One of the best theater tickets in town over the last couple of years was to Springfield actor Aasne Vigesaa’s performance of The Yellow Wallpaper at the Vachel Lindsay home, directed by Kevin Purcell. But if you missed that, you can now see it on DVD.
Springfield multimedia artist David Cain was so inspired by Vigesaa’s portrayal of a Victorian-era woman lapsing into madness that he had to film it. “For someone to carry a thread of emotion for 50 minutes and have that control over the dynamics of the experience was just fascinating to me,” he says.
The one-woman show was adapted from a short story written in 1892 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which was based partly on her own experience. It’s the story of a woman with a nervous disorder whose physician husband orders bed rest for her and refuses to let her pursue her interests. She is trapped in her bedroom with nothing to do and slowly, yet methodically, becomes unstable.
Sadly, this was neither a hyperbolic telling of Gilman’s experience nor a unique story. In 1860, a woman from Kankakee named Elizabeth Packard [see “Fighting like crazy,”%u2008by Tara McAndrew, IT, Aug. 12, 2010] was institutionalized at Jacksonville’s hospital for the mentally ill by her cleric husband, because she questioned his religious teachings. (At that time, a husband’s opinion – not a doctor’s or a court’s, was the only thing needed to institutionalize a woman.) When Elizabeth was finally released because the hospital superintendent felt she no longer needed treatment, her husband imprisoned her in her bedroom; she escaped by throwing a note out the window to a neighbor. Shortly thereafter she was judged sane by trial.
In The Yellow Wallpaper, Vigesaa vividly portrays a woman’s gradual transformation from an obedient Victorian wife to an independent thinker who fights for her sanity and liberty.
Cain wanted to film Vigesaa’s performance to give viewers a more intimate look at the character’s transformation, so they can feel as if “they’re right there” with her, he says. “I thought, I want to be in a dance with the character going through these transcendent moments.” So he held the camera by hand and filmed her as she moved.
“When she goes flying up against the wall and bounces off of it, I want the camera to be the wall. So I put the camera there, where I anticipated where she was going.”
After the filming was completed, Cain, owner of UMEDIA, Inc., selected and performed music to accompany it. He chose compositions that matched the play’s time period and themes. “I went back to pieces that were emotionally charged for me,” he says. “I felt the Chopin piece signifies power, so I used that.”
In October, 1913, 11 years after Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, she penned an article about why she wrote it. Gilman explained how she had battled “nervous breakdown tending to melancholia – and beyond” for years and carefully followed her doctor’s prescription of bed rest, a domestic life, and little to no intellectual stimulation or writing.
After three months of obeying the doctor’s orders, she nearly lost her mind. Then she listened to her intuition and, with a friend’s help, began writing again. Gilman created The Yellow Wallpaper as a kind of warning to others, and sent it to her doctor.
“It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy,” she wrote. Although her physician never responded to the manuscript, she later heard that he began treating women with nervous disorders differently.
“It worked,” she summarized.
Cain’s goal with this film is to bring its message and Vigesaa’s “amazing performance” to a bigger audience. “It’s a story that I think still resonates today. The issues are still viable…power and control, doctors as gods on pedestals, and a patriarchal society.”
The film will premiere at the Vachel Lindsay Home, 603 South Fifth St., on Saturday, Oct. 8, at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Cain, Vigesaa and Kevin Purcell will be available for questions and the DVD will be available for purchase.
The screenings are free but reservations are requested due to limited seating. To secure a seat, call the Lindsay Home and leave a voice message: 524-0901. On New Year’s Eve, Vigesaa will again perform The Yellow Wallpaper live at the Lindsay Home at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Contact Tara McAndrew at email@example.com.