Generation Y Feminism at Teatro Luna
The week before Teatro Luna’s Generation Sex opened, a man in Isla Vista, California killed six people and injured thirteen others, leaving a chilling admission video spewing rage against women he felt “owed” him sex and admiration. In a particularly powerful moment of this newly devised play, a soundscape of his speech, intercut with Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” played against a projected list of frequently cited statistics of structural oppression and crimes against women including rates of sexual assault, domestic violence, street harassment, pay gaps, and parental leave policies. Through the course of this montage, which clearly linked this act of violence to larger cultural misogyny, ensemble members Kristiana Rae Colón, Ayssette Munoz, Elizabeth Nungaray, Deanalis Resto, Johannil Napoleon, and Abigail Vega removed their shoes and lined them up on the edge of the stage—a tribute to the women who do not survive this landscape.
Generation Sex was directed by Alexandra Meda and developed by a team lead by Abigail Vega over a seventeen-month process of workshops in cities and on university campuses across the country. It is an episodic auto- and ethno-biographic collage, utilizing a wide range of performance styles from satire and musical theater to modern dance and slam poetry to examine sex, feminism, technology, and love. It includes interactive moments explicitly requesting audience engagement, such as a game of “Never Have I Ever” in which audience members were “allowed to lie” but asked to raise their hands and tick off on their fingers if they had “lived with a partner” or “had a one night stand” or “sent a racy text message.” These moments break the fourth wall and ask audience members to directly connect their own experiences to the experiences represented onstage.
Many satirical moments highlighted young women’s desire for romantic connection and the difficulty of achieving it in a disconnected age. For example, Munoz, Resto, and Vega perform a satire of the song “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof, reworking the lyrics to focus on the emotional fallout of a dating culture consisting mostly of hanging out, casual sex, and interpreting the frequency of text messages. These moments use humor to point out ways in which reliance on technology acts as a barrier to connection, as actors hide their noses in their phones, Facebook-stalk paramours to analyze their every move, and attempt to interpret ever cryptic text messages.
The production has its serious moments, as well. In one particularly moving scene, Colón performs a story of a young woman’s memory of a night when her mother was attacked in a parking lot after work, and then comes home to go about her business as if nothing had happened. The story contrasts this with the young woman’s experience of a sexual assault in which the bouncers at the bar fifteen feet away did nothing to help as she screamed—and how, when she later tried to tell the story, she did not receive the support she would have expected. Perhaps, the young woman muses, her mother had the wisdom to understand she would be ignored. In these moments, the theme of disconnection hits hardest; the production implicitly argues that some of the same cultural currents creating challenging dating conditions also contribute to rape culture. It is careful not to slut-shame and takes an explicitly sex positive attitude, and asks audience members to look at ways in which a lack of genuine connection can exacerbate objectification, misogyny, and support for victims.
The production implicitly argues that some of the same cultural currents creating challenging dating conditions also contribute to rape culture
I think my favorite sketch was an ode to the Diva Cup, a choral invocation framed as a Busby Berkeley-esque movement number in which the ensemble highlights the absurd contradiction, whereby women who consider their own bodily fluids gross and taboo will willingly engage with the bodily fluids of men. The scene is very funny, using humor to highlight a very particular way in which many women self-loathe and offers the concrete solution of the Diva Cup—an eco-friendly feminine hygiene product requiring women deal in an unrepressed fashion with their menstruation. Many moments of Generation Sex highlight feminist problems; this one offers a very specific (if graphic) feminist solution.
Generation Sex places the experiences of young, single, technologically savvy middle class women at the center of its conversation. It is saturated with a mainstream, contemporary pop-feminist perspective one might find on Jezebel or xojane. Teatro Luna is Chicago’s pan-Latina theater company, and as a result Generation Sex offers an explicitly Latina spin on this cultural conversation. There are moments in which the production explicitly sends up an insider’s sense of “Latinidad,” such as a “Spicy Latina Sleepover” in which the women play a variation on spin the bottle by spinning a pepper. “Just like a regular sleepover, but spicier!” one woman quips as the ensemble bursts into an exaggerated slow motion sex scene, satirizing the way a slumber party might be represented for the male gaze in softcore pornography and highlighting the ways mainstream media can over-sexualize the image of Latinas. The diverse audience at the Instituto Cervantes burst into peals of enthusiastic laughter.
The bulk of the piece focuses on problems of finding and maintaining connection in a digital age and coping with misogyny in contemporary culture. These are Latina problems as they are problems for all women, and the writing, directing, and choreography of Generation Sex often reflects mainstream discourses of pop feminism, highlighting the ways issues of sexism cross ethnic and racial lines. The Latina bodies onstage embody the ways in which these feminist concerns are Latina concerns and vice versa.