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Metaphysical Borders: Performing Gender

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The play begins with three “men” entering a bar; they joke around with one another, anxiously awaiting their tequila. A waitress enters with a bottle of tequila on her tray, I’m not sure if the men get more excited by the tequila or the waitress. To a stranger it may take a few minutes to realize that the men on stage are women in baggy jeans, oversized button down shirts, campesino sombreros and masks. In the courtyard of FOMMA (Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya) students from the course Art & Resistance look in awe as the ensemble performs Creci con el amor de mi madre. The women of FOMMA use masks to transform themselves to the gender that has long oppressed and abused them.

This theater collective, composed of indigenous women from different regions of the Mexican state of Chiapas, have been creating plays since the early 1990’s that deal with the injustices women in this community face. The plays portray arrogant, machista, and alcoholic men- the type of men the women have encountered most of their life. The men on stage come to life through their clothing, body language and masks. After interviewing Isabel Juarez Espinosa and Victoria Patishtan Gomez on the different methods that the women approach male roles one thing was clear: their body language and masks are how the transformation occurs. The women draw from their experiences to give life to the monstrous men on stage. Augusto Boal begins the section “Poetics of the Oppressed” from Theatre of the Oppressed by stating, “Now the oppressed people are liberated themselves and, once more, are making the theater their own.” [1] This section goes on to talk about different ways to “develop the expressive ability of the body.” In their rehearsal process the women recall movements and gestures from men that have been a part of their life. Prior to joining FOMMA the women were the oppressed and by creating pieces of theater they have liberated themselves, making their collective a theatre of the oppressed.

Bertolt Brecht created gestus as part of his acting technique as an “embodiment of an attitude.” In section 64 of A Short Organum for the Theatre Brecht states the following: “the actor masters his character by first mastering the ‘story’. It is only after walking all around the entire episode that he can, as it were by a single leap, seize and fix his character, complete with all its individual features.”[2] Although Brecht refers to “mastering the story” in a figuratively manner, I would like to challenge that notion into the literal. Many of the gestures seem comical, but to an extent perfectly express male movements, especially the movements from a drunken stupor. During the interviews both women responded virtually the same when asked, how do you approach male roles physically? These actresses have mastered the characters because their stories have already been mastered.

For the women of FOMMA playing these roles is crossing a metaphysical border. By playing a different gender, one that has treated them unjustly, the women cross an in between that in their communities is risky. As the women crossed this metaphysical border they are left in a stage of both power and vulnerability. FOMMA is seen as a collective with a lot of valor because they put on plays that speak of topics that very few tackle. The vulnerability exists in the perception from their audiences and communities. As they cross from the masculine to the feminine FOMMA experiences what it is to be here and there.

 



[1] Boal, Augusto. Theatre of the Oppressed. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1985.

[2] Brecht, Bertolt. A Short Organum for the Theatre. Ed. John Willett. New York: Hill and Wang.