Wear your pussy hat to Macha Theatre Works’ debut of Joy McCullough-Carranza’s Smoke & Dust, directed by Amy Poisson. I had the chance to speak with Poisson about the play and Macha’s mission to portray powerful female characters, a conversation that left me excited to see the show and proud to be a female musician.
The idea for Smoke & Dust actually grew out of McCullough-Carranza and Poisson’s first collaboration, Blood/Water/Paint that was on stage in 2015. Some of the music for that show was composed by a 17th Century Venetian named Barbara Strozzi, and inspired McCullough-Carranza to write a modern play based on her life. Strozzi’s songs are beautiful but heart-breaking, as rendered by actor Bianca Raso, as she struggles with issues all too familiar despite the 400 years that have passed since she wrote them. Much like Blood/Water/Paint, Smoke & Dust gives voice to a historical person who didn’t get to tell their story publicly, which just feels right to Poisson.
Strozzi’s known history is thin, but intriguing: as the daughter of a nobleman and his maid, her father had to officially adopt her, but encouraged her musical talents and helped her publish her compositions under her own name. Strozzi had 4 children over her life but never married, and rumors persist that she was a courtesan. Was that a slanderous rumor trying to discredit her success, did she make an empowered choice to make more money, or was she forced into it? We’ll never know for sure, but Smoke & Dust uses her story to discuss the judgement we pass on other women, the imperfectness of historical figures, and the struggles on the road to success.
For this show, Poisson is working with the same great production team from Blood/Water/Paint, who have come up with some cool effects to incorporate a teenaged fashion vlogger (that’s video blogger) into the play. The cast includes a real-life teenager who agrees that McCullough-Carranza, as a young adult novelist, knows how to write for teenagers.
Although McCullough-Carranza has been working on Smoke & Dust for years, it couldn’t be more timely with regards to the attention feminism has been getting in the media lately. Poisson shared that she feels like we’re in a wave that got started a long time ago, and has been slowly building. It hits walls and diminishes, but is still coming and has gotten bigger. Finding ways to feed the wave, until it’s big enough to crash over the wall and wash us all onto a beautiful beach, is what makes her so excited to work on shows like Smoke & Dust. So come see it at the Theatre off Jackson, and be sure to bring your daughters.
Smoke & Dust Theatre off Jackson. 409 Seventh Ave. S, Seattle, 98104. Thurs-Sat 8:00PM Mar 23- Apr 14. Tickets: https://www.machatheatreworks.com/tickets