Nothing You Notice: A Look into “Everything You Touch”
On Feb. 22, I walked into the Black Box theatre nestled into the back of JKB to find a support circle of fifteen actors and crew members sat along a white runway. They all listened as each member went around the circle, confessing what they loved and liked about themselves.
I like my ability to see the good in people.
I love my singular dimple.
I like how intelligent I am, even after struggling with a learning disability.
The upcoming play deals with themes of body image and representation, and if this moment shows anything, it’s the love and support radiating from the cast. It’s the kindness, the tenderness of people with a story to tell. And, eventually, it’s the anger they feel.
During the rehearsal, each actor put on one item of their costume: high heels, tulle, a jacket (kindly identified offhand by a fellow actor as being made with “That cheap kind of fabric”). The stage manager turned on disco, and the actors began to “flock,” or dance up and down the stage. It seemed choreographed at first, each move blending into the other as the beat marched on. But soon it became clear that whoever was in front of the group, and facing whatever direction, was coming up with a new movement. They were collaborating instinctively; listening to the music and each other in a fluid, subconscious way.
The spring Black Box was the first play out of dozens that director Rachel Karp ‘18 read over the summer, and mixes the crude world of the fashion industry in the 70s with the story of a modern day woman, Jess (Bianca Thompson '19) as she struggles with re-emerging body image issues after her sick mother’s condition has worsened. Everything You Touch gently reaches into the fantastical -- relying on the use of physical bodies to represent furniture, drinks, cars. Victor (Caoilin O'Connor '20), head of an avant-garde fashion house -- supported by his muses Esme, (Lucy Consagra '18) and Louella (Lulu Fairclough-Stewart '19) -- dances between both realities as a group of five models prance down the runway in between transitions, floating around Jess like smoke.
“The more fantastical world is the world of Jess’ imagination, and the models voice her mother, voice her fears, become the furniture and are quite literally objectified. They shape her world,” explained Karp. “That’s all written into the script, and Sheila Callaghan, the playwright, does an incredible job of using the models to convey some of these themes about body and body image.”
During notes, Karp tells her cast -- especially the women -- to take up more space, to spread themselves out and command attention. The play details each woman’s internal struggles to find a love within themselves, through the strained or missing affirmations of others. Each story, and their insecurities, relies heavily on how they are seen by the eyes of those around them -- how they are objectified and compressed.
“Creating that world has been a super collaborative process. One of the terms I used in our first rehearsal was the idea of creating a brave space. In the rehearsal room, it’s often hard to create a completely safe space where no one feels uncomfortable, but it was really important to me that no one felt unsafe during the rehearsal process. I wanted to create a sense of community and a sense of support within our cast. That has been really essential while dealing with some of the cruder, trickier, ickier bits of text,” said Karp.
The play is ultimately about Jess, and her search to accept her body outside of societal and familial pressures. She narrates her own story the entire time -- looking out into the audience as she cracks jokes at her expense, questions what she is doing, and searches for answers. She is hyper-attentive in the way someone with body image struggles is: they are too visible, too aware of how they appear and the space they take up. Because of this, Jess looks to Victor as a key to a new world -- one where she loves herself. Together, they train Jess to fit a mold of her own making.
“Victor is definitely a spokesperson for the fashion industry as controlling women’s bodies and forcing them into these small -- literally very small -- constricting outfits. At the same time, he is complicated because he struggles with his own body image issuesthroughout the play. Jess needs to go through this journey with Victor of trying to become what she thinks she should be before she can say ‘Okay, I can be who I am.’”
As the play moves along, Jess and the models -- all humming along -- repeat the same song: Everything you touch, but nothing you notice. It happens at moments of complete lows, and breathtaking highs of control (for once). The song is a thread through which each woman is connected in experience; each story of insecurity grasping onto the other for support and strength.
“It represents the women: from Esme to Louella to Jess to all of the models, this idea of female bodies becoming things that are touched and dressed and judged by society and the media and fashion and the world, but never really noticed for what they are. While that manifests very differently for each of the characters, that is the one overall thing they have in common. This is Jess’s story, and the models’, and Esme's, and Louella’s story,” said Karp.
As the story ends, and the whimsy, the fantasy, fall away, all that is left is reality, bodies, morality. Mess. The play picks up audience members and steals them away from sense and life. But as the lights pick up and the actors fade away, the words emerge in your mind once more, singing the play to a close:
Everything you touch, but nothing you notice.
Tickets for Everything You Touch are now on sale for March 2-8