Dallas — New Orleans performer Diana Shortes offers a dark, poetic piece for the third annual Dallas Solo Fest with an intriguing title: White Sauce and Diaper Babies. While the title may sound humorous, Shortes demonstrates a strong interest in challenging female subjects and questioning the American Dream.
First of all, can you tell me the inspiration for your wonderful title of White Sauce and Diaper Babies?
The title comes from a line in the middle of the play, an excerpt from an interview with Anne Sexton, in which she explains: "Until I was 28 years old, I had a kind of buried self who didn't know she could do anything but make white sauce and diaper babies. I didn't know I had any creative depths." A pretty powerful statement, I thought, coming from a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Out of context, I realize the title might be a little disorienting, but I like the way it plays with word order and captures, for me, the essence of several themes that run throughout the piece.
Sexton was very clear that she "was a victim of the American Dream...the white, bourgeois, middle-class dream." She also came to realize that "one cannot build little white picket fences to keep nightmares out," and began writing poetry after her first suicide attempt, at the suggestion of her psychiatrist. The word "sauce" carries several connotations. In addition to the classic white bechamel sauce to which she is referring (very popular in mid-20th century American cuisine), "sauce" can refer to booze, back-talk or (according to the Urban Dictionary) "an undefinable personality trait that some women possess....best described as sexual confidence or flirty-ness", all things which were an integral part of Anne's existence.
How long have you been performing solo pieces? What draws you to this kind of performance?
I first began developing this particular piece nearly 20 years ago, as my senior thesis at Antioch College. The inspiration came much earlier, though. I found the poem "Consorting With Angels" in a monologue book in maybe the seventh grade. The poem was an excerpt from Sexton's play Mercy Street. In high school, I began performing it as a monologue at local and state speech competitions. I guess that's where it all started.
I love the theater, every element of it. I have also never been interested in trying to fit myself in to some sort of already accepted image of what a woman onstage or screen should be. So I have created my own work. The hope with White Sauce is that I will be able to express my own unique voice, through my identification with Anne Sexton's words, and tap into her ability to tell the Truth about human existence.
Over the years, I have worked as an actress, a designer, a director, a technician, a producer, administrator and stage manager. I do love working on every aspect of a show, and solo performance requires that I take that passion and put it to work.
How would you describe your style of theater?
I guess I would describe my style as one of heightened realism. I am definitely a physical actress, but certainly appreciate the quiet power of stillness on stage. I like to work with happenstance and objects. Everything for me is an experiment. I love the feeling of security that comes when something is "set", but often we need to adapt to new perimeters of space, time or energy, and I always leave room for improvisation.
What other projects are you working on next?
Next up for me is another solo show about the Baroness Michaela Almonester de Pontalba, a significant historical figure from New Orleans.
Some people are aware that the Baroness built Jackson Square and the Pontalba Apartments in New Orleans, as well as the Hotel Pontalba in Paris, which is now the residency for the U.S. embassy. (Most everyone who has heard of her has also heard the erroneous rumor that she had an illicit affair with President Andrew Jackson, hence the statue placed in the center of the square, tipping his hat to her center apartment.) Very few, however, know the truly incredible story that she did all of this AFTER surviving a brutal attack upon her life by her father-in-law, leaving Michaela with a mangled left hand and three bullets lodged permanently in her chest.
The piece I have written is a personal account of the attack, told from her perspective, titled: The Baroness Undressed. As the story of her courtship, marriage and estrangement unfolds, the Baroness removes articles of her elaborate mid-19th century costume, one by one, symbolizing that which she has lost to a society where a woman's worth is determined "by the weight of the satins, silks and lace that her body bore."
I've also been working as director and collaborator on a solo show about Dorothy Parker, by New Orleans actress Claudia Baumgarten. We are exploring the possibility of touring our pieces together on a double bill...something like "the ladies of literature, greatest hits."
Of course, there are at least a baker's dozen other ideas, in various embryonic stages, floating around inside of me...including a piece about miscarriage and the lingering effects of grieving silently...but steady as she goes, one foot in front of the other is generally the way to get there.
Whose work inspires you as a theater artist?
I just had the incredible opportunity to see Lisa Wolpe perform her solo show Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, and I must say I was transformed. It was really very much a guru-disciple moment for me. For the last twenty years Lisa spearheaded an all-women's Shakespeare company out of L.A., and now she is touring this piece she created which places her brilliant interpretations of some of the best roles in the English language against a backdrop of personal narrative, touching on grief, loss, identity and the will to survive. In a word, it was amazing...and inspired me to keep trekking along on my own journey, at just the right moment.
If you had to describe your play in 5 words only, what would you say?
Sultry. Intellectual. Dark. Comedy. Poetry.
White Sauce and Diaper Babies is performed on the following days:
- 9pm | Thursday, June 9
- 7:30pm | Friday, June 10
- 5:30pm | Sunday, June 12
» Click here to see our listing for White Sauce and Diaper Babies
» To see a full schedule of shows, go here
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