Local play shows truth through dark comedy
By Clara Atwell, Editor-in-Chief
The #MeToo movement has been a topic of controversy and empowerment throughout the United States and the rest of the world for the past year. So far, the movement has grown significantly due to women of all walks of life telling their stories of sexual misconduct. On Nov 30 and Dec 1 and 2, Torena O’Rourke, an island resident, will present her play titled, “My Mother, MySelf,” to tell #MeToo stories and foster dialogue in our community around the topic.
The play is described as a raw, dark PG-13 comedy aimed at sparking conversation around the issues of women’s rights and sexual abuse. It follows four mother-daughter pairs living in Seattle and the effect that facing the obstacles of domestic abuse and sexual assault has on them.
Last year, O’Rourke moved to Vashon from the Tri-Cities, where she worked for 30 years as a mental health therapist, primarily interacting with domestic abuse victims, juvenile offenders, and victims of the sex-trafficking industry.
Before moving to the island, O’Rourke bought the rights to the “Vagina Monologues”— a play that explores the taboo subject of female genitalia and is based upon the real-life experiences of a diverse set of women. O’Rourke hoped to produce and perform the play on the island for its twentieth anniversary.
As O’Rourke settled in on Vashon, she reached out to several organizations but couldn’t find any non-profits to support the “Vagina Monologues.” This led O’Rourke and her business partner, Carolyn Shilling Gill, to start their own organization — Take a Stand. The organization was founded with the mission “to provide artistic experiences that entertain, educate, empower, and inspire change.”
“Our theater company, I believe, is a women’s-empowerment, socially relevant theater with a mumblecore twist,” O’Rourke said. “It’s got a real realistic style to it.”
The organization’s goal is to put on two plays a year. Other than a small amount of money reserved for future productions, all funds raised go towards the organization’s Rainmaker program, which focuses on providing a range of arts-based and personal skill building opportunities to island women who couldn’t otherwise afford them. Included in these courses are sculpting and belly-dancing classes.
In late March, the “Vagina Monologues” opened on Vashon and raised a net amount of 9,000 dollars. O’Rourke wasted no time in researching what the next play would be. After reading a total of 25 options, O’Rourke decided that they all had overly complicated roles. Producing the show would require paid actors or a huge time commitment from all people involved.
These difficulties inspired O’Rourke to write and direct an original play, and within two months, “My Mother, MySelf” was born.
Although O’Rourke’s theater experience was limited, she has been involved in the literary world for several years.
“I’ve published nine novels, so I’m a writer anyway, so I thought ‘I’ll just write a play,’” O’Rourke said. “The [content of the play] was just waiting to come out, it’s all what I know, my life’s work.”
In August, she began the process of recruiting cast members, and rehearsals began in early September.
O’Rourke has worked closely with the cast members, helping shape their characters and scenes to fit their individual personalities.
“I think [the play is] so much better with [the cast’s] help,” O’Rourke said. “It’s such a collaboration, too, [and] it’s like now everybody’s really part of it.”
The cast is made up of local women. Each member’s diverse background in theater and life experiences add to the depth of the play.
“[The characters] are based on an amalgamation of clients I’ve had and [my] family,” O’Rourke said. “It’s hard, but it’s a really powerful piece for me, and it’s something that’s very curative.”
O’Rourke was inspired by her own life experiences, drawing on her childhood with an abusive father and a professional career containing several instances of sexual misconduct.
“If you’re going to write about [the #MeToo movement] … be honest, these are the things women are talking about,” O’Rourke said. “The real stories are these kinds of stories.”
After each performance, there will be an opportunity for discussion between a few cast members alongside O’Rourke, with mothers and daughters from the audience encouraged to stay and talk about the broad range of issues the play deals with.
Through these discussions, O’Rourke hopes to use her background in mental health therapy to offer advice from her years of experience listening to mothers and daughters, as well as raising her own daughter.
O’Rourke also hopes that her organization and play will help push the women’s rights movement forward through addressing the reality of the #MeToo movement.
“I don’t mean to demonize men, and I don’t think the rest of us in [the #MeToo movement] do, but I think the idea is to say, ‘Can’t this stop now?’” O’Rourke said. “This is a global thing that I can only do my little part [in], but maybe it’s a domino. Maybe if this play was picked up in Seattle … it would be one more piece of the puzzle of trying to make it better.”
“My Mother, MySelf” will be performed on Nov 30, Dec 1, and Dec 2 at the high school theater. Tickets can be purchased at takeastandproductions.org.