Making Art in 2017: Michaela Shuchman on Airswimming
Name: Michaela Shuchman
Company: Half Key Theatre Company
2017 Festival Show: Airswimming
Past Festival shows: Scarlet Letters with Ross & Diggs
FringeArts: Tell us about your show.
Michaela Shuchman: Set in 1920s Ireland, Airswimming by Charlotte Jones is based on the true story of two women imprisoned in a mental hospital for daring to challenge society’s definition of womanhood. Forgotten by the world, Dora and Persephone come together for one hour each day to clean and find connection. Through sheer force of will, friendship, and a penchant for Doris Day, they redefine their world and resist confinement for over fifty years. Airswimming explores female identity and friendship at a time in Irish history when mental health and women’s issues converged. Jones takes the imagined circumstances of two real imprisoned women and asks: How do we express and accept ourselves when our freedoms have been taken away? How can finding connection with another person help us better understand ourselves? What does Doris Day have to do with any of this? Airswimming speaks to the desire in all of us to be free from societal constraints, to dance and be weird and wacky with our best friends, and to find meaning in the most unexpected of places.
FringeArts: How have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year?
Michaela Shuchman: We—Michelle Johnson, Elizabeth Stevens, and myself)—first produced Airswimming at Swarthmore College in 2016. It was Michelle and my senior honors thesis and Elizabeth was our professor and director. It was an incredibly special experience because we thought it would be the last time the three of us would work together and we had spent months finding a play that we felt really spoke to us and our time. Airswimming had an entirely female production team, design team, and cast which seemed quite fitting. At the time, Airswimming struck us because as two women about to go out into the world beyond academia, we felt very strongly the desire to tell the untold stories of women and leave that example for future students. Now, we want to continue to tell this story to the greater Philadelphia community. Now, we tell this story over a year later with more lived experiences. Now, in the current political and social climates, this story of two women that suffered the consequences of not following the rules in a male-dominated society feels more important than ever.
FringeArts: Tell us about an instance from 2017 when your interaction with art provided some much needed solace or refuge from outside troubles.
Michaela Shuchman: There’s a very particular feeling an artist feels when she sees a piece of work that calls to her, that inspires her to make work like it, that makes her own creative soul start to vibrate. That’s how I felt when I saw A Doll’s House Part 2 the other week. Lucas Hnath, the playwright, took a story we thought we all knew about a woman written by a man a long time ago, and turned it on its head. He gave her a voice and agency and complexity and though he modernized the language, kept the woman in her own world. However, through this mixing of centuries, he allowed us in and gently prodded us to think about our own world in reference to the one we saw on stage.
Half Key Theatre Company
$20 / 90 minutes
Sept. 8th-9th, 12th-16th, 19th-23rd at 7pm; Sept. 10th, 17th, 24th at 3pm @ Walnut Street Theatre: Studio 5, 825 Walnut Street