It takes time for young arts organizations to figure out what they do best and find their audience. The Femmemphis Collective, on the other hand, has sprung like Athena from Zeus' noggin, fully formed, wise beyond age, and spoiling for some action. The company's stated goal is to empower and promote female, female-presenting, and non-binary artistic voices of Memphis. Their method so far has been to produce a mix of writing projects and low-budget, high-concept comedies.
Femmephis' early work winked at classics. Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties was a mashup of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Max Fleischer's enduring cartoon character Betty Boop. Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief had similarly Shakespearean roots, doing to Othello what Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead does to Hamlet. Pretty, The Femmemphis Collective's latest offering, is also the group's first full-bore foray into producing original material. So what happens when a group of women — varying in age, shape, and background — unite to explore the concept of beauty? That's what Pretty, an ensemble-devised piece is all about. There will be dance. There will also be sock puppets.
Director Leslie Ann Barker says she aspires to "radical inclusiveness," and that every actor, dancer, and storyteller who brought an idea to the Pretty project has been folded into the work.
"It's a collection of stories and sketches," Barker says. "We have mothers talking about body experts. We look at weight, skin tone, and all these things. And I feel like we're just scratching the surface."