It’s Sydney, 1967. Women are burning bras while Vietnam is being bombed. There’s a rumble of change in the air. Welcome to the world of Keep Smiling! The Housewife’s Guide, a new and original production from the Colour Blind Project, a collective who also seek to agitate tangible change through the creation of varied theatrical roles for those from culturally diverse backgrounds. We speak to Stephanie Son, who has doubled as both producer and performer, ahead of the opening night…
Keep Smiling! is both a cheery refrain and an ominous aphorism. What does it mean to you? The idea of ‘keep smiling’ is about that sense of optimism. It’s the idea that if you ‘keep smiling,’ everything will work out in the end. It’s also about the brave face you often put on, despite everything that might be going on underneath. That’s the core of this play. These women put the smile on every day, despite anything and everything that might be going on behind it. It’s like when you’re posing for a photo and you have to keep smiling until they take the right photo but after a while the smile seems fake – that’s what these women are doing. They just keep smiling – there’s something powerfully brave in that but also something really sad.
The characters are inspired by some conjured by the Bard himself – could you give us a rundown of the who’s who? This play started out with six monologues from six different plays. Some have changed since we first started writing the play, but the final version consists of a monologue from The Merchant of Venice, The Comedy of Errors, Othello, Taming of The Shrew, King John and Henry IV.
But while they have provided some initial inspiration, we have taken them out of their original context in the Bard’s plays and with a bit of creative license, we have created six archetypal women: Mrs. So-and-So always means well but walks to her own beat; Mrs. Eye-on-The-Prize is an ambitious woman who lives for her politician husband; Mrs. Making-Ends-Meet is the generous, down-to-earth fruit shop owner; Mrs. Practical-and-True is a true matriarch, an active member of the SOS and believes in the importance of keeping the family together; Mrs. Worldy-of-Great-Estates is a sophisticated, socialite and Miss Newcomer is young and energetic, keen to travel the world but is torn between what is expected of her and her personal aspirations to break the mould. They come together each week for choir rehearsal and we see that they are each other’s strength but sometimes each other’s downfall.
You perform in and have also helped produce Keep Smiling!… The Colour Blind Project was created by myself and one of the other cast members, Josipa Draisma, almost three years ago. As artistic directors and producers of the company, it’s been a huge challenge, and yet it’s been great to be in control of creating our own work. We’re both actors and when there’s not a lot of work coming your way, particularly work that’s rewarding and fulfilling, creating your own work is thrilling – particularly in a play like this where you have the reigns to create the role you want to perform. I suppose being a producer is more challenging – it’s hard work! Being an actor – you get to come to rehearsals and play so that’s the fun bit. But when you’re producing and performing in the one production, it’s definitely a juggling act.
Housewives have become the ultimate archetype… why do you think that is? What fascinated us was that the housewife represented an image of perfection, particularly in the 50s and 60s. Our visual and conceptual idea of the ‘perfect housewife’ is something that was constructed by men who wanted women to return to the home after the War – for them to know their place was in the home and in the kitchen. It’s something imposed upon them so for some it’s like a prison, while for others it might be a role they feel completely at peace with. And it’s also about having it all and finding true happiness – which is something we feel still rings true for a lot of women today. There’s still this pressure to look perfect but now there’s also the added pressure to have it all – career, family, home etc.
And what’s one piece of advice you think your own character in Keep Smiling! would give you? Interesting question! Mrs. Eye-on-the-Prize would probably tell me and anyone she met, that the most important thing in life is to make friends with EVERYONE (whether or not you like them) – because you never know when you’ll need them for something.
May 1-19, Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Dr, Bondi, $25-42 (beer, taco, show), 1300 241 167, rocksurfers.org