On an Antaean Summer

It seemed as if we were waiting FOREVER for our LA Country Arts Intern to arrive this summer… and now, after a metaphorical blink of the eye, she only has one week left.  To commemorate the start of the “No More Holly” countdown, Holly Abel shares a few thoughts on her summer with us.

“Internship” is a scary word around college campuses. To most of my friends, the word seemed to represent one of two things: either it was something you were desperately seeking for the upcoming summer, or it was something you had the summer before that was, generally, a horrible experience.

So when I was hired to work as an intern at the Antaeus this summer through the LA Arts Commission, I was simultaneously exhilarated and terrified. Out of my thirty job applications for the summer (yes—literally), it was the one I had wanted the most—but as I was boarding my plane from Minnesota to California in early June, all I could think about were the horror stories that I had heard from my friends at school.  The long, underpaid hours they had been forced to work at their internships…the summers spent doing nothing but hauling ridiculously heavy objects around theatres in the heat and humidity…the contempt with which their supervisors regarded them: the lowest person on the totem pole, the gofer, the INTERN.

As you may imagine, though, this story has a happy ending. On the first day of my Antaeus internship, I was tossed into a Macbeth rehearsal, very quickly learned my way around the theatre, and attempted to memorize fifty-plus new names and faces. It was exhausting and overwhelming—but in a totally and completely awesome way.

As my summer’s gone on, I’ve divided my time assisting the lovely PSMs during rehearsals for Macbeth and A2’s Shakespeare’s King Phycus, and have also spent time working on various projects around the office (have you returned your library books yet!?). I’ve learned more about theatre, and more about myself as an artist, than I ever could have even imagined learning in just a few short weeks. I’m preparing to graduate next June, and thanks to my Antaeus internship, I’ve totally changed the path that I want to go down post-graduation—which is, much like my Antaeus internship was at the beginning of the summer, simultaneously very scary and very exciting. There’s only so much that working in college theatre can teach you, and the Antaeus is very quickly filling in the gaps in my knowledge.

Sadly, my summer at the Antaeus will be ending next week, but I’m eagerly anticipating heading back to Minnesota, spreading the knowledge I’ve garnered this summer to the handful of other Carleton theatre majors, and bragging to all of my friends that my summer internship was way better than any of theirs.

LA County Arts Commission summer intern, Holly Abel, reflects on her summer internship at the Antaeus.

Mrs. Warren Speaks on the World’s Oldest Profession

The cast of Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Photo by Holly Abel.

When I was asked to write a blog about what drew me to initiate a reading of Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession for the 2012 Summer ClassicsFest, my mind immediately went back to February of this year, when I had the challenge of playing Mu Sochua, Cambodian human rights activist in a documentary play called Seven at USC.  Sochua, who has labored tirelessly on behalf of Cambodian women and children forced into prostitution by human traffickers, has frequently spoken out about the tragic plight of these innocents, who are often kidnapped into slavery, or else lured by traffickers who promise them jobs to help their poverty-stricken families.

Of course, the horror, abuse, and deadening of the soul that Sochua details when she speaks of these victims are almost too horrible to imagine.  Bur Shaw, when he wrote Mrs. Warren’s Profession over a century ago, seemed determined to try to make Victorian society imagine the similar circumstances of young women of that time.  Shaw’s play was scandalous when it first appeared on the scene.  It was originally banned by the Lord Chamberlain in Britain, and a few years later, an American performance in New York was halted by the police, who arrested the cast and crew.  Moralists were outraged that Shaw would even attempt to take a sympathetic stand toward prostitutes, and the desperation that forced many into employment by the brothels.  But Shaw argued back that “the world’s oldest profession” was, for many desolate young women, the only means available by which they could try to raise themselves above their destitute childhoods.

Director Cameron Watson leads the discussion. Photo by Holly Abel.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession is not only an argument for societal compassion, it is also a study of societal forces vs. personal character and individual choice. Kitty Warren insists she is justified in her choice of livelihood because for her, there is no other viable means by which she could have escaped her poverty.  We see that Kitty has not only escaped, however, but flourished handsomely.  Due to her “success,” she has raised her daughter Vivie in more than comfortable means—yet she has been an absent mother, painfully and inexplicably distant from Vivie’s life, instead throwing her time and energy into her secret profession for her own pleasure at best, and from her own desperate ambition at worst.  And so the question arises:  At what point does Kitty cross over from the motive of rescuing herself and her daughter from poverty and providing a better life for them both, to the moral corruption in maintaining a “success” that ultimately rests on the continued exploitation of others?

Jeanne Sakata w/ Laura Wernette in Merry Wives, CF 2010. Photo by E. Marlow.

Such complex questions—as well as the gut-wrenching struggles of a mother and daughter who, though they wish to love each other, may be separated by a chasm too wide to breach— are the fascinating qualities that drew me to initiate this reading of Mrs. Warren’s Profession in our Summer ClassicsFest.  We hope you will enjoy the challenge of wrestling with this brave and brilliant play, alongside all of us at Antaeus.

Antaeus member Jeanne Sakata on initiating and starring in G.B. Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, the next offering in ClassicsFest 2012: Part Two. Make your reservations at http://www.antaeus.org.  Suggested donation $10.