Social impact theater confronts gender-based violence in Mexico

By Mayela Sanchez  |  March 7, 2013 at 5:29 PM
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MEXICO CITY (GPI)-- Laura Acosta, 50, recalls the day that one of her daughters showed her an unusual casting call on the Internet. It opened with a short, but powerful statistic: “Three out of five women have suffered some form of violence.” Below it described a project offering women who have suffered gender-based violence an opportunity to confront it through theatrical work. "I found it appealing,” Acosta says, who had studied acting but pursued motherhood over a career in theater. “It's something I thank my daughter for.” Acosta says she was suffering from internal violence, which she defines as the “lack of self-knowledge, not knowing how to deal with situations and giving into fear, bowing your head, keeping quiet.” The same casting call caught the attention of Evelina Arvizu, 36, while walking through a subway station. “I felt bad, tired,” she says. She was looking for something to get rid of this feeling plaguing her. “It was like loneliness, sadness, and I was always feeling this way,” she says while dropping her head. But when she saw the sign, she felt it would be just what she needed. “‘It has to help me internally,’” she says she thought. A year has passed since both Acosta and Arvizu saw the sign, and now both women are part of the cast of the play “Medea Material,” which opened this week. Twenty women confront their struggles with gender-based violence through their roles in an adaptation of “Medea Material” that opened March 5 in Mexico City. The play is part of a broader social impact theater project that gives victims of violence and prisoners a vehicle to address their issuses through theatrical work. The director says that the play is unique because it conceives of theater as a social service but also features professional quality. The play is based on an adaptation by German playwright Heiner Müller of “Medea,” an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides. In the tragedy, Medea’s husband, Jason, is unfaithful, so she murders their two children out of revenge. Müller's work also raises the issue of Jason’s hunger for power. Itari Marta, 35, who has worked as an actress for nearly 20 years, serves as the play’s director. She adapted Müller's work to incorporate the issues that each performer wants to work through. The staging of the play is like a trip back in time. It showcases the different facets of women since the beginning of the 20th century through 18 Medeas. The actresses playing these Medeas range in age from 20 to 62. “Each one plays a Medea, based on her personality or on what she has not been able to resolve,” Acosta says. The women’s personal experiences and their confrontation of them through their roles in the play show how violence manifests in many forms in society, whether it is physical, verbal, emotional or psychological. The play becomes a cathartic process in which the women can challenge their aggressors – whether they’re other people or even themselves – on stage. Because Acosta is introverted, the play gives her a vehicle outside her nature to confront the internal violence that she has suffered. Her character is a strong, secure and empowered Medea. “Personally, I am the introverted Medea, who has lived through internal violence,” Acosta says. “In the play, I have tried to get rid of that with which I have been choking myself for many years.” For example, she takes part in a monologue split among five Medeas in which they yell at Jason for committing incest with his own daughter. "We are women who complain,” Acosta says, “who are so full of anger, of pain, that we are expressing it all to Jason.” That hers is a Medea who is "resentful, who complains" – as Acosta defines her character – has allowed this housewife to face her fears. But she also acknowledges that playing something contrary to her nature is a lot of work. Arvizu says the same. She plays an early-century Medea whom she describes as "modest.”

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