Fefu and Her Friends dramaturgy open discussion thread

The dramaturgy mannequin for Fefu and Her Friends, on display in the Iwasaki Library

The dramaturgy mannequin for Fefu and Her Friends, on display in the Iwasaki Library

Hello! You may have noticed this mannequin on display in the Iwasaki Library this week. It’s part of the dramaturgy for Emerson Stage’s production of Fefu and Her Friends, which will be opening in the Semel Theater next week. We’re interested in body image in the context of modern feminism — the mannequin kicks off the discussion by inviting people (predominantly women, as implied by the body shape, but we’d welcome male participation too) to place a sticker on the area of the body you would most like to change about yourself.

But, we recognize that there’s so much more to talk about than a single dot can encompass. And we invite you to talk about it here. We’ve turned off registration requirements, so you can maintain anonymity, but we do ask you to keep comments civil and respectful. (This thread is moderated, and particularly offensive comments will be blocked.)

Let’s kick it off with this question: are there any parts of your body that you love, even though society tells you that you should feel otherwise? Share your thoughts below, in the comments.








Occupy Arkady Estate!

By Dennis Connors

In September 2011, a movement sprung up in New York City that shook the political discourse in the United States. This movement quickly spread to different cities around the US including Oakland, Chicago, Washington D.C., and our very own revolutionary home, Boston. The Occupy Movement called hundreds and even thousands of people to protest by not only marching around making sure they were making their voices heard, but by creating their own sustainable camps in each city by supplying food, education, and shelter to everyone that came their way.

These hundreds and thousands of people in each city just happened to be youth that did not agree with the trajectory of our country, especially its customs and policies, which they argued benefited the top 1% at the subjugation of the 99% in the economic battleground. This claim is backed up by reports stating that the 1% raked up around 20% of earnings in the year 2013.

Many critics of Occupy cite the movement’s reluctance towards a clear and singular direction as the reason for its ultimate non-existence only a few months after starting up. Time and time again through history, many youth-in-revolt wish to raise the society of its time to the ground, to start back at the beginning, claiming that they will eventually right all their fore-father’s wrongs. The United States itself was even founded in the spirit of leveling the status quo, and then only after the blank canvas was made was a concrete direction and new status quo implemented.

The spirit that is apparent in these revolutions are similar to that of Bazarov, a character in Fathers and Sons. He yearns to destroy the society that he lives in, one that is currently obsessed with a pseudo-aristocratic mindset and one which, in a few years’ time, is going to abolish serfdom in theory. However, just like the Occupiers you might have seen on your way to class or work, he doesn’t have a clear vision of the new order he wishes to replace it with.

The same critics of Occupy would chastise the Nihilists of late-nineteenth century Russia; however, I question their critiques. The cliche saying that the the grass is always greener on the other side underlies humanity’s struggle with never being completely satisfied. Is the want of constant revolution a negative aspect? The US government would even support Mao’s theory of Permanent Revolution. The Declaration of Independence sought to create a government which would be malleable and capable of constantly being revised, the Hindu Trimurti celebrated death, the ultimate destruction, as part of the cycle of life and rebirth, the earth needs to experience the harsh lifelessness of winter to experience a rebirth in the winter.

Bazarov brings a sense of destruction to his new-found sentiment of love, showing not just how fragile the human life is, but also how wonderful constant revolution is, both in systematic and personal contexts.

Talk to us about how you feel, during a talkback after the Saturday matinee!

Reserve seats for the Saturday matinee here.

Name Your Nihilist

Last week, our e-newsletter asked people a simple question:

Who’s your favorite nihilist?

The question might seem like a strange one to the uninformed, but if you’ve been reading in the past week, you know that the main character of Fathers and Sons, Bazarov, is an avowed nihilist. Nihilism is officially defined (thanks, Webster) as “the idea that traditional values and belief systems have no inherent worth, and that existence in general is pointless.” Bazarov presents this definition with a political twist: as traditional values and beliefs have no inherent worth, he suggests abandoning them in favor of massive social and political reform. (As Robin Goldberg mentioned earlier this week, mid-19th century Russia was considered by much of Europe to be a once-great nation in steep decline.)

It’s a heroic concept, really

At any rate, we asked members of our email list if they would share their favorite nihilists with us, in exchange for the chance at free tickets. We figured we’d share a few of their favorites with you, as well. (Think you’ve got something better? Share them in the comments…)

Favorite Fictional Nihilist:
Mersault, from Camus’ The Stranger
By far the most-nominated character…though Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment was also a pretty strong favorite.

Daria_MorgendorfferFavorite Female Nihilist:
This list is pretty male-centric. Daria Morgendorffer from the animated TV show Daria was the only female nominee we received.

