On Thursday, December 20, contemporary violin duo The Furies, along with their friends Joanna Lynn-Jacobs, Rhea Fowler, Theodosia Roussos, Grecia Serrano-Navarro, and Jordan Curcurturo, present A Cure For Hysteria at Art Share. A Cure for Hysteria is a performance piece that explores the history and relevance of the gendered word ‘hysteria’—its social connotations and consequences—through the lens of contemporary music. This fits right in with The Furies’ mission to bring intersectional feminism into the concert hall through immersive performance experiences that challenge their audience and community, encourage audience members to demand more diverse programming from their musical institutions, and to learn more about the histories of women in a white male dominated canon. We caught up with violinists Maiani da Silva and Kate Outterbridge to talk about their new project.
How did you two meet, and what was the impetus for starting The Furies?
Kate: It was totally love at first sight; I was visiting Bang on a Can Summer Festival, when Mai was a fellow/ the summer before I moved to LA, and we chatted briefly about living in Los Angeles, and when I got out here, we just started hanging out all the time! It was so great to be in a new city, know nothing about what I was doing, go through some shit, and have a friend that was there for me in so many ways. I think that made it really easy for us to work together as musicians; we are just on the same page about a lot of things, so when we decided to play together, it just came really naturally.
When The Furies was starting out, we both just had a common interest in exploring music explicitly by composers that identify as women and non-binary, but since then, we have really transformed our vision to be something that really is about experiences and issues.
You are of course extremely skilled violinists. What do you mean by immersive performance experiences, though?
Maiani: Several collaborations, both in our past and present-day lives, have made us more curious and open to exploring new ways of performing. For instance, Kate and I both studied dance very seriously in our teens and into our early 20s, so our relationship to performing goes beyond the traditional classical music form. Another example is that both Kate and I are Blackbird Creative Lab alumnae (‘17, and ‘18, respectively), and as we all know, Eighth Blackbird is super innovative and inspiring when it comes to incorporating other aspects of performance into their concerts. At the Lab, we were lucky to also work with choreographers Mark DeChiazza and Ros Warby. Another inspiration for diving into the experimental performance realm is performance artist Taylor Mac. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with Taylor for almost three years as a violinist in the band, and Kate has also performed with Taylor and the band here in L.A. But the opportunity to create something personal came to fruition thanks to the generous and fantastic Elizabeth Baker, who gifted us “A Cure For Hysteria” last spring! We are hoping this will be the beginning of many performative-type collaborations with other composers and fellow performers.
I normally try to avoid any mention of gender in interviews because work should speak for itself and there’s usually no reason to point it out (aside from calling out bias). In your case, however, you explicitly state that bringing intersectional feminism to the concert hall is key to the ensemble’s mission. Could you discuss, in broad terms, how you do that?
Kate: Yeah, I think that is an important question. To us, The Furies is really about the process of creating performances that express issues and experiences that are important to us. Our aim in calling ourselves intersectional feminists is to call attention to the fact that classical and contemporary classical music isn’t always inclusive, and we want to hold ourselves accountable and ask questions: how are we perpetuating problems within our community, how can we listen better, how can we avoid tokenism and be super transparent about what we want to achieve?
Maiani: We challenge ourselves and each other to ask lots of questions, and listen with care in approaching all things #life. We do this as people and as friends, so naturally this seeps into our Furies work. It’s our foundation, really. It’s a lot of homework, and it’s very rewarding.
And how about for this concert? Am I right in remembering that “a cure for hysteria,” referring to masturbation, was the Victorian equivalent of “you should smile more”? How do the pieces you’ve programmed relate?
Maiani: That’s an interesting perspective, I hadn’t made that connection. Yes, with both we’re reminded to exist in a fashion that makes others at ease, that puts others’ needs above our own. If we show how we really feel, we’re considered unwell and are thus in need of intervention, whether by a modern-day strange man on the street, or a Victorian (male) “doctor” holding a vibrator to our clits.
Kate: When we decided to use Elizabeth’s piece, A Cure for Hysteria, as the centerpiece for this show, it was because the complexity of the term hysteria really reflects something that many marginalized people have to put up with: that feeling of never fully feeling like you can be yourself, that feeling of needing to appear to act a certain way, to make sure everyone around you is always at ease at the expense of your own comfort, and also how we are at a point where more and more people are saying “enough.” Being explicit about being intersectional feminist performers is empowering to us, it feels good to stand up and say LISTEN TO US, THIS IS OUR EXPERIENCE, but also keeps us honest about what it means to listen to others’ experiences in the process.
Maiani: Elizabeth’s work is centered around what it meant to be a hysterical woman in Victorian England. What we strive to convey with the other pieces in the program is the many layers and nuance of the term “hysteria.” In classic Mai-and-Kate style, we dug deeper to know how our friends and family felt about the term “hysteria.” By sampling the recorded one-on-one interviews, ThunderCunt created a track that will be premiered at our concert!
Details on the show are at facebook.com/events/2240445589321248.