We start rehearsals for SKINS next week, and I couldn’t be more excited! We hit the ground running with a workshop with playwright Emily Dendinger and some of our favorite theatre-makers this past April, and since then we’ve been re-writing the script, building news puppets from scratch, and transforming thrift store junk into fairy tale costume couture!
Early on in the script of SKINS, an elderly professor at an academic conference asks his audience:
“Now then, why fairy tales? That is the question we are here to address.
Why do we keep coming back to these same stories, these same characters, plots, and literary devices, time and time again?
The answer, I believe, is somewhat obvious: because they are ageless, therapeutic, miraculous, and dare I say, beautiful, right?”
Yes, you may ask, why is Collective Unconscious tackling another fairy tale about a princess, yet again? (Especially after our last production concerned that princess who avoided her impending arranged marriage by sleeping for 100 years!) Well, the short answer is: fairy tales, folk tales, and wonder tales (whatever you want to call them), are like a bottomless well for us, that constantly offers up an endless supply of new and unexpected associations and questions.
SKINS is loosely adapted from a dark “Cinderella” family of stories, that I’ve had a connection to ever since I can remember. When I was in kindergarten, I was obsessed with the fairy tale “Cinderella”. I reserved and checked out every edition of “Cinderella” that I could get my hands on from the Ramsey County Public Library, comparing the different versions, translations, and (obviously) the illustrations (still my favorite part!). Eventually, my mother grew tired of reading me the same story nearly every night, and found an otherwise forgotten sub-variation on the “Cinderella” tale, titled “Princess Furball” (check it out here, the drawings are delicious!). It’s kind of like “Cinderella” in the second half, but the first part is filled with death and incest…oh my!
Over the years, I’ve always lugged along my tattered old book of “Princess Furball” as I moved around many, many times, and near the end of my graduate studies, I was inspired to re-think my obsessive connection to the tale after reading the article “But Who Are You Really?“ in the book Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimms (a fantastic read, if a bit academic at times; you can check it out here).
Otherwise known as “Thousandfurs (Allerleirauh),” “Donkeyskin,” or “Tattercoats,” the tale begins with a princess (of course it does). Upon her mother’s death, the princess’ father the king goes mad and falls in love with his daughter (the princess). In order to indefinitely postpone the wedding, the clever princess asks for what she thinks is the impossible: three dresses (one more beautiful than the sky, another the moon, and the third the sun), along with a cloak made from one thousand different kinds of fur. When her father the king is able to meet these seemingly impossible demands, the princess disguises herself as a little hairy animal in the thousand fur cloak and runs away. Erasing her gender and class with her furry, ambiguously-bodied disguise, the princess-in-hiding is able to explore new identities, possibilities, and opportunities. When she unexpectedly falls in love with a prince, she’s put at a crossroads and has to make a choice about who she is and what she wants. The princess/furry animal has to ask herself: But who is she…really? A perfect princess, a little hairy animal… or something else entirely?
In the weeks leading up to our aforementioned April workshop, our core ensemble of artists read every literary version of this fairy tale that we could get our hands on (thank you to fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes!), and our discussions around the key questions and themes in all of the tales often came back to these core questions:
With these core questions swirling about in my head, I am reminded of my own journey to self-exploration, self-discovery, and self-acceptance. This journey began in those very early years, with my intense, subconscious connections to “Cinderella” and “Princess Furball” – disastrously exploded in my twenties – and continues to this day, although the changes are smaller, quieter, and on the whole, a little calmer.
I’m looking forward to beginning rehearsals early next week, where these questions can be explored collectively, in the room, and on our feet. Onward!