Standing in front of a small stage, Meg Phillips Crespy, artistic director and founder of Guerl-rilla Theatre, looked out upon a full house at Talking Horse Productions. When she created the all-female acting company, she had hoped for an audience like this, all here to see her troupe’s free inaugural show, “Lysistrata.” After welcoming the audience to this production, Crespy explained the comparative lack of roles for women versus men in theater that lead her to create Guerl-rilla Theatre. Crespy quipped about how she never would have imagined herself directing a production involving solely female actresses - and strap-on penises.
The premise of “Lysistrata” is inherently sexual: According to the summary on Guerl-rilla Theatre’s website, “When the men of ancient Greece won't stop fighting, the ladies go on a sex strike. Tensions soon begin to rise ... nudge nudge, wink wink.” The original play was written by ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, but Crespy adapted it in the hopes of making it more appealing to a modern American audience.
“I tried to not cut anything out entirely, but just to restructure it,” Crespy said. “... I tried to meet audience expectation and that required a lot of work ... I did add some jokes, and some of the jokes that I added landed really well and that was really gratifying.”
Crespy asked Joan Hermsen, associate professor of sociology at Mizzou, to give opening remarks about the sociology behind “Lysistrata,” giving Hermsen the opportunity to review the script before it came to the stage. In her comments, Hermsen discussed not only her own personal connection with the play, having seen it in high school, but how it addresses societal issues of power and sex ratios. Afterward, Hermsen took a seat in the front row and watched the script she had analyzed play out in front of her.
“It was so fun because I had seen the script, I had read it, and as I was reading it, I was thinking, ‘I wonder how they’re going to make this happen,’ ‘will this be funny for the audience?’ and things like that, so for me to see that happen, it was really great,” Hermsen said.
Though the idea for “Lysistrata” came about for Crespy during the fall semester, she announced project Guerl-rilla the summer prior. Crespy hoped Guerl-rilla would be able to create more roles for local actresses in both this group and others.
“I’ve been doing theater for many years and it’s always frustrated me that there are always way more women trying out for very few parts ..., so there is just a group of talented women who just does not get enough opportunity to exercise their talents,” Crespy said. “... So I created this Guerl-rilla Theatre as a way to give women actors more opportunity and then also to help demonstrate to people in the local theater scene that this is viable, that it totally works to cast women in male roles...”
“Guerl-rilla Theatre brings drama to life through bimonthly dynamic staged readings,” according to the Guerl-rilla Theatre website. Doing staged readings meant the actresses did not have to memorize lines before performance night; instead, they moved around the stage holding Kindles displaying their scripts. The idea for this came from a play series Crespy’s husband, David Crespy, did at MU in which actors only had three rehearsals before performing.
“One of the things that I knew I needed to do with Guerl-rilla was to keep it sustainable because ... I wasn’t sure exactly how much help I’d have,” Meg Phillips Crespy said. “... I knew I wanted to move around a little bit more, so I thought, ‘Well, five [rehearsals], that ought to get us there.’ And I think it did.”
This created a unique atmosphere for the actresses involved. Anna Ralls, who played Cinesias and other various characters, said the most challenging aspect of the performance was not the quick turnaround, but instead simply acting in such a raunchy play.
“I was raised very conservative, so this is far beyond anything I’ve ever even thought of doing,” Ralls said. “In fact, I specifically told members of my family that they could not come to this show because I knew that it would just not go well. But everyone’s having the same communal experience, which is a really fun thing in the world of theater, so you can just kind of lean into the awkwardness and remember that we’re all in this together and if you don’t believe in it, then it’s just going to be more awkward.”
Ralls’ leaning into the awkwardness worked, Crespy said, as she enthused about how well the play was received, each of its jokes garnering a laugh from the audience.
“I could not be happier,” Crespy said. “I think it went splendidly. It’s just so great when you’re doing a comedy to hear laughter in the audience. At some point, somebody behind me not only laughed but clapped, sort of spontaneously at one of the jokes, and I was [so excited].”
The audience was able to enjoy this production for free due to MU’s sponsorship. The university bought out Talking Horse Productions for the Guerl-rilla company, allowing them the opportunity to reach a wider crowd and put on their shows for free.
“I think it’s fabulous that Mizzou supports community theater,” Hermsen said. “Whatever the show is, [Meg’s] got a great six shows lined up this year and Mizzou’s sponsoring it and that’s fabulous. I think students should take advantage of it.”
Guerl-rilla Theatre’s next performance, “The Taming of the Shrew,” will be held on March 16 at Talking Horse Productions. Auditions will take place on March 9 at 2 p.m. for any interested female-identifying actors. More information can be found at Guerl-rilla Theatre’s website, guerl-rillatheatre.webnode.com.
Edited by Janae McKenzie | firstname.lastname@example.org