Women of the Arts 2019: Laura Sisskin Fernández is winning at “the poles”

The one-person show has become a staple of the independent theater skyline. They began as star-vehicles and are now tour-de-forces for emerging artists allowing the audience to have a “theatrical conversation” on an untold variety of topics.

Laura Sisskin Fernández won great acclaim a season or so ago with this fascinating exploration of a woman who – in order to heal from a traumatic sexual experience – takes [of all things] a pole-dancing class. Peppering this intense subject with humorous moments in dialogue plus music, she created “You Hold a Pole Everyday” written and performed by Fernández and directed by Laura Murphy. “Pole” takes us inside a pole dancing studio, where after a traumatizing experience,  a barista cautiously seeks connection with her own physical power but reluctantly finds herself learning the moves alongside her Spanish Mother and Grandmother.

Part of the Women’s Work Theatre Festival, Fernández revives this fascinating piece for a new audience. Tickets are on sale at https://www.laurasf.com/you-hold-a-pole-everyday

We were happy to speak with Laura Sisskin Fernández briefly before a rehearsal.

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Tell us about yourself.

My name is Laura Sisskin Fernandez. I’m a New York City based actor and singer/songwriter and first generation American on my mother’s side. 

I took a wonderful solo writing workshop led by Pat Shay and Mary Theresa Archbold about 4 years ago. To help us find our topics, we were given the prompt “What’s your worst fear?” I put dancing in the middle of a dance circle. The next question was, “How can you amp that fear up?” I wrote pole dancing.  I think being a bit more politically aware now, I have worse fears, but after my like 8th time giving up on this piece, I decided to stick to this original idea, when the #metoo movement came about. It really gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own experiences and how afraid I was to use my own voice. So I wrote this solo show to really figure out, as someone who avoids confrontation like the plague, what I would say if I wasn’t “nice.” 

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What inspired you to create this piece?  

I wrote a version for Planet Connections Theatre Festivity last summer in 6 weeks. I had the idea of taking a pole dancing class after going through a traumatic sexual experience. I knew I wanted to incorporate some original songs, since I was spending more time playing music at the time and also saw writing this solo show as a way to get back into acting. Really, it was all over the place. I had an idea for the lead character’s journey and thought, okay what dialects can i sort of pull off. And that’s how I came up with the other classmates, who had their own experiences or 2 cents to chip in in support of the heroine’s journey. I think creatively it was fulfilling in that I got to play different characters, sing, and sound design for the show. But I knew I wasn’t really saying what needed to be said. I was still dancing around it (pun not intended, ugh). One friend said, why don’t you just have your character take the class with her mother and grandmother. So I rewrote it and did just that. It’s a lot more personal, it’s a lot more Spanish, which means it’s intense but equally hilarious (hopefully). And it says exactly what I didn’t know how to articulate the first time around. Working with my director, Laura Murphy, who is also one of my closest friends was invaluable. There were a lot of revisions being made, because once on its feet impulses changed. The questions, “What are you really trying to say?” “What is this moment really about?” came up a lot. We found ways to get to the point faster and more deliberately. We found the rawness in simplicity.

What is it like being a woman in the arts … in NY … in the 21st century? 

I’m finding that a lot of women in the arts are taking their careers into their own hands more and more. Producing, writing, directing…whether it be a solo show or a web series or a feature film. I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by women or hearing about women who are really going for it. There really isn’t a need to wait anymore. The most powerful pieces I’ve seen recently have come from female playwrights. It feels like to me women are finally starting to be taken seriously and people are finally interested in women’s stories/perspectives, women’s issues, the woman’s experience which has a lot more nuance and color than we’ve seen coming from a male dominated scene. 

Who do you feel is the “audience” for this piece?

The audience for this piece is feminists. Period. I received feedback that men were able to relate to the play, not only women which was beautiful in a really heartbreaking way. And I’d say it’s for mature audiences since it deals with #metoo themes. 

What’s next?

Continuing to work with amazing women creating their own work! I’m part of a sketch comedy group, (currently without name) and we’ll be performing at Under St Marks on August 2nd at 7pm in “Class and Crass: A Sketchy Show” hosted by Classy Cassie. I’ll also be acting in an incredibly moving piece, Still, Birth, written by Coley Campany and Robyne Parrish, that deals with the effects of pregnancy loss. It will be playing in two different theater festivals, Rogue Theater Festival in August and DREAM UP FEST in the fall.  I have a couple opportunities to perform You Hold a Pole Everyday in other cities on the east and west coast, so looking into doing a tour as well!

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