June, a new play by Hannah Holman, gets a workshop performance this weekend by Savage Umbrella. The piece started with an image Holman had of June Cleaver in handcuffs at an interrogation table. While the script doesn't include the actual June Cleaver, there is a character named June, and she bears resemblance to the 1950s icon. The play that takes place mid-century in the underground lesbian bar scene.
Holman's interest in history drew her to the pre-Stonewall era, when women seeking women lovers had to do so secretly. For research, Holman read books from the library and searched for documentaries about the period, with one of the best books she read being Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in 20th Century America. "It has so many personal stories that I think are universal and relatable for anyone trying figure out their identity, establish connections, and just claim themselves," says Holman. "Which, I think, is all of us."
The process for creating the script included conducting workshops with a group of women actors that are part of the cast. Starting with ideas, rather than text, Holman used Viewpoints, a physical theater method, as well as improvisation and writing exercises with the seven women performers. Often, she would take shorthand notes during improvisations. From there, it was a matter of "collecting all the pieces and synthesizing it into a story," Holman says.
In the play, a newlywed woman named June (played by Kayla Dvorak Feld) moves into a neighborhood where everyone has a secret. The play weaves in and out of June's dream life and reality, as June soon becomes friends with Mae (played by Emily Dussault), a singer in an underground club. There's also a chorus of "society ladies," who serve as a counterpart to June's journey toward self-realization.
Holman delves into secrets in this work, exploring survival tactics when being open about who you are isn't possible. While she doesn't identify as lesbian, Holman says Savage Umbrella as a company doesn't shy away from issues of race and gender. "I'm interested in telling stories about women and bringing out voices that are lesser heard throughout history," she says. "Being a woman, I feel these rules and constraints that have been put upon me and I'm interested in how that has happened in the past with women that really paved the way for myself and people like me."
Savage Umbrella will be presenting two workshop performances of June
on Friday and Saturday at the Southern at 7:30, as part of the Southern's new ArtShare program, followed by a third performance at Banfill-Lock Center for the Arts in Fridley. After the workshop performances, Savage Umbrella will revisit June
at the beginning of 2015 for a fully staged performance.