Since she was two years old, local artist Kate Aarness has done everything she could to express herself through the performing arts.
Dance, choir, theatre, speech, band, swing choir: Aarness has done it all.
Now she’s trying out a new role: artistic director and writer of her own play, “Women of Clay.”
Aarness and a group of actors present the play at 7 p.m. Aug. 2-4 at Heritage Garden and Amphitheater in Moorhead.
“Women of Clay” is a one-act play that explores three women of the Ancient Greek period and their untold stories. Each story is told in a different style: a classic Greek tragedy; a recitation of ancient poetry with music and dance; and a “completely ridiculous” rendition of a Greek fairytale done with masks, Aarness says.
Aarness graduated from MSUM in 2016 with a Bachelors Degree in Theatre Arts and a minor in Theatre Acting, with emphasis in Musical Theatre. She has worked for local professional companies like Experience Blur, Theatre B, and the Paul Bunyan Playhouse and performed in multiple plays at Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre.
The playwright chose Ancient Greece as the setting after she visited the outdoor Heritage Garden and Amphitheater last year.
“The Ancient Greeks did their theatre outdoors and it only made sense to me to do something Greek in this setting,” Aarness says. “My desire to create and showcase women’s stories made it a relatively clear objective.”
She was also determined to provide “ample pay” for all actors involved “to help foster professionalism and support the artists I’ve asked so much of,” she says.
The title of the play is a nod to principles of anthropology, humanity and the geographic location of Moorhead in Clay County.
When asked why she wants to tell untold stories of women, the playwright replied that, quite frankly, she’s “grown tired of stories about men.”
“Practically every single story ever written has had a male focus, and I think it’s high time to change that,” Aarness says. “So much of what women have contributed to the world has been forgotten or otherwise repressed only because it was created by a woman. I think that that’s wrong, and should be amended.”
Aarness added that she believes it’s an artist’s duty to “shed light on areas that are in pain” and “areas in which suffering has occurred.”
“Art is the poultice to suffering, and it’s imperative that we expose it in order to heal,” she says. “This is the first time I’ve attempted anything like this, and performance art is what makes most sense to me.”
Aarness’ inspiration for the play stems from her particular interest in Paleolithic fertility idols. One day she came across an article titled “Toward Decolonizing Gender: Female Vision in the Upper Paleolithic” by Catherine Hodge McCoid and Leroy D. McDermott, a pair of American anthropologists.
Findings in the article, Aarness read, concluded that fertility idols were not constructed from an outside, male objectifying view; rather, they were constructed by women as a mode of feminine self-portraiture and a way to track their pregnancies, she says.
Another piece of the artist’s inspiration for “Women of Clay” is the Sunrise Ritual young Apache girls went through as they started their path to womanhood.
“One aspect of this ritual is the clay molding,” Aarness recalls. “The young girl lies on the ground as her female mentor massages her body to symbolize adaptability of women, that like clay, she can be shaped and molded into whatever form is required of her, and that once she is exposed to fire, she grows stronger.”
Aarness is looking forward to connecting with the public through this piece.
“It’s all well and good to talk about my ideas and formulate a plan to execute it,” she says, “but it doesn’t amount to much unless it is seen by others.”
Performances of “Women of Clay” are free and open to the public. Heritage Garden and Amphitheater is located on Woodlawn Park Drive in Moorhead. Parental discretion is advised. Blankets will be provided and incense will be burned throughout the performance.
All photos are by Louis R. Zurn Photography.