I love being an actor. I love being a queer black woman. I love that I’m a smart, kind, messy, stubborn, sensitive work in progress. Every piece of me is what makes me a compelling human and actor. But all those things that make me who I am — my theatricality, my femininity, my blackness — I find myself constantly trying to shrink them. To be more palatable. To stop being too much. To take up less space (metaphorically as well as literally — New York City can be unbearably crowded).
When I practice theatre, I get to expand back to my full self. To fill a room and make mistakes and just play. My yearning to take up space is what drew me to Jaclyn Biskup’s “Difficult Women+” scene study class. It’s a magical feminist space where women and trans/gnc folks get to feel safe being themselves while honing their craft. Jaclyn has an empathetic and sharp directing style and guides actors with a gentle hand. She’s also a feminist firebrand who doesn’t mince words. A difficult woman, one might say.
I’ve taken two sessions of the class so far, and in each have had the opportunity to play characters that went beyond my usual “type”– a newly out lesbian on a date with her future wife and a self-centered alcoholic gossiping and talking trash with her equally problematic coke addict sister. Both were immensely fun. Much of the strength of the class is the actors it attracts. Working with my talented scene partners has been as eye-opening and joyful as watching other the other pairs work.
I asked Jaclyn a few questions via email to learn more about how she conceived of the class.
KW: What made you start this class?
JB: I’ve wanted to teach a feminist theory/directing theory class for over 10 years. As the #metoo movement was happening, it became pretty clear to me that there was a space and a need for a feminist intervention in acting training, too. The industry, like our culture, is steeped in racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. My goal was to create a space where we all acknowledged this and fought like hell against it. It is also meant to be a safe space, because, ultimately the only way you can really take risks and be vulnerable on stage is if you feel safe in the environment that you are in. I also wanted to read cool plays and hang out with badass women+ (womxn).
KW: How would you describe a “Difficult Woman?”
JB: A difficult woman is someone who refuses to modify themself or their behavior to please the patriarchy or its emissaries.
KW: When are the next sessions?
JB: So soon! April 30th, May 7, 14, 21 (12p or 7pm) [More info here]
KW: What do you love about directing and/or theatre in general?
JB: I love spending my time in an intellectual and emotional response to what it means to be alive in the world and how we can change society for the better.
Jaclyn Biskup is a director and producer working in theatre, television, and film. She is the recipient of an Emmy and Peabody nomination for her work on the digital series, THE SECRET LIFE OF MUSLIMS and currently works as an associate producer at New Ohio Theatre. She was the assistant to Tony Award winning director Anna Shapiro on the Broadway debut of STRAIGHT WHITE MEN (Young Jean Lee) for Second Stage at the Helen Hayes. Her work in the theatre spans nearly two decades. As the founding artistic director of The Mill, she has directed and produced over 20 productions including the Chicago premieres of VENUS (Suzan-Lori Parks) and THE PRIVATE OF LIVES OF ESKIMOS (OR 16 WORDS FOR SNOW) (Ken Urban.) In NYC, work directed includes WORSE THAN TIGERS (Mark Christler), NICHOLAS, MAEVE, MARIANNE (Matthew Stephen Smith) — one of Indie Theatre Now’s 20 Best of NYC Fringe, HOT STEAMS (Zach Wegner), and IT’S JUST WEIRD NOW (Halley Feiffer) DAYS OF RAGE (Hyeyoung Kim and Shoshana Greenberg.) Her work has been seen at New Ohio Theatre, MCC, Rattlestick, Dixon Place, Town Stages, and the NYC International Fringe. She has assisted on productions at Steppenwolf, The Public, and The American Musical Theatre Workshop. She has worked on digital projects for PBS NOVA, Delta Air Lines, Caltech, Harvard, and others and holds a BA in Theater from Northern Illinois University and an MFA in Directing and Theatrical Production from Northwestern University.
Love and theatre (and keep being difficult),