Favorite Nihilist Who Probably Can’t Really Be Called a Nihilist
(because he was written centuries before the phrase was coined):
The title character of The Scottish Play (EmStage’s offices are backstage of the Greene, after all) got  a surprising number of nominations, each of them referencing this soliloquy as proof:

She should have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

UlquiorraschifferFavorite Nihilists Portrayed in Non-Mainstream Media: 

Ulquiorra Cifer, from the manga and anime series Bleach (at right)is actually an embodiment of nihilism itself, and refuses to accept any statement of value that he cannot prove with his own senses.


The Comedian/Edward Blake from the graphic novel Watchmen – started out as a superhero, but grew disenchanted. Now sees the world as a “cruel joke” and suggests that he does bad things partially because no one else ever tries to stop him.


breathless-jean-paul-belmondo-michel-poiccardFavorite Film Nihilist:
Breathless (1960, directed by Jean-Luc Godard) is described as a “nihilistic road movie” in which a Bogart-worshipping, chain-smoking, libidinous car thief goes on the lam in the streets of Paris. He is seen as being at odds with the world around him — to the point that that his criminal persona is modeled on an inappropriate American model.

Favorite Nihilist Moment  (tie):
The suicide note from Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place:”
“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.”


This paragraph from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch:
But depression wasn’t the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn’t he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells await them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that, sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten from top to bottom.”

NietzscheFavorite Real-Life Nihilist:
Friedrich Nietzsche, Mr. “God is Dead” himself.
(Actually, point of debate: Nietzsche believed that it was impossible for the human mind to exist without ascribing meaning and values to otherwise neutral items. He did, however, feel it was important that people be aware of whether they were choosing their own interpretations, or thoughtlessly accepting the interpretations of others.)

Favorite Anti-Nihilist:
Sisyphus, from Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus – a man sentenced to a useless, endless task who still manages to find meaning and happiness in his work.


Thanks to everyone who submitted their favorite nihilists. We look forward to seeing you all at Fathers and Sons  next week!

In Defense of Piotr: Why this 19th-Century Hipster is My Favorite Character in “Fathers and Sons”

By Robin Goldberg, production dramaturg


Costume rendering for “Piotr”
by Sarie Gessner ’15

If you were an inhabitant or member of the staff at the Kirsanov manor, hearing the master of the house, Nikolai, yelling for Piotr would be an infuriating everyday occurrence. Never where he’s supposed to be and always ready with a cheeky comeback, Piotr is a teenage, newly emancipated serf testing the boundaries of what he can get away with at work. Despite taking place about 150 years ago, Fathers and Sons hosts a cast of characters that resemble people we’ve all run across in our contemporary lives. As older teens and early twenty-somethings, it’s no surprise that we relate so strongly to this punk kid with multi-colored hair and piercings who talks back to and questions his boss.

Piotr is a great foil for the more serious young people in the play. Arkady and Bazarov are clearly passionate about the politics and social issues of the day, but pay less attention to how this progressive movement is personally affecting their peers. Piotr is also progressively minded: as a former serf, he actually lived through the conditions Arkady and Bazarov are fighting against. However, as a member of the peasant class, he was not afforded the opportunity to go to university and learn about the bigger picture of what was happening in his country. Piotr’s perspective isn’t one of general indignation; for him, everything is personal.

As someone right at the center of a social movement, Piotr has a greater understanding and appreciation of the experiences of the people. For him, this is a cultural revolution – something that directly affects his way of life. He’s not interested in high-minded writings and political discourse; instead he embodies the revolution through his dress and in his voice. His hair, turquoise earring, and sarcasm are presented proudly as membership of his social standing and beliefs. If he were alive today, perhaps Piotr would resemble a city kid like us, with political pins, patches, and t-shirts boasting slogans related to our most cherished causes.

Emerson kids are jokingly referred to as hipsters – primarily concerned with our vinyl collections, oversized sweaters, and writing our next poem or screenplay or tweet with a coffee in our other hand. Whatever anyone calls us, however, we are part of a younger generation that’s taking stock of our social and political environment, and not necessarily liking what we find. Like Piotr, our rebellion may seem largely trend-heavy, but we’re just as well-versed in current events as the older folks who may see us as “insolent pups” too.

Like Piotr, we can see the bigger picture while immersed in our own lives. We’re just as concerned with politics as we are with the individual parts we play in our culture. Arkady and Bazarov may see themselves as removed from the issues they concern themselves with, but Piotr knows his place is with his peers, right in the heart of all the change.

As with everything, personal experience is more important than an expert opinion — in other words, don’t take Robin’s opinion for your own…check out the show, running Feb 6-9 at the Paramount MainStage  Tickets at any Emerson box office or here

Love & Nihilism, Fathers & Sons

By Robin Goldberg, Production Dramaturg

Robin’s article was originally published in EmStage’s biweekly newsletter, which also includes extra behind-the-scenes photos and contests for free tickets. Want to get the jump on the inside scoop? Consider joining our list. 

