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In season of student-run theatre, stories of women who struggle but prevail

Jamie Finkelstein | Hatchet Photographer
Jamie Finkelstein
Jamie Finkelstein | Hatchet Photographer

When female characters rife with flaws take the stage this fall, one student theater group hopes an important theme still prevails: strength.

Generic Theatre Company’s fall play series, which starts next week, will put strong female characters center-stage by presenting “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Steel Magnolias” and “I Am My Own Wife.”

“It’s always sort of assumed that there is a theme, but this is the first year that any company really has made it explicit,” said Marissa Price, Generic Theatre Company co-executive producer.

The selections reflect topical themes of female empowerment and queer identity, featuring a diverse set of protagonists who each embody a “strong woman” archetype.

But that doesn’t mean the characters won’t struggle and flail through challenges. Sophomore Travis McCown, who plays more than 40 roles in the one-person show “I Am My Own Wife,” said Generic is committed to portraying more complete, realistic stories.

The series’ final show, “I Am My Own Wife” tackles the story of a transgender woman during Nazi and communist rule in Berlin. McCown said his role has him tapping into issues of female self-identity as a man and reevaluating the way women are depicted across media.

“I think that the strong woman, especially in a lot of things that we see on TV, they almost make them not flawed,” McCown said. “Generic put a season of plays together of very flawed women who are still strong…a huge spectrum of strong, independent women who do these great things.”

The series’ first show, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” presents the young woman’s famous chronicles of her family’s years hiding from the Nazis during World War II.

Unable to hide behind flashy scenery, the actors must rely on nuanced, subtle movements to break the monotony of a hidden life in a confined annex. Cramped rehearsal spaces, like classrooms in Phillips Hall, have left the cast well-prepared to simulate the annex setting without having seen the set.

Freshman Erin Agnew, who plays Anne’s mother, Edith Frank, said the character exemplifies the mixture of traits Generic is trying to highlight. The troubled character’s emotional instability plays off her bravery as a parent.

“She has depression. And she has Anne, who is this amazing child, and Margot, who is really sweet and very sensitive,” Agnew explained. “So it’s hard to give her that much power [as a mother] and also give her the realism of someone who deals with an emotional disorder.”

The theme’s formation was somewhat serendipitous – after pouring over show proposals, the executive board noticed a common thread of female-oriented shows.

But the board also consciously selected plays in which female roles are not merely foil characters or void of personal depth.

“In all its female roles and even its male roles, the women are really celebrated in this play, and they play pivotal parts, they are anchors, they are support systems,” McCown said. “They’re not these empty female roles that are there so that we have some girls. Every character is crucial to the story.”

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