Theatre Department Explores Gender and Performativity in The Secretaries
From March 12–19, Lewis & Clark’s theatre department presented The Secretaries. Taking place in the fictitious town of Big Bone, Oregon, this campy horror-comedy tells the story of murderous secretaries who inspire love and hate in equal parts. A feminist contemplation on internalized homophobia and sexism, the play remains as relevant today as when it was first produced in 1993.
“I was first introduced to The Secretaries my sophomore year of college in a class on women and theatre, and it became a big part of my own feminist theatre awakening,” said Jenna Tamini, director and visiting post-doctoral instructor. “I was excited to introduce other college students to this piece in the hopes of it sparking their interest in feminist, queer theatre.”
The Secretaries was first produced at Wow Café, a feminist theatre collective in New York City. Written by The Five Lesbian Brothers, the play calls upon individual experiences to make broader claims about feminism, gender, and performance.
“The play does an amazing job of deconstructing complex issues while not being preachy, perfect, or boring in the slightest—really what it becomes is full of camp,” said rhetoric and media studies and theatre double major Ava Schmidt BA ’23. The Issaquah, Washington, native plays Peaches, one of the secretaries. “It felt so amazing to get to see people and make art with them daily during this semester.”
The Secretaries was performed in a hybrid format to comply with COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. This involved a limited in-person audience, a distanced audience via livestream, and some creative problem solving to show intimacy with social distancing.
“I love that we were able to put on a good show in an innovative fashion during the pandemic,” said stage manager and history major Mary Alice Perkins BA ’22, from Dallas, Texas. “We had a great production team of faculty and students, and without them, this show would never have been possible. It was an awesome experience to work together.”
“Live performance carries an irreplaceable, magical quality; it’s thrilling in its ephemerality. Pursuing a live show during a pandemic presented a unique set of challenges, but these challenges also made it exciting,” said Assistant Director Niels Truman BA ’22, a theatre and English double major from Aurora, Oregon. “The Secretaries is a perfect COVID-19 play. Camp is purposefully artificial, so having the actors pantomime intimacy and violence while physically distant, as well as a Barbie puppet show to explain what exactly is going on, adds to the effect. It’s an overly performative display, highlighting the performativity of gender itself.”