Who says the arts and the sciences don’t mix? Not The Female Role Model Project. This show, produced by Transforma Theatre, Inc. at 3LD Art and Technology Center, combines theatre and neuroscience for a one-of-a-kind interactive experience. It’s part performance, part game show, part storytime, and part psychology/sociology lesson packed into two hours that definitely won’t leave you bored.
Meggan Dodd, Tjasa Ferme, Gina Simone Pemberton, and Yiqing Zhao lead skits in three stages- the childhood, teenage, and adult years- that deal with the expectations, milestones, and challenges of femininity. The sections are interspersed with storytelling sessions, where an actor and an audience member each share a story about their mother with headsets that monitor their brain activity in the process, and a neuroscientist interprets the meaning of the activity live afterwards. Audience members or actors have various other opportunities to wear the headsets and their brain activity is translated into a light or a sound pattern projected onto the blank walls that frame the right and back sides of the stage. Essentially, you can become a collaborator on the light, sound, and set design, as well as the trajectory of the show itself. And all you have to do is think.
The women play themselves as sort of caricatures, embodying the effects of the role models that shaped them as they grew into womanhood. Aside from the adulthood skit, where they impersonate (that is, lampoon) notable females including Oprah, Kim Kardashian, Fan Bingbing, and Melania Trump, it’s nearly impossible to tell where their “real” selves might end and where the stage version of themselves might begin. Knowing the difference, though, isn’t as important as engaging with the audience about what it means to be female. The show doesn’t offer a clear-cut answer, but it forces audiences to come face-to-face with systemic stereotypes and their own preconceived notions surrounding the topic. There are moments, such as the beauty pageant that serves to illustrate the body-image issues of the teenage years, that toe a contentious line between raising awareness about toxic stereotypes and perpetuating them. But nonetheless, it’s compelling. If you’re anything like me, you’ll come out of it considering more deeply why you think what you do (and you’ll have opportunities to share during the show) (and your thoughts may be analyzed in real time).
The Female Role Model Project’s standout elements really lie in its concept over its execution – the marriage of performance and psychology is something you won’t experience elsewhere that I know of. Not that the execution isn’t good – Ferme’s impersonation of Melania Trump and Dodd’s of Kim K will send you doubling over into laughter, but the somewhat disjointed flow of the segments keeps the execution from being great. Nonetheless, it’s a worthwhile performance to attend. People of all genders get an opportunity to actively participate a larger conversation about femininity and coming-of-age.