SHOW ME a micro-musical with a sweeping sociological theme, and I'll show you an Ashley Hollingshead production. The director and designer co-founded the Working Theatre Collective in 2008; her most recent piece, called (all caps) INDEPENDENT WOMEN, was developed under the new production moniker "Social Sciences."
MERCURY: What makes a piece of theater great?
ASHLEY HOLLINGSHEAD: It makes people laugh, makes them cry, and makes them think after they leave the theater. Personally, I want to leave the theater in a different state than when I went into it. I want to go on a journey.
What makes a piece of theater suck?
Theater that doesn't trust its audience. Theater that is unimaginative.
What are the biggest challenges feminism faces—in theater and in life?
In theater, there are fewer female writers being produced, fewer female directors being hired, and fewer roles allocated to women than men. As a young woman in theater, I knew no established company was going to let me create or direct the type of work that I was interested in making. So I gathered some friends together, and started making it myself. In my opinion, that's what every young person who wants to direct should do—make those opportunities happen for yourself.
In life, among many, many challenges, there's the fact that some people think we don't need feminism anymore. Just as we're not living in a post-racial society, we are not living in a post-feminist society. Women still—still—only make 77 cents to a man's dollar, despite making up almost half of the US labor force today. I'm using that example because INDEPENDENT WOMEN focused on women in the workplace, but there are many examples that could be given.
Everyone who worked on INDEPENDENT WOMEN was a woman, and that's a super uncommon thing. That was a conscious choice I made when pulling together collaborators for this piece. If I'm going to create and direct a show about women in the workforce, why shouldn't I create roles, jobs, opportunities for women involved in every aspect of theater?
Your 2013 show Tomorrow! was set in a post-apocalyptic or post-war environment, and INDEPENDENT WOMEN was set during WWII, right? What inspires you to write in the context of mass crisis?
Part of INDEPENDENT WOMEN is set in an (abstracted) mechanical plant in WWII, but much of it is set in the now. INDEPENDENT WOMEN is a mashup between women entering the workforce in WWII with what it means to be a modern, independent woman. We're using Destiny's Child's Independent Women, Part 1 as a jumping-off point... there's a lot of dancing in this piece. What I'm inherently interested in is how to be alive now. And I like to look back in order to look forward.
How and when is the world going to end?
I believe that another world, one not so based on capitalism, is possible. I'm a very optimistic person.
Learn more about Hollingshead's work at socialsciencesproductions.com