The most important thing you can do is tell your story. Telling these truths that are stored in our hearts. Telling our story is a way of remembering ourselves. A way of naming who we are. Telling our story puts us back together again when we’re all broken up. In telling our story we empty ourselves so that we can be filled again. Telling our story is a life-saving act.
Sandra Benitez, Puerto Rican American writer
“We pride ourselves on making something out of nothing,” Performer Jinx Davis says in describing the studio space in which she does her one-woman shows. And Jinx’s strength as a performer is in her use of women’s stories, so often dismissed, as “nothing” by the dominant culture, to create “something” that is familiar, functional, beautiful—and very challenging for her audience. It is a creation in which audience members participate, in a way seldom seen in theater, by joining Jinx in the construction of the stories.
Jinx grew up in Madison, moved away, returned four years ago, hoping to create her own performance space. Her partner, Andy Pizer found an old movie house in Waterloo, Wisconsin, and he and Jinx did extensive renovation of the building, turning it into a combined home and studio space for Jinx. Guests who come to Jinx’s performances are free to wander through the entire building and to take in the beautifully transformed home and work spaces, filled with books, art, oddly shaped corners, and concrete walls.
Guests are also offered an abundance of desserts and beverages before each show in a room next to Jinx’s 100-seat performance space in the bottom of the building. The theater space itself features art installations that rotate every six weeks, providing a free, open space for artists. At her show on April 9 was displayed work by Madison artist, Ms. Baker based on the idea of “making something from nothing” and using whatever materials were immediately available in the studio.
Such transformations are an essential element in Jinx’s theater work, as well. Jinx performed in conventional theater for about five years before deciding that she would never do conventional theater again, “Because I don’t think it provides the mechanisms for real human meeting.” What she wants in her work is to “share knowledge and reciprocate back and forth with the audience, so we can share in the transformation. Conventional theater doesn’t say enough of what needs to be said. If we can’t be bold and say what we know is happening to us, we’ll never be able to move on. I think this is what theater was originally about—the performers and audience members traveling together, learning and growing.”
In her performance on April 9, titled, “Jinx: A Prick to the Heart,” Jinx focused powerfully on these essential elements—sharing and experiencing some of the truth’s in women’s lives with her audience. She prefaced that evening’s performance by giving her audience a rule for the evening: “Do not deny any reality that is happening. Everyone has their reality and we will honor that tonight.”
Jinx’s first offering of reality was a piece called “Doctors and Diets,” a piece based loosely on work of renowned one-woman performer, Ruth Draper. Like all of her pieces, this one only involved a few props, and was about women. “All of my characters are women,” Jinx explains, “because I am one.” Jinx’s character in “Doctors and Diets” is named Mrs. Grimmer; Mrs. Grimmer appears to be an upper class, older woman with a perhaps British accent (one of her favorite words is “mahvelous”). Mrs. Grimmer is meeting three friends—Mrs. Norflaw, Clara, and Miss LaPrune—at a posh restaurant for lunch. Jinx’s spontaneous inclusion of the audience members in her performances began immediately through the restaurant, greeting friends on her way to the headwaiter to ask pointedly about her lunch reservation.
The four friends are gathering for a long-awaited, jovial meal, but, unfortunately, all four women are on diets and will not eat anything on the menu. “Here we are ladies at absolutely the best restaurant in town and none of us can eat!” Mrs. Grimmer exclaims. “Oh well, isn’t this absolutely ridiculous!” And what this comical piece does very well is illustrate just this, the absurdity of both our society’s “notions of success” for women and women’s believing that “experts” such as doctors are authorities on our lives.
Mrs. Grimmer’s lunch companions for example, are on doctor-prescribed diet regimes that include cold, boiled turnips and undiluted lemon juice. In contrast, Mrs. Grimmer’s regime—also prescribed by her doctor—includes only chocolate éclairs, which she enjoys with relish for lunch. We can only imagine her three eyeing these éclairs with anxious, beady eyes as they confront their own unappetizing regimes.
