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The New Collectives offers a feminist slant on those women of Troy
Before Giverny Petitmermet became the artistic director of The New Collectives -- a NYC-based arts company that both creates new work and reimagines classics -- she spent years performing for pennies Off-Off Broadway. Sometimes the shows were great; often they were not. But when she banded together with three other frustrated actors to create The Witches, an "immersive dinner-theatre experience" based on Macbeth, something clicked. "I remember thinking to myself: That worked! That was really rewarding. We should make this official," Petitmermet says. "We figured if we're not going to get paid, we might as well do things we really like and believe in with people we really love." She pauses. "And get paid a little bit."
The troupe has produced steadily since its 2014 inception, which is no small feat for a nascent company. Last year there were three New Collectives productions, including a fresh take on The Trojan Women that contemporized the setting and language. Its current show, Life Brief & Glorious, is an original prequel to that Euripides' classic based on lesser-known parts of the Troy saga. In particular, it focuses on the character of Polyxena, a Trojan princess who sets out to avenge the deaths of her many fallen brothers (including her twin), but finds herself sidetracked by an unexpected romance. Her mother Hecuba, sister Cassandra, and sister-in-law Andromache are also in the mix, all pursuing their own, often conflicting agendas.
Life Brief & Glorious is part of IRT Theater's 3B Development Series, which has allowed The New Collectives to develop new material during the day while mounting a full-fledged show at night. And, like most of the troupe's shows, it's predominantly led by women. Although there's nothing about gender in The New Collectives' mission, three of its four founding members are female, and a majority of its original work has been created or co-created by women.
"I wanted to prove myself through my work," says Rachel Dart, who directed both Trojan Women and Life Brief & Glorious. "With The New Collectives I never felt like I had to prove that I was capable despite being a woman."
Having a majority of women in the room for Life Brief & Glorious has been particularly important. Playwright Bryn Marion, another member of the company's female brain trust, felt that the source material needed some serious gender interrogation. "I revere The Trojan Women -- I think it's a really radical anti-war piece, and it's dominated by women," Manion says. "But you gotta wonder what would happen if that play was written by a woman and not a man, and is there inherent misogyny in that play? I tried to spin that and pivot it."
The New Collectives also puts its activism where its art is by raising funds at curtain call for thematically connected organizations. For Life Brief & Glorious, the recipient is Emily's List, which helps get pro-choice Democratic women elected to office.
So while the royal family of Troy is mired in conflicts both internal and external, the women of The New Collectives are remarkably in sync. "I think all playwriting is getting to know the people that you're writing about, and the relationships that they have with one another," says Marion. "The real meat of all theatre is relational."
Regina Robbins is a writer, director, native New Yorker, and Jeopardy! champion. She has worked with several NYC-based theatre companies and is currently a Core Company Member with Everyday Inferno Theatre.
Top image: Carolina Do as Cassandra in Life Brief & Glorious. Photos by Erin Maxon.
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