In this blog post, HISSYFIT’s Claire Macallister shares with us her journey and discovery she made whilst writing Best Before part of Calm Down Dear ’19.
“In the end this shall be for me sufficient, that a marble stone shall declare that a Queen, having reigned such a time, lived and died a virgin.” – Elizabeth I
When we started toying with the idea of making a show centred on virginity, we had no idea why the word ‘virginity’ existed. We didn’t know the reason for its existence in our lexicon and we didn’t understand what it was doing for us in our everyday lives. For Elizabeth I, the brand has lasted as long as her name. But we still couldn’t specify what ‘virginity’ entailed or why it was important. If pressed, could we tell someone exactly what and where it was?
When we realised that we couldn’t (in part due to the inkling – could anybody?), we knew we wanted to create a piece of theatre focussing on how the sexual worth of women is calculated and upheld. Our company, HISSYFIT, strives to make multi-form work through a feminist lens, and we knew we wanted it to be deliberately messy and awkward and funny – all of the things that we recognised from our lives and our own experiences with virginity, sex and girlhood. In making this work with an attitude of sincere celebration and genuine empathy, we hoped to renegotiate our understanding of female desire. There is a predetermined narrative for women’s relationship to sex, and because we don’t have access to a complete vocabulary for the complexities of this conversation, it became important to make a show around this topic to open up this discourse. The lingering sense of shame, embarrassment and disappointment around the term ‘virginity’ was the ultimate revelation we needed to galvanise us into action.
When we talk about virginity, we often use it to define a deviancy, a departure from the norm. In the historical sense, we talk of bodies intact, souls unspoiled and the experience of defiling the undefiled. In a more contemporary setting, we mean it in a physical sense – “breaking the lawn chair”, “skinning the fish”, we could go on forever. No. No. Listen. We could literally go on forever.
Rather, it is conceptual. It is a structure, a social construct, built of the most durable stuff. It is a way to categorise a form of the ‘other’ – those unlucky, miserable, prudish few who, simply, aren’t having sex. We don’t come to the Camden People’s Theatre armed with ideas on how we can disintegrate that concept. Instead, we hope that our show can become part of an evolving conversation around those existing archaic patriarchal assumptions of virginity, worthiness and pleasure.
This shall be – for us – sufficient.