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‘Miss Neo Pageant’ explores what it means to be feminine, successful

JessicAnne (from left) Megan Mercier Leah Urzendowski Courser Molly Plunk Tif Harrisstar “The Miss Neo Pageant” Neo-Futurists.

Jessica Anne (from left), Megan Mercier, Leah Urzendowski Courser, Molly Plunk and Tif Harrison star in “The Miss Neo Pageant” at Neo-Futurists.

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‘The Miss Neo Pageant’

◆ May 16-June 22

◆ The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave.

◆ Tickets, $20

◆ (773) 275-5255;
neofuturists.org

Maps

Updated: June 11, 2013 6:14AM



Women studies scholars will tell you that there are three feminist movements. The first began with the suffragettes and the right to vote; the second, of course, was the women’s liberation movement of the ’60s and ’70s and the third rallied the young women of the ’90s via the Girl Power phenomenon.

Megan Mercier came of age during feminism’s third chapter with strong female role models in her life. But despite all this, now at 29, she looks around and feels she’s “ended up in this weird limbo.”

“It feels like being a teenager never stopped in some ways,” Mercier says. “I don’t feel like a fully realized adult. You’re guided through life and then you get out of college and no one prepares you for what to expect. There’s no structure and it’s easy to go off the rails.”

Mercier, the artistic director at the Neo-Futurists, the unconventional theater ensemble on Chicago’s North Side, dissects this predicament in the new show “The Miss Neo Pageant.” The show begins like a traditional beauty pageant but “wanders off in other directions,” Mercier says. “You won’t see anyone twirling a baton, but in a way you will see people responding to baton twirling.”

“It’s a crazy dream of a pageant with audience participation and sledgehammers and lots of costume changes,” director Stephanie Shaw adds. “It’s like a crazy dream where there’s a beauty pageant except it’s not, it’s a bookmobile.”

“The Miss Neo Pageant” was created by the performers: Mercier, Jessica Anne, Tif Harrison, Molly Plunk and Leah Urzendowski Courser. Shaw guides them through the process. She says the actresses keep one another on track while also keeping the show multifaceted.

“Megan gave the ensemble its point of focus, but each woman brings her own point of view, her own background, her own artistic approach to it,” Shaw explains. “They counterbalance one another very well. We have folks who express themselves best physically, we have wordsmiths, we have empaths and we have rebels.”

The show addresses issues of gender bias, how success is measured and what it means to win. “It also looks at how women feel misrepresented in art, media and culture and would like the chance to speak for themselves,” Plunk says.

The women began collaborating in fall in what would become a 15-week writing process. The goal was to have an open discussion about things in their lives.

“We bonded in a great way that doesn’t always happen because we have these dizzy, haphazard lives,” Mercier says. “Most of what went into the piece is drawn directly from our lives.”

Shaw admits the entire process of creating “The Miss Neo Pageant” has been an “odd process” for her.

Through the process, Mercier says she has learned something about herself. Positions of leadership and being assertive have often left her uncomfortable.

“I’ve often held back as a leader because I don’t want to be seen as a bitch,” Mercier says. “But I’ve learned here that I can be a leader and that people won’t interpret that as another agenda. It’s just a different vision.”

The show was created by women for women and that has left its creators feeling they’ve made something special.

Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.



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