*Disclaimer: I’m going to spend the next several paragraphs discussing one tiny facet of this show. I am aware of that, and you should be too!*
Let me begin by saying that I play “Various Ensemble” in Bag&Baggage’s production of The Graduate: I’m a hotel receptionist, a stripper, and a wedding guest. Which, I realize, may not sound particularly exciting, but I’m thrilled! I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to be part of the team that gets to tell this iconic story on stage, and I can’t wait to perform!
Or, at least, I was thrilled… and I suppose I actually still am… It’s just that the reality of my experience has shifted my thinking a little. Allow me to explain:
When my answer to the typical “What are you working on right now?” question that you get when you’re an actor switched from “I’m playing Coriolanus in an all-female adaptation” to “I’m playing the stripper in The Graduate,” I immediately noticed a shift in the responses I got. “Oh, that’s cool” became “Ooooh! The stripper!! Are you gonna do the tassel thing?!”
The difference in tone and level of excitement was palpable, to say the least.
And I get it. Believe me, I do. There’s something fun and scandalous and exciting about learning how to spin tassel-pasties, and being slightly risqué onstage. And I’m sure watching me do it will be waaaay more fun than watching me wade through some super dense Shakespearean text and yell and wave swords around for an hour and a half. I totally get it.
But there’s also a tiny part of it that just makes me feel gross.
The Graduate is noteworthy in part because of its attitude towards female sexuality and its groundbreaking stance on sexuality in American culture. 1967 – the year the film came out – was on the cusp of that thing we now call the Sexual Revolution, and The Graduate was a huge player in unabashedly bringing questions about sex into the pop culture limelight.
Yet here we are, 40 years later, and my 5-minute performance of a stripper – the consummate sex symbol – draws far more enthusiasm than my performance of a male Shakespearean title character. How much have we really “revolved” here?
I’m guilty here too, I might add. I totally play into the “fun, sexy, scandalous” vibe, and then – hypocritically – get upset about it. But I’m not sure what else to do. The “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960s and 70s didn’t really leave American culture with any sort of lasting alternative paradigm. So at the end of the day, The Graduate feels shockingly contemporary in its attitudes surrounding sex. 40 years after the fact.
So…what do we do about this?
We do this show. We tell this story. We continue to challenge our cultural assumptions surrounding sexuality. We continue to do work that allows women to play male Shakespearean characters. We challenge the paradigm from all directions. We also acknowledge and pay homage to the paradigm along the way. Baby steps, my friends.
So here’s where I’ll stop talking about sex – for the moment – and tell you that despite all my angst surrounding our cultural lack of progressiveness on this issue, this is an incredible show that you definitely need to come see.
Come because it’s sexy – and for god’s sake, let’s enjoy that! – but also come because it raises a real challenge to our culture about the ways we engage and work through all those questions surrounding female sexuality. (Come for this reason especially if I’ve roused your own angst with this blog post…)
Come to see the incredibly beautiful, connected work that my colleagues on stage are doing.
Come to see yourself reflected in these characters, and to ride their emotions along with them.
Come to experience the striking turbulence beneath the placid surface.
Come to laugh and to despair unexpectedly.
Come to be surprised by this story you might think you know.
Cassie Greer, Resident Actor
Various Ensemble, The Graduate