A Partial Who's Who at MoMFest 2000
Heather Barfield & Elizabeth DossTo look at Heather Barfield and Elizabeth Doss, you might think they're too young to have much theatrical experience under their belts. But that just goes to show how appearances can deceive you. Despite the fact that their ages added together don't top the half-century mark, these two women have between them well over a dozen years of experience on Austin stages -- and they've done more in that time than many artists do in double the time. In just the past year, for example, Barfield has performed in Merton of the Movies for Different Stages, For the Love of Linko for ONE Theatre Company, and Fractured Greeks and Dark Goddess for VORTEX Repertory Company, and she's directing the premiere of Aaron Brown's new play The Bridgeburner, which opens at The Vortex in November. Doss, meanwhile, has taken the stage in VORTEX's Fractured Greeks and Despair's Book of Dreams and the Sometimes Radio, Tongue & Groove Theatre's Pinocchio Commedia, and participated in a monthlong residency with improviser Walter Thompson of Sound Painting fame. While both work with other companies -- Doss spent two years as assistant facilitator of the Cultural Warriors and is co-founder of Off My Back Productions, Barfield is MoMFest's development director -- their deepest affiliation is with VORTEX, where they are longtime company members -- Doss since 1996, Barfield since 1990 -- with credits in such signature company shows as Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (Doss) and The X & Y Trilogy (Barfield). Both also came through the ranks of the company's Summer Youth Program, which is at least partly responsible for propelling them into such active theatrical careers so early. It was in the program's 1999 show, Machinal, that the two had their first chance to collaborate, and the results were memorable, with Doss earning a Payne Award nomination for her performance in the lead role, Barfield earning a nomination for her direction, and the production winning the award for Outstanding Show for Children.
"She pushed me really hard when I was doing Machinal," Doss says of Barfield. "It was such an incredibly hard circumstance and role," she recalls, one in which her character suffers oppression, desperation, and a madness that propels her to murder. Doss credits Barfield with helping her meet the challenge of the role. "She understands what needs to be there and how to bring it out of an actor. It was so hard for me, but so good for me. That's when we really started a good working relationship."
"I trust her," Barfield says of Doss, recalling Doss' willingness during Machinal to go to those dark, difficult places where some actors won't go. That kind of commitment means a lot to Barfield, because she will frequently base her work in a specific vision, and realizing that vision requires performers willing to take it as far as she needs them to. In Doss, Barfield found an artist of like mind -- or at least like will -- and when she had an idea for a piece in VORTEX's Living Room Series of short works, she approached Doss to be in it. Doss agreed, and they presented it in August.
That proved to be just the beginning. Doss and Barfield decided to rework the piece for MOMFest, presenting it under the company name Go Bella Works. Doss created a script, incorporating ideas from Barfield's piece, and they merged them into a work that is somewhat split in form, being partly text-based and partly ritual-based, but united in its themes, focusing on sexuality, power relationships between men and women, and, as Barfield says, "being in your body or being outside your body, seeing who you are, seeing another woman in yourself."
"I think that Liz and I, we come from the same perspective of being women who are investigating our true selves," Barfield notes. Some of that is intellectual and spiritual, but much is physical, grounded in the simple fact that, as Barfield says, "once a month, women undergo a very intense experience" biologically and what that means and in the cultural baggage attached to physical appearance. "It's not easy as a woman to feel beautiful about yourself," says Barfield. Based on the prevailing images in our society, you're driven to judge yourself against others -- "She's skinnier than I am, she has bigger breasts than I do" -- or be judged by others. Barfield notes, "I've been to film calls and I've seen who the casting directors cast, and I don't fit that mold. Not a day goes by where I don't question the way I look and especially to men." So she and Doss have set out to explore self-image and gender roles and sexuality, and in a way "that is not in-your-face," as Barfield puts it, "that's not insulting ... not preachy." Both women believe it's important to have an open mind and a sense of humor. "We're not trying to answer these questions," Barfield insists, "we're just saying this is how we feel about these things."
So far the collaboration seems to be working, although Doss isn't too sure how. "What's really interesting about working with Heather is that we approach things from totally different perspectives. I have this really realistic drive and she has this really ritualistic drive. I would be thinking about text, and she'd say, 'Well, I'm going to be all wrapped in cheesecloth like a mummy.'" The two sensibilities would seem to be at odds, but Doss says their contrasting approaches complement each other. "It's almost magical," she says, "how easily these things have been fitting together. That's a really great feeling in collaboration."
That suggests a long future ahead for Go Bella Works. And given the name of the company, would it be safe to assume that future projects will deal with aspects of beauty? Uh, not exactly. "Bella is the name of my dog," says Barfield. "My female dog. My bitch dog. It's a tribute to all the bitches of the world."
Go Bella Works performs Sunday, Oct. 1, and Wednesday, Oct. 4, 8pm, at The Vortex, 2307 Manor