In its most basic sense, nihilism is the philosophy that life has no real meaning. Our thoughts, beliefs, relationships, and possessions hold no true importance or weight, and actually detract from our potential to work for the greater good. Yevgeny Bazarov, the central character of Emerson Stage’s upcoming production of Fathers & Sons, identifies himself as a nihilist because he believes that Russia’s grand traditions and romantic heritage are meaningless when balanced against his country’s urgent need for economic and cultural reform. Even romantic love, Bazarov believes, should be discarded, lest it cloud the judgment of those working towards social change.

Bazarov’s views on love and romantic angst put him at odds with many people he encounters while traveling with his college friend, Arkady Kirsanov. Bazarov looks down on those like Pavel Petrovich, who allows a failed love affair to set the tone for a forlorn, lonely life, and even Arkady, whose pursuit of a female friend distracts him from his duties as a restrained, methodical nihilist. Bazarov sees the world in black and white, right and wrong – and refuses to accept that reason and emotion can exist in harmony. And there lies Bazarov’s central conflict: how can he, a passionless, idealistic nihilist who sees no value in love for its own sake, make sense of his feelings for the lovely and enigmatic Anna Odintsova?

The central theme of Fathers and Sons is the timeless push and pull of the generation gap. As the younger generation strives for change and modernization, the older generation holds tightly to tradition and a fondness for a world more familiar. To a young nihilist of the period, love existed as a relic of a time that was no longer culturally significant or relevant. For context: in the mid-1800s, Russia was perceived by the rest of Europe as being socially and culturally backwards; a once-great nation in decline (feudalism, a political and economic system that had been ended throughout Europe in previous centuries, was only abolished in Russia the year before Ivan Turgenev wrote Fathers and Sons.) To bring Russia into the future, nihilists believed that meaningless nostalgia and sentimentality for “the way things used to be,” only served to get in the way of progress. How could one hold onto unnecessary feelings when there was so much work to be done?

To lift Russia out of the dust, Bazarov felt, its people needed to place their gaze on the future and ignore any thoughts or feelings that could distract from necessary change. Love had no place in a revolution, so a true nihilist could not waste any time with silly, unproductive feelings. However, what was a progress-minded young man to do when he could no longer ignore his own human nature? Bazarov’s emotional struggle serves as a fascinating parallel for a country fighting itself for much-needed change and a desire for stability, as well as posing the question, is it really possible — or even desirable — to fight individual human nature in favor of the greater good? 

To form your own opinion, come see the show.

Costume Obsession

If you’re the kind of person who bases their Must See TV on “which shows have the best wardrobe” (All you Downton Abbey fans, don’t even pretend to look the other way)…well, you are in luck: Fathers & Sons, which is based on the classic novel by the same name, and will open on the Paramount Mainstage in a little over two weeks.

The place is Russia, and the year is 1859. For those of you who need a little historical brush-up, this is smack-dab-mid-Victorian era (which, due to Queen V’s overabundance of children and the span of the British Empire, had significantly greater impact on international culture & fashion than previous eras). Victoria’s rule spanned more than 60 years, during which, fashion changes were basically represented by ever-widening skirts and greater use of embellishments (both of which were used to indicate social status and wealth). Also: we’re in Russia, where they build things like this.

You guys. Do you realize what this means? It’s like costume porn. (Can I use that word on an educational blog?) (But really. It totally is.)

I was going to share some of costume designer Sarie Gessner’s renderings today, but then I went down to the costume shop to see if I could get some photos of the actual fabric, and guess what I found?


Why share renderings when you can look at the real thing?

Actually, this is why:


It blows my mind that just a few short months ago, costume designer Sarie Gessner and director Benny Sato Ambush started talking about the world of Fathers and Sons: who were these people? How did they present themselves to the world around them? How could they best use the costumes of the play to communicate a character’s personality and internal life to the audience?

With answers to those ideas in mind, Sarie sat down and sketched the dress above. And about 10 weeks later, we’ve got the real thing, ready to wear.


Katya-detail-sleeve---webNearly ready.

(Also: note that the trim on Katya’s sleeve, shown here, has been pinned into shape (and will, assumedly, be sewn down soon). And then extrapolate it to this:


…and this:

…and imagine how much work this single dress represents for our costume shop. And there are 13 characters in the play!

One of whom, we were lucky enough to catch in the act of getting fitted.

Blazko renderig


(Introducing: James Blazko as Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov. Sarie Gessner tying his cravat)

Just two weeks to go until you get to see the rest of them on the Paramount Mainstage! Performances at 8pm on Feb 6, 7 and 8, and 2pm on Feb 8 and 9. (Tickets at any Emerson box office, or here.)