. He told me — as I nestled into a corner of his office couch with his collaged Obama ’08 pillow — that he really was not trying to take a political side. He just thought that the play would supplement the victory of the first female president had she won. But, as we all know, she did not.
“So, now this play means something else. The meaning of the play changed under our feet,” Hess said.
Instead of a celebration of women’s rights, the production is now more of an assertion of them.
For instance, third-year CCM acting student Mafer Del Real played a part in garnering a “mature” label for CCM’s production of “Her Naked Skin” by bearing a bit of naked skin of her own for the sake of women’s rights.
In the beginning, the play was staged in such a way that during a scene in which Del Real was in the shower, her body would be hidden from view. But, after the appearance of the Second Amendment demonstrators brandishing their guns on UC’s campus, Del Real decided to take a stance of her own.
According to Hess, Del Real said, “‘No, if this campus is afraid of women’s skin or breasts but we’re letting men come on campus with guns and we’re not afraid of that, then this world is upside down.”
Not only that, but the leading roles of “Her Naked Skin” were two strong women who represent CCM’s graduating senior class, Julia Netzer and Michaela Tropeano. Both students had previously worked with Hess as sophomores in another female-focused play, “The Heidi Chronicles.” Hess says that to see these women two years later carrying a play like this on their shoulders is a real treat.
And on an even grander scale, many rights-related issues are still on the table for women. So, “Her Naked Skin” served as a piercing look into the past to examine the strides women have made and a reflection on the hurdles they have yet to overcome.
“The right to vote for these women did not come easily, they had to really fight for it,” Hess said. “And who didn’t want to give it to them? Men. The end. Which sounds similar to something like women’s choice for reproduction now.”
CHECK OUT THE NEXT PERFORMANCE AT CCM: “Valentine’s Day: The Silver Rose” presented by the CCM Philharmonic, 8 p.m., Feb. 14.