Women Center Stage – Interview With Madeline Sayet

madeline300Madeline Sayet directs Daughters of Leda, which she also wrote.

Leda was raped by a swan. Later, her swan-babies, Helen and Clytemnestra, became just as infamous as she. How many glitches occurred in the reporting? Clytemnestra’s three daughters (Iphigenia, Electra, and Chrysothemis) carried on the pattern of notoriety. Murder aside, barely anyone in the family was willing to talk to each other in the end. Until, this post-mortem family reunion.

We were brought up on their stories, as told by men. Now its their turn to tell us what happened. From across the river styx Leda, her daughters, and granddaughters begin to reconcile what happened then and what is still happening now. If they start to listen, maybe they will be able forgive each other . . . and themselves.

What inspired you to write/direct this play?

Classic stories form the foundations of the way we view the world. Many of them are problematic yet unquestioned. In classical theatre, female characters are usually reacting to the escapades of men. Their own world, as women, is shadowy at best. I couldn’t let go of the notion that Clytemnestra and Helen are never seen together as sisters, even though we know that is part of their story. How could twins who are married to brothers never see each other; they must. And yet usually we see the two women isolated. This inspired me to bring all of the women in the family together for the sheer experimental joy of it.

How did you get involved in Women Center Stage?

Alex Mallory, the festival director, asked me to participate.

Your play addresses sexual violence. Please tell me how you address such a topic.

Our play doesn’t directly address sexual violence as a larger issue, I think it is too big of an issue to address effectively in what our piece is doing, but instead we address the “accepted” media narrative for women. Using classical mythology as an ancient form of “tabloid,” we examine the limited ways in which women are allowed to be perceived. In the case of Leda, her rape was glorified by the naked painting of her made by men, celebrated for centuries.

What are your thoughts on how sexuality and sexual violence are currently portrayed in the media?

I think the media, due to its romanticization of sex and romaticization of violence, has a tendency to do the same thing with sexual violence. Glorifying it, whether or not that is its intention. I think that the way that women and sex are sold imagistically in the media is a very key part of the mindset that allows sexual violence to occur.

Your play addresses how so many stories are told by men. What do you think prevents women from telling their stories?

Men are more frequently overbearing than women; this means men have an easier time pushing their projects. And I think sometimes women storytellers are still genuinely discriminated against. Most of the best playwrights and directors I have met are women, so it is not an issue of them not being out there, because they are.

If more women could tell their stories, what do you think would change?

I think it would encourage more women to take on leadership roles in the theatre and elsewhere. Equal representation enhances societal well being, helping humanity move toward preserving life, and learning to listen. The biological forces that drive women are very different from those that effect man and lend themselves to a much more holistic way of living and a more compassionate view of societies and people, including those outside their sphere.

Two women just won Best Director at the Tony Awards – only the second time a woman has won Best Director. Why do you think that is the current state of things?

I genuinely believe we are on the brink of something new. That we have a chance to change things. More women directors means more women putting forward healthy images of women, after whom young people can model themselves, instead of the narrowly packaged images represented by celebrities. This change will help young people worry less about what they look like and more about what they think like.

We see so many more plays written by men than by women onstage. Why do you think that is the current state of things?

Habit. I think more men feel empowered to do so. And that men are more still more likely to support other men. For whatever reason, men are given a chance more often.

How do you think the current state of things can continue to change?

By more women writers and directors continuously putting their voice out, no matter who tells them not to.

Please tell me your thoughts about the roles women currently play in theater and the roles you hope to see them play in the future.

I hope to see many more women directors and writers, because without them our perception of women will always be limited. The roles can’t be acted if they don’t exist. Self-representation is always key. A man’s idea of what a woman is will never be right.

Please tell me anything else about your play or women in theatre that you would like to share.

I frequently cast women in men’s roles because I think the character is more important than the limitations of their gender since most characters have some traditionally male and female traits. I wish more people would open up to this understanding that women can be complex. Just because they are twenty years old and pretty doesn’t mean they should have to play dumb. That isn’t a reflection of reality and we shouldn’t want it to be.

One Response to Women Center Stage – Interview With Madeline Sayet

  1. Stephanie C. says:

    Such intelligent questions matched with brilliant answers. I am so sorry that I have to miss your show this weekend, Maddy. Good luck!