By Sarah Marlin
VOX:WOM(A)N, a New Works Lab, directed by Lebo McKoena ’18, is a devised piece with an ensemble of six women. Combining elements of music, movement, and poetry into an empowering exploration of womanhood, VOX:WOM(A)N strives to unite the voices of a vast range of women. From Johannesburg, South Africa, Lebo McKoena owes a lot of her theatrical background to where she grew up. There, the theater was a place to go to be uncomfortable. She has been writing under her non-profit, Coconut Oreo Productions that she cofounded with a friend at Skidmore as a theater for social change and social awareness. I had the chance to sit down with McKoena and ask her a few questions about her work.
Marlin: So VOX: WOM(A)N, how did this start?
McKoena: I came up with it as part of a series that was originally called Dimensions. I was playing with amalgamating different voices of women onstage. Vox: Wom(a)n, because I’m exploring the voices of women and womanhood…The conception was to explore womanhood based off my own experience having been in South Africa… and find myself as a person and as a woman in a very volatile and trying time.
Marlin: Can you touch on the creative process?
McKoena: I had a general structure in my head and I had prompts [for the actors] that were essentially topics that I wanted to explore or that I was interested in discerning thoughts or feelings about. We come into rehearsal and I provide them with initial text that I developed myself. All of the text is real. I told them that the final script version was directed by me, but co-written by all of us. There is no fictional character about it.
Marlin: Are the actors being themselves?
McKoena: Yeah, essentially. They are being every woman. They are every woman.
Marlin: VOX:WOM(A)N is devised. What was the baseline for all of your work at the start of your process?
McKoena: I wanted to collect and illuminate voices. I’m actually so happy with how it has turned out. I see the women, my cast. I see pieces of them and that’s what excites me. I told my class that this has been a very healing experience for me. I literally had to do this. I’ve always used theater to “make sense of,” make sense of the past few months of my personal life.
Marlin: What can the audience expect to experience when seeing VOX: WOM(A)N?
McKoena: When you come to see Vox: Wom(a)n you are essentially accepting an invitation by us to come into our reflective spaces. The audience will come in and they will be part of a reflection. We did not adhere to traditional components or elements of theater. We are creating our own world. It’s going to be very intimate.
Marlin: So the ensemble that you have right now makes the show what it is?
McKoena: Yeah, if I had different women it would be different. These devised pieces always reflect the people you devise them with. If I were going to workshop this piece and go develop in Malawi, and Namibia with Namibian women, or anyone in Africa for that matter, it would be different. Women in Asia would be different. Something about that, I really like. Then it can be a global reflection. A global collective reflection. Each time I send it to a place, there will always be a piece of the people.
Marlin: And a piece of you?
McKoena: Yeah always, always. There is never any running away from how much [of] yourself is always in a piece.
Marlin: Why VOX: WOM(A)N here and now?
McKoena: Honestly, because I was that very confused woman. It was healing, especially right now… I’m not the only one.
Marlin: The only one?
McKoena: Yeah the only one dealing with stuff. There is no way I am. I can’t bring myself to believe that. The only thing I have much of an opinion about is being a woman because I am one. I don’t like creating work that I am not connected to. Authenticity is very big for me. I am a woman and I know that struggle, that beauty, that privilege, or however you want to look at it. I know that best.