This guest post is penned by our Assistant Director, Maro Guevaro. Most recently, he appeared on stage as Benji in Crowded Fire’s production of ‘Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them’.
When centuries turn, it’s rarely a quiet affair. That’s as true as it was in the 1990s (when the women of the Riot Grrl seized the male-dominated world of punk by its balls) as it was it 1892 when the Borden murders shook the tranquility of a small town called Fall River.
But what exactly is it about the last decade of a century that seems to push the world careening toward change? You can chalk it up to selective memory or a romanticism about how we’d like to think about history’s forward march: sometimes lurching, sometimes stalling, and every so often breaking into a full on sprint. Or maybe, there really is something electric about the last year’s of a century that makes everyone want to fuck shit up.
Rebellion, sex, violence, and an unapologetic takedown of the patriarchy were at the core of Riot Grrl, a musical manifesto that exploded in the 1990’s and challenged the idea that the punk world was exclusively a boy’s club. A flier from a Bikini Kill (a key instigator of Riot grrl) tour spells it out:
“[Riot Grrrl is …] BECAUSE we girls want to create mediums that speak to US. We are tired of boy band after boy band, boy zine after boy zine, boy punk after boy punk after boy… BECAUSE we need to talk to each other. Communication/inclusion is the key. We will never know if we don’t break the code of silence… BECAUSE in every form of media we see us/myself slapped, decapitated, laughed at, objectified, raped, trivialized, pushed, ignored, stereotyped, kicked, scorned, molested, silenced, invalidated, knifed, shot, choked and killed. BECAUSE a safe space needs to be created for girls where we can open our eyes and reach out to each other without being threatened by this sexist society and our day to day bullshit.”
What does the mission and vision of Bikini Kill and Riot Grrrl have to do with the Lizzie Borden of our show? Her friend and (and in our show, lover) Alice Russell probably says it best when it comes to the aspirations of our four leading ladies: “Young girls cannot go and do and have.” In a world where class structure boxed women into a few limited roles and heavily policed their every move, there was a lot to rage against. Not so different from the women at the vanguard of Riot Grrrl who fought to claim space in a male dominated arena, and railed against the idea that women should be quiet, demure, passive, and subservient.
It’s no wonder that the music of Lizzie draws so naturally from the well of righteous indignation of the 1990s. The Victorian world is a rapidly changing landscape worthy of the turn of a century: on one hand the lives of women are strictly controlled and prescribed, on the other, new possibilities are opening up: the right to vote (for some women), more opportunities to enter the workforce, and even the arrival of things like the bicycle which helped challenge the idea that women shouldn’t be physically active. But our characters are cut off from all of that, locked up in a house where they see the world go by without being able to partake. They are bursting at the corset seams to go, and do and have–but the patriarch of the Borden house and Victorian society are working hard to keep those dreams dead.
The Borden House brings enough homegrown terrors to drive anyone to the brink of rage and rebellion.The same spiritual, mental, and physical destruction of women’s lives and bodies that female rockers of the 1990’s mobilized against is the very thing that makes up our Lizzie’s daily life in 1892. When the heat of that pressure cooker becomes too much to bear, her hands reach for the microphone over and over again– until they reach for the axe instead.
LIZZIE opens at the Victoria Theatre on Friday, September 25th and runs through October 17th. Tickets are available at rayoflighttheatre.com/lizzie.