Her stories: ‘Wetlands’ shares women’s stories at the Wheeler | AspenTimes.com

Her stories: ‘Wetlands’ shares women’s stories at the Wheeler

In a historic week for women's rights, Women's Voices Theater Project takes the stage

Left to right: Sandra Prado, Alexandra Jerkunica, Flor Paz Pastrana, Suzie Brady and MinTze Wu in “Wetlands.” (Graham Northrup/Courtesy photo)
The cast of “Wetlands,” whcih comes to the Wheeler Opera House on Saturday. From left to right: MinTze Wu, Flor Paz Pastrana, Marcia Weese, Sandra Prado, Suzie Brady, Toddy Walters, Alexandra Jerkunica. (Graham Northrup/Courtesy photo)
Suzie Brady, Flor Paz Pastrana, Toddy Walters and Alexandra Jerkunica in “Wetlands.” (Graham Northrup/Courtesy photo)
MinTze Wu in “Wetlands.” (Graham Northrup/Courtesy photo)
Alexandra Jerkunica in “Wetlands.” (Graham Northrup/Courtesy photo)
Toddy Walters in “Wetlands.” (Graham Northrup/Courtesy photo)

After two years of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Women’s Voices Theater Project finally premiered its production of “Wetlands” last weekend in Carbondale, beginning a two-weekend run that continues May 8 at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.

Though long overdue, the timing may have been just right, noted Voices executive director Renee Prince, as it now lands the show in a historic week in U.S. women’s rights.

Between the two weekends of performances, a news leak from the U.S. Supreme Court indicated that the Roe v. Wade abortion decision may be overturned, sparking protest nationwide from women’s rights supporters. Prince, who is also directing “Wetlands,” noted that the Voices nonprofit was founded in 2016 after a study found four out of five plays produced in the U.S. were written by men. If women’s stories aren’t on our stages, she reasoned, women will be marginalized in our society.

“We aren’t hearing from women the same way we are from men,” she said. “Imagine if four out of every five things you heard in your life were said by men. We’re just missing a huge part of the picture, by women being unable to say what they need to say, and share their experience and share their points of view. We are trying to bring some some balance to the conversation.”

Finally sharing this new work with an audience was a meaningful experience for the 10 women who collaborated on “Wetlands,” and was met with a sense of relief from the creators.

“As theater-makers, our work isn’t done until we have an audience,” Prince said of the Carbondale premiere at Thunder River Theatre. “There was a real feeling of celebration and holding space for these women’s voices.”

A collaborative performance work that shares personal narratives from seven Roaring Fork Valley women, its elements took very different forms.

Violinist MinTze Wu tells the story of her time in a COVID-19 isolation ward in Taiwan through spoken word, music and projections of her journal entries from the ordeal. Alexandra Jerkunica, of Bonedale Ballet, related a dance piece inspired by the death of a friend. Suzie Brady crafted a comedic monologue. The visual artist Marcia Weese made a performance piece exploring an abusive relationship. The whole cast — which also includes Toddy Walters, Flor Paz Pastrana, Sandra Prado, Soozie Lindbloom and Jennifer Hughes — also joined together to perform a satirical scene of a mock women’s support group.

The project started as a roundtable discussion among all the creators, seated in a “story circle” where each shared a personal story based around the theme of expectations.

“Whatever came to mind — some people spoke about unfair expectations of women, some people talked about expectations they place on themselves,” Prince recalled. “There was a big conversation around motherhood that came up.”

in this “devised theater” process, performers brought their own elements and stories to the piece rather than working from a script handed down by a creator.

Prince and assistant director Gabriela Alvarez Espinoza teased out recurring themes and motifs from those initial conversations, and each artist created about a 10-minute work with input from their colleagues. These diverse stories and artforms to make “Wetlands” cohere and patchwork together in what Prince referred to as a “quilt of ideas and experience.” Among the threads is the expression of empathy.

The title came from participant Toddy Walters, who compared women to wetlands “because our empathy often acts as a filter or cleaning mechanism for hardship and pain.”

Each artist found a distinct voice and each has a story to tell.

“To achieve a vision, because women are so often silenced, it’s important through this project that each woman’s voice is very clear and distinct, while also creating a cohesive night of theater,” Prince said. “So that there are connective threads that the audience will be holding onto.”



What: ‘Wetlands,’ presented by Women’s Voices Theater Project

Where: Wheeler Opera House

When: Saturday, May 7, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $30

Tickets: Wheeler box office; aspenshowtix.com