“The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.” cited Poet-Laurette, Maya Angelou. These words rung in the ears of Melissa Mowry and Jessica Fichter as they shepherded an original piece of theatre. It’s more than that. It is a derived play. A new and exciting form of art that visionary companies are now creating.
Melissa Mowry with the help of her colleague, Jessica Fichter, bring, If Women Rose Rooted, an organic ensemble-created piece about the wisdom of women as old as time and as fresh as today. Fichter, having scored tremendous kudos for DANDELION, a new female-empowering musical that brought down the house at Feinstein’s earlier this year, joins with Melissa Mowry to bring her brainchild to life. Another female focused piece,) If Women Rose Rooted is set in both modern day and the “Otherworld (a mythical land of the fairy folk), this piece explores femininity and culture through the shared wisdom ancestors and our experiences today. Drawn from mythology and folklore, If Women Rose Rooted delves into the power and pain of femininity and reminds us all of those powerful women who came before us.
What looks like a fantasy is a veiled parable of the true dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Directed by Melissa Mowry, assisted by Jessica Fichter, the women’s ensemble includes Marcella Adams, Titania Galliher, Jessica Panora, and Lucy Lewis. The special limited run will be Friday, September 6 @ 7pm; September 7 @ 3 and 7 pm; and Sunday, September 8 @ 3 and 7 pm at the cutting-edge arts incubator, The Tank, 312 W 36th Street, in New York. For More information, visit https://www.thetanknyc.org/calendar-1/2019/9/6/if-women-rose-rooted
We connected with Melissa and Jessica for a few moments to learn more of their play and this new artform.
Tell us about yourselves as artists
Melissa Mowry: I have always believed in the transformative and healing power of theatre. Unlike any other art form, theatre has the ability to place a person into the mind and experience of another. There is a beautiful relationship that can be forged when honest and truthful representations of humanity are placed on the stage and the audience is welcomed on the journey to explore the intimate world of those, they might call strangers. That is what I strive for in my art, to make those connections, to find comfort in the discomfort, and strength in change.
Jessica Fichter: I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina and was always a self-proclaimed theatre nerd. I think I feel in love during a school production of Really Rosie when I was five years old- I played a bluebird (and no that is not a real role). After graduating from Winthrop University with a degree in theatre education, I taught theatre in both middle and high school public schools for 8 years in addition to acting as the artistic director of a theatre company in SC before moving to the city to pursue my MFA in directing. I am a mother of 2 small children, 8 years old and 4 years old, and have been navigating the NYC theatre world for 2 years. I recently directed The Eleventh Hour at Townstages, and Assistant directed Shadows: A Dance Musical at the Connelly Theater. My sister and I debuted our new musical at Feinstein’s/54 Below on August 14th. I love art that pushes boundaries and asks questions.
What is a “derived” play and what was your inspiration in writing it? —
Melissa Mowry: So, a devised play is different from the traditional play form, as the process doesn’t start with a script, but rather a theme, idea, or concept that is then explored with actors (in this case) and from the there, the script/story emerges. What I love about this type of theatre and exploration is that it allows me as a director to engage in the material and my actors in a unique way. Whatever skill sets they have, interests they bring to the table, it allows me opportunities and avenues to explore and play. If Women Rose Rooted has been on my heart for over 7 years, when I was first introduced to the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian text that is extremely important to the Hindu faith, while working in India. I realized that so much of how we look at the world around us is shaped by these ancient myths and histories, whether we recognize it or not. And as a woman who has been fortunate enough to see and explore her femininity in many different cultures and communities, I wanted to really explore the power and importance of honoring the feminine and to find balance in a world that is extremely unbalanced.
Jessica Fichter: A devised piece happens entirely in the room, making it a wholly collaborative effort. Because a script doesn’t exist when we start, we have a lot of ability to explore in terms of text, movement, style, rhythm! Truly the sky is the limit. The opportunity to work so closely and collaboratively with such brilliant woman is so fulfilling. Melissa is truly the brainchild behind this piece, she has such a deep knowledge of mythology, and cultures around the world she wanted to draw from the universality of the role of women across time and space.
Melissa, we looked you up and we’re very impressed. You’re a renaissance woman – having done film and live work. What’s your mission?
Melissa Mowry: As a creative person, I simply want to share stories and give voice to people who are often unseen or unheard. And because of that, it is really important to me have an understanding and experience of different types and forms of art. Not every story should be told the same way, and not every character’s voice should be supported in the same medium, so I am constantly seeking ways to better hone my storytelling skills and interests to best give the strongest and most dynamic voice to the characters who interest and inspire me.
A term I hear a lot these days is teaching artists – as you are as well. What is a teaching artist?
Melissa Mowry: A teaching artist, is an artist who makes the creative process of their art form accessible to other people, giving students the opportunity to expand their understanding of an art form. For me, being a teaching artist is not only about going into classrooms and teaching students how to stand on the stage, or how to act, or how to dissect a script; but it is about preparing young people for the world and giving them the ability to take up space in a way that instills confidence, awareness, and empathy. As a theater teaching artist, I have the unique opportunity to help young people explore the lives of so many people, who are both familiar and unfamiliar, and it is important to me that I help guide them to giving their whole heart to that exploration not only for the performance, but because they could leave changed people, better people, after getting to know their character so intimately.
Jessica, from your vantage-point as a producer, how do you feel it makes this play “different” from others?
Jessica Fichter: In this piece movement, text, music, personal experience is all woven together to create a tapestry which allows the audience to dive in based on their favorite artistic medium, story, myth. It makes the experience both deeply personal and widely universal which is tricky and rare. This is the kind of theatre in which the audience is drawn in not just by story but by the means of storytelling.
Ladies, what’s next? —
Melissa Mowry: Devised pieces can take years to solidify, so If Women Will Rose Rooted will continue to be workshopped and explored, and hopefully tour within the next year. I will also be directing a show, Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress, at Rutgers University and will being working on another devised piece exploring identity, within the next year.
Jessica Fichter: We hope the journey of If Women Rose Rooted is just beginning! We are looking at multiple options for next steps!