99 Women

By Louise Ho Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-7 17:23:01

Play exploring and celebrating the female identity takes the Shanghai stage

Ninety-nine stories, one stage - the aptly named 99 Women is a play to discover what it means to be a woman from the stories of 99 women.

The play is unique in that rather than just a single story line, 99 brief portraits of women corresponding to important moments in their life, such as relationships with family, lovers and society, are covered in seven acts. During that time frame, the actresses speak a monologue of about 30 seconds in Chinese, English or French.

"Many women question themselves about the life they have, but everyone has the freedom to develop yourself and take in the direction you want," Geneviève Flaven (pictured below), writer, producer and director of the play, told the Global Times.

Flaven is a French entrepreneur based in Shanghai who writes poetic prose and theater plays. She drew inspiration from her poem Life and Death of 99 Ordinary Women, written three years before, which touches on the questions of who she is and what it is like to be a woman. "There is no definite answer to the question, and the answer can be different for every woman," said Flaven.

After she moved to China in 2010 Flaven began to have an even more profound understanding of her identity as a woman. She started a design agency while coping with life in a strange country and culture. "I started to ask myself, 'what is my place in China?'" she said.

Posters that represent the seven acts in 99 Women Photos: Courtesy of Liz Hingley

Dream comes true

Last year Flaven decided to expand her poem into a play, her first in Shanghai. With women being central to the story, Flaven would stop random local women on the streets to ask if they wanted to participate. Women from over 23 different nationalities who "reflect the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Shanghai" were ultimately selected.

The amateur actresses, most who would be experiencing theater for the first time, were given theatrical direction by Flaven, but the director said that they have the freedom to express themselves in whichever way they want onstage. Many saw it as a journey of self-discoveries.

Thirty-year-old Wang Kai, who studied theater in Tongji University and had a childhood dream of becoming an actress, joined the play through a friend.

"Both acting and dance performance have brought me great satisfaction. I feel excited and touched. I have always had a theater dream in my heart. 99 Women is a journey that allows me to fulfill this dream," she said.

Fan Lingfei was also introduced by a friend to take part in the play. From acting and dancing onstage to helping with offstage translations and promotion for the play, it is a completely new experience for the 25-year-old training consultant.

"We all understand the importance of teamwork and communication. When we finally put the play onstage we felt very touched," said Fan.

Flaven said the project has provided a platform for these women to do something special together. This, she added, is especially rare as "Shanghai is a very competitive city and people forget the experience of doing things with others."

Many Shanghai-based Chinese and foreign female artists are involved in the production, including photographer Liz Hingley and makeup artist Kathryn Robbins, both from the UK, choreographer Amy Chan from Hong Kong, and American Mindy Ruskovich, who plays trombone onstage.

La Ruche

99 Women is a collaboration between Flaven and La Ruche, an association established in 2013 for professional francophone women in Shanghai.

La Ruche conducts an annual collaborative project to strengthen ties between its members. After Flaven met with members of La Ruche in December, they formulated the idea to work together.

Fifty members of La Ruche are taking part in the production, from acting and coaching the actresses to doing communication work and looking for sponsorships.

"This kind of project needs a mix of skills in order to succeed, so it's a good opportunity for the members of La Ruche to work and play together," said one of the founders of La Ruche, Sandra Edouard Baraud, on the website of 99women.org.

Helene Cochaux from Belgium, another co-founder of La Ruche as well as an actress, said she adores the experience. "It has pushed our limit from what we expected in the beginning, and we all gain something from it," she told the Global Times.

Cochaux's 10-year-old daughter, Alice, will also be acting in the play. The context can be difficult to understand for a child, but Cochaux said she is surprised by how her daughter chose to have her monologue in French instead of English, which she is more fluent in.

Some might expect plenty of logistical and cultural challenges from such a large-scale production, but Flaven said the actresses are not at all hard to manage.

"Men can be more ego-driven, but women like to share and support each other. In the end a kind of friendship and sisterhood is formed," she said.

All proceeds from the play will benefit Rebuilding Beautiful Homes, an aid project in Sichuan Province to teach embroidery to local women so that they can support themselves. With the help of social organization Grassroots Community, thus far more than 300 Sichuanese women have benefited from the program.

Date: October 9 to 10, 8 pm; October 11, 7 pm

Venue: Children's Art Theatre of China Welfare Institute 中国福利会儿童艺术剧院

Address: 643 Huashan Road 华山路643号

Tickets: 140 yuan ($22.02) to 240 yuan

Visit www.99women.org for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, About Town

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