Crack open the 2006 edition of the Collins Gage Canadian Dictionary and this is what you will find listed under “virgin”: “(1) a person, especially a woman, who has never had intercourse, (2) an unmarried girl and (3) a member of any religious order of women who have vowed to remain virgins.” Synonyms for “virgin” include “pure” and “untouched.” Umm, okay? Medical definitions also fail to provide much insight into the concept of female virginity, as many textbooks and journals still focus exclusively on hetero-normative sex acts (ie: vaginal penetration). Society doesn’t seem to have a clean-cut definition of female virginity–but you can bet that it has an opinion on it, damn it. Unfortunately, many of these opinions still dance to the dysfunctional tune of “girls who do and girls who don’t” which is harmful to young people both male and female alike. Virginity is evolving from a murky concept to a disturbing social construct that is obsessed about and fetishized by society.
The topic is heavy but Edmonton director and playwright, Natalia Knowlton is boldly exploring and questioning it in her new work, Impurities, which is being produced by CrossLine Theatre at the 2013 Edmonton International Fringe Festival. The show presents the unique experiences of 3 gurls—Kate (Terry Gingras), Cecilia (Kara Chamberlain), and Mia (Jessica Watson)—who are, as described in the blurb found in the festival’s program, “pressured into having sex, not having sex, or too simply giving blowjobs” and “whether they oblige or rebel against these conflicting messages, something is still missing in their sex lives.”
“A coming of age story for each one… An awakening of (their) sexuality,” says Natalia.
Natalia was inspired to write Impurities in the summer of 2011 after reading Jessica Valenti’s book, The Purity Myth. Jessica argues that society’s focus on virginity is more destructive than helpful in regards to the treatment of young women as it still adheres to dated ideals serving the patriarchy (daughters and wives are the property of their fathers and husbands, and virginity serves as a tool of control). Then there’s the rose-tinted fairytale depiction of “first time” sex which is prevalent in media geared towards teen girls… On the other end of the spectrum is the objectification of young women by one another and themselves as discussed in Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, which spoke luridly of rainbow parties, where girls supposedly wear colourful shades of lipstick and go down on multiple guys throughout the evening, turning male attendees’ penises into “rainbows.” This libertine attitude towards sexuality operates under the veil of acceptance of female sexuality but is, once again, doing nothing but harm.
“Girls get these conflicting messages,” Natalia explains, “If you don’t have sex, you’re this prude, but if you do… It’s a really hard battle to fight.” Natalia began working on the script for Impurities during her first year at the Citadel Theatre’s Young Playwriting Company in 2012/2013. The show was work-shopped for awhile and then received a staged reading on June 3, 2013 which was directed by Heather Inglis. CrossLine Theatre was created in October 2012 by Natalia, Terry and Kata (who had all recently graduated from the University of Alberta’s drama program) following a conversation about feminism and the importance of strong, relatable female characters. Part of CrossLine Theatre’s mandate is to, through a feminist perspective “present pertinent issues in our everyday lives that are often swept under the rug, bringing awareness to issues concerning both female and male gender stereotypes” through theatre and performance. This is the first work that has been produced by CrossLine Theatre and this audience member is excited to see more shows from them in the future.
Impurities is daring, gritty, and totally in-your-face. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart – though the especially faint of heart would likely benefit from seeing it the most. The set is simplistic (3 wooden trunks on stage used to create different settings and to represent the lives of the 3 main characters) but is ripe with symbolism (white dresses, splashes of the colour red, dirt). The production is at times a little rough around the edges, but is made up for by its powerful message and strong performances by the cast of 7 young women who stunningly perform close to 40 different characters both male and female. Though much of the show’s content is disturbing and bleak (Impurities may be triggering for some as there are some scenes portraying bullying and sexual abuse), there was still room for a couple well-placed laughs–an awkwardly hilarious scene involving what “first time” sex is really all about stands out in particular.
If you like shows that are loud, edgy and politically-minded, then this show is definitely worth checking out!
Impurities is being shown at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival until August 23 at Venue 05, King Edward School located at 8530-101 Street, Edmonton, Alberta. Tickets are $10.
Remaining Show Times:
Wednesday, August 21, 2013—6:45 PM
Thursday, August 22, 2013—10:30 PM
Friday, August 23, 2013—4:30 PM