By Elizabeth Roan
“Get your damn hands off my uterus!” vehemently utters Human 3, played by actress April Woodall, as she slams down a chair, in unison with her four fellow cast-members, on the blackbox theater floor of the Prince Theater. It is act 23, and is titled ‘My Body Belongs to Me’. A vociferous roar of applause and cheers fill the room as this scene is performed with a particularly dark tone on the opening night of ‘In My Body.’ Her gaze went beyond the eyes of the audience—and everyone in the room knew where.
The world-premier of ‘In My Body’, a musical about the challenges of living in one’s own body, had a sold-out opening night, and is scheduled for a limited-engagement of six performances during the month of November. The musical takes us on a journey, through song, spoken-word, movement and art, about the experiences of aging, dying, gender-identity, infertility, and the confines of social standards. Throughout the performance, we rediscover about ourselves, and fellow-humans, the many complexities unique to our experience, uniting to our humanity. Not giving away too many spoiler-alerts, a few facts were learned as well. We learn what the Fletcher diet is (otherwise known as ‘Fletcherizing”)—think: chew-chew-spit; who Annie Sprinkle is (a Google search will do plenty); and, a proving factor that no one can play it safe: having big feet as a twelve-year-old is just the dash of material needed for bullying. A joyous round of applause filled the room during curtain-call, with a tear-felt and hopeful audience.
‘In My Body’ was inspired by the encaustic photography by InLiquid Member Leah Macdonald, from her 2010 exhibition of the same title at Wexler Gallery, as well as the same-titled song by lyricist Michael Biello and composer Dan Martin. Written, originally as a book, by mother-and-daughter team Lis Kalogris and Kate Cipriano, along with writer Melissa Hays, it has been a seven year production and collaboration that began as a non-profit project solely focused on the experiences of women. With the three creative forces of photography, music, and text evolved a comprehensive exploration and celebration of human spirit.
Leah Macdonald’s role as scenic artist in the production of ‘In My Body’, has been a new chapter in her creative career as a photographer. A twenty year span of photographing women of every shape, color, and experience: abuse, accidents, cancer, surgical scars, even issues in more benign forms such as indifference, and even vanity; she had never expected the next step for any of it to be part of a musical production. “It’s so cliche, but it’s like the whole ‘tree falls in the woods’ thing,” she says during our recent conversation. She begins to tell me about the work of Vivian Maier, a nanny whose secret life as a photographer was only discovered posthumously, but eventually speaks of how she met Lis Kalogris. “Lis met me through InLiquid…she saw my work; she and her daughter Kate came to my studio, and when I began to show her these scrap books I was making (they were kind of like my log of all the people I had met during the shoots I was doing), I just think that that message resonated so deeply with Lis, it had a ripple effect in this chilling and awesome way!”
Leah’s signature motif in her work is the use of encaustic, a wax that is layered over the image to give it a soft, velvet texture. She says, “There is so much metaphor in encaustic…and there’s a huge part of me that is adamant about me working with my hands, and physically touching the images of these women; and in a way, soften the reality.” More importantly, when telling the story of the women she meets, she chooses encaustic as her media of choice because, “The encaustic blurs the lines (and I love to use the word ‘blurring’) between photo and painting. So, a lot of the more conservative people will be more accepting of a nude painting or a creative rendition of a figure rather than just an image of a naked person in front of them.”
On the set of In My Body, Macdonald’s encaustics are shown on a full 360-degree scale in one of the blackbox theater rooms of Prince Theater. Large format prints are used as part of the stage. Smaller prints are held by the actors during act 13: ‘I Am Not My Hair.’ And portraits of women are spread throughout the pages of the program. It has been a long journey for Leah, and her vision continues to move forward. When asked if she could choose one photo, of all the photos she had taken in the twenty-year span of her career, that truly encapsulated ideal beauty, she responded with a strong “Well, I think all these women are beautiful!”
There are just a few more performances left this weekend! You can see ‘In My Body’ at The Prince Music Theater, and you can purchase tickets here.