The ladies’ lunch conversation includes exchanges about various absurd cure-all schemes being followed by friends with the guidance of their doctor’s.
At the end of lunch, Mrs. Grimmer Chimes in, “I hope that next time we’ll be able to order from the menu!” She departs from the restaurant inviting her friends to a doctor sponsored “mass cure this Thursday.” Such is the price of giving up ownership and responsibility for your own body and well-being!
The next piece reflected much more seriously on life for women who are denied ownership of their own lives and bodies. “There are no physical choices for women in many parts of the world,” Jinx notes, so this kind of denial is extremely common for women. The character in this piece was drawn partly from a story that appeared in the September 1993 issue of Feminist Voices. This story is by a woman who was forced into pornography and prostitution as a child.
This piece begins humorously with Jinx’s character joking in her New York dialect with the audience. She asks the audience to come up on stage and brush her hair, to give her “big hair that makes me look sexy.” She then asks a male audience member to help her on with her “fucking shoes, shoes that say, Fuck me.” The piece quickly becomes more serious, as the character begins to talk to the audience about sex. “You know, if we could just talk about sex. Look at all the trouble we have—men and women, gender power, gender politics. We all got it—and I’m so glad we can all talk about it…Ain’t it the truth that all women hate their bodies? Do you like your body?” She demands of women in the audience, and the women respond softly, shyly, well, yeah, pretty much, but no one else does. For men the question is, “You know, men don’t care who sucks their dicks, do they?” And the audience spills over with laughter as men and women respond to this question.
“And doesn’t it hurt, the way we can’t talk about sex?” She goes on, “We all got our ghosts…and knowing you guys are good people I thought maybe I could tell you about my ghosts. You know, I had to make my hair all big like this, and I had to put my fucking shoes on in order to talk this way; it’s not really me, it’s a way of talking about this stuff.
“When I was between the ages of four and sixteen I was used in pornographic magazines and films. My father, his friends, my uncles, and my grandfather made pornography my mother, myself and numerous other women and children. Snuff movies are real—do you all know what those are? It’s where women are murdered. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen women murdered and dismembered. I’ve seen men spit on their bodies, ejaculate on their faces. I have seen men orgasm as women were murdered. I’ve seen men rape a women’s skull after filming her death.
“My father and his allies spent years training me. They trained me like you train a dog; only I was much less than a dog, next to nothing, nothing at all when they set a dog on me and filmed it penetrating me. Nothing at all. Literally nothing. The bright lights and the pictures for sale of my pain, shattered into a thousand pieces, sold to men to laugh at, to fantasize over. And the profits went to my father, my uncles, my grandfather, and if I was lucky, I got food, I was lucky to stay sane.”
This story is deeply powerful to read. Performed, made into human flesh by Jinx, this beaten brutalized treated like less than nothing and left without the most basic human compassion or caring is there before us. She is before us—she is not in a book, in a magazine, on a billboard, TV screen, or movie screen where she can conveniently be forgotten or ignored, intellectualized or trivialized. She is in front of you, and you cannot, you cannot deny how incredible, beautiful, eloquent and precious her life is and how the society we live in has negated her and all other women through pornography. This woman’s sobbing pain and bare survival spills over us.
“And then I hear some academics, some feminists talking about choice, about self-determination. Do they really think women chose this? Deaths, rapes, beatings…they really do think some women want it, the whores, the niggers, the chinks, and the sluts, whatever. As long as they can separate themselves from it. Not me they think and they go on their way and wash themselves clean from the filth.”
I started to cry, the woman next to me was clutching her chair to hold in the aching pain of her tears.
“But what does it matter, she ain’t you, she’s just some fuckstation whore who ain’t quite human. So what the hell is she anyway? She’s me. She’s me. And I really ain’t so different from you. But I come from a place that you don’t know about, a place that you need to know about…I don’t mean to upset you or nothin’…I’m telling you this because I know you’re good people.
“It’s going on in Bosnia right now, you know, it’s going on down the street. Do we want to continue living like ostriches and stay in denