I had a chance to catch up with the passionate and perpetually on the go Sasha Summer Cousineau (aka Diva le Déviant) in the busy weeks leading up to the much talked about launch of Inheritance: Maiden, Mother, Crone (which kicks off Thursday, October 9 at the Theater Off Jackson).
After taking a little time away from her previous post as Creative Director with Sinner Saint Burlesque, the troupe approached Sasha about a concept they were brainstorming called Inheritance: Maiden, Mother, Crone – cabarets exploring female archetypes in their various forms. The idea, stemming in part from acts developed in Sinner Saint’s politically-charged run called Revolution, would be a brave new departure for the troupe. The concept of the show – and the bridge between the female archetypes of maiden, mother and crone- appealed to Sasha’s creative and feminist spirit, particularly in light of the very personal loss of her own mother around the same time. The troupe extended the invitation to continue working with Sasha in whatever capacity she was able to contribute; not long after, a series off one-offs at Can Can began to take shape exploring each feminine role individually. Unlike a typical burlesque show (but not unheard of in community theater), the cabarets concluded with post-show “talk-backs” in which performers and audience could raise questions, commentary, or dialogue and open up the concepts for wider discussion.
The response to the talk-backs was better than expected, sometimes resulting in spirited back and forth conversations that lasted until Can Can was ready to close. The response was so good in fact, that the troupe realized they wanted to do more with the material. Soon the push to launch a full-scale production at Theater Off Jackson was under way.
“What we’ve done is use the concept of ‘Maiden, Mother, Crone’ – of those three archetypes – as sort of an organizational point for our thoughts. Any exploration of women subdivided into those three categories is going to harken certain archetypes; we actually sort of use these to explore the lived realties of women and girls,” Sasha explained.
“We have an inheritance; as female-bodied people in the world – we’ve inherited some things,” she continued. “From culture, from history, from religion, from our families, from the earth, from various places. Some of these things are really rich, they’re beautiful and wonderful and deserving of honor and celebration. We want to share them with the world and we want other people to experience them as well, and we hope that these things we’ve inherited can become our legacy. But there are other parts though, where we call bullshit,” Sasha laughed. “We’re like ‘yeah…that’s toxic, that’s unhealthy, that doesn’t suit my mental/physical/spiritual/emotional well being’, or OUR well being. And so we’re pushing back on that, and we say NO.”
Near and dear to Sasha and the troupe’s heart is the concept of a long term, sustainable, healthy way of being for young women and girls: mentally, physically, spiritually, and creatively. “Historically women have had very little space for protest, it sort of goes against everything we’re trained to be, right? BUT… where I think we differentiate a little bit from a lot of feminist performance art with this show is we say we DO protest certain things, and then we go on to envision how we might do it differently, “ Sasha continued. “So we’ve kind of gone a la carte with what we’ve inherited, and then in terms of our legacy, we’re trying to craft a future.”
How do these lofty and admirable concepts translate into what the viewer will experience at Inheritance? “A burlesque show. Sinner Saint Burlesque is a burlesque troupe, so people are going to see what they expect to see in that way: a production with skilled performers, thoughtful, sexy, edgy, harkening back to some of the raw territory that came up during the Revolution show at Noc Noc. It was the most overtly political thing they’d done as a troupe. With this it picks up where Revolution left off. We take it even a step further…it’s not political in terms of Republicans and Democrats, it’s political because the personal is political. Really what this comes from is stories. Drawing from stories and using burlesque as a platform to tell stories. Some of them are really sexy, some are really funny, some are hard and edgy and you’re going to see some hurt feelings. But we’re trying to fuse them together.”
“We really are trying to build community- in the Sinner Saint Burlesque way, we’re trying to build a movement,” said Sasha. “If you look at the momentary feminist women’s micro-campaigns that have happened recently in social media, and larger women’s rights campaigns, we wanted to also lend our voices and participate in the conversation. It hasn’t been the easiest way to produce a show. It’s been challenging and often uncomfortable to do a show this way, but…we’ve all become better people for it. Burlesque is so right for this show…because it’s all about our bodies.”
Another by-product of the weighty material and the intense buildup to the finished production has been a whole lot of quality time examining the contents of their heads – both as troupes and individuals. “Maybe next year we’ll just bring sexy back,” Sasha laughed.
Theatre Off Jackson and Sinner Saint Burlesque present
Inheritance: Maiden, Mother, Crone
October 9 – 19th at 8pm
$25 – $40
All Sunday performances are 13+, all other performances 21+
Get tickets HERE.