Words by Zoe Evans
Illustration by Rrita Hashani
Friday marks the first day of the summertime North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival. This year, they gain a production from a Knoxville hometowner. Linsey Watkins’ play Oh Righteous God And Sinful Me (aka ORGASM) will be a part of WTFringe, a new category of “stripped down” productions within the festival. ORGASM will play this Saturday at 10pm and Sunday at 2pm, with the festival running all weekend.
Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF) is a Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill based organization in North Carolina, which seeks “to create, produce, and promote extraordinary theatre by all marginalized genders” according to their website. They host workshops, discussion panels, and staged play readings in addition to their fringe shows.
Watkins is a theatre major and creative writing minor at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga currently, but she previously attended Knoxville Catholic High School. Her experiences there, she says, are the source of her inspiration for ORGASM.
“Everything about it is personal for me. I know these characters as though they are my real friends, I lived with them for so long. My Catholic school experience was not as extreme on every level as the kind I have depicted in my play, but many things do still apply.”
However, she says that the intentions of the play extend beyond just Catholic school.
“The lack of access to real sex education and forcing sex ed that is purely abstinence based upon students is dangerous. It's not exclusive to the time period of this play, the setting, or anything. I am from Tennessee, and in this state you are not required to teach consent while teaching about sex education.”
Watkins notes this lack of education, along with the pressure on young women to uphold both their own and their male peers’ “purity” as reasons for writing the play. She hopes to normalize female sexuality, masturbation, and horniness by talking about them in ways that don’t fetishize groups of people who often are fetishized, like Catholic school girls and gay women.
Additionally, she writes her characters specifically circumventing traditional, stereotypical female roles: “1. the mom, 2. the hot skinny love interest, 3. the hot skinny mom, 4. the hot skinny badass, 5. the lovable--but not fuckable--best friend, 6. the stone cold bitch because she has a job.” Watkins has been cast in roles like these herself, and wants better for the actors in her play -- especially since several of them were her co-actors in other productions.
“Something I try to achieve as a writer is writing more complex roles for women, so the female character can't possibly fit an archetype or only exist to push the male protagonist's narrative along...I am not the first person to have the idea of putting complex women on stage. My mentors have mostly all been fellow powerful women, which gives me hope.”
One of those mentors is her professor Gaye Jeffers, another playwright who offered herself to act for the role of Sister Mary Paul in ORGASM.
Not only did Watkins have outside support from mentors while writing the play, but she also looked to media and literature for information. Reading plays by women (even if they weren’t of the same subject matter) and watching movies set in the 90s were some of her favorite ways to brainstorm themes and details. Music, she said, was also helpful to get her in the mindset to write.
“I had a playlist dedicated to getting me hyped up and in the mood for it all. Songs by women about sexual discovery, sex, feeling sexy, and stuff like that. Also, as awful as it is, a lot of Catholic hymns, too. Needed to get back in that headspace. I’d have “S&M” by Rihanna playing in my car followed by songs like “I Am The Bread of Life” from Catholic Church hymns.”
Now that she’s done writing ORGASM, and casting for that matter, what’s next for Watkins? She’s looking forward to its premier at the WTF Summer Festival, and past that, she’s aiming for grad school at UT Austin, Yale, or Julliard. She wants to keep on writing, especially about women’s issues, while uplifting other marginalized writers doing the same. One specific goal, she says, is writing more inclusive roles.
“I can make my work accessible for everyone and have LGBTQ+ love stories on stage that are just any other love story...I can write stories that help us have POC and LGBTQ+ individuals in roles that are not archetypes and require no explanation for why their character exists...What I specifically want to do next is to write more pieces with no gender requirements in casting. My play ORGASM is definitely catered towards women who have vaginas, so I would like to try and write more characters who do not require an actor to fit a gender binary to be seen as being right for the role. “
It’s obvious Watkins cares about how her plays read to an audience, and who that audience is. She’s intentional and thoughtful about what her characters mean, and the messages she sends through her writing. In ORGASM, her hopes are to relate to the young women who are now in the position that she once was. It’s both personal, and universal.
“Everything it means to me is what I’m hoping it can mean to other people.”
To support the North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival, or to check out the schedule, ticket prices, and detailed information about the 2019 Summer Festival, see their website https://www.womenstheatrefestival.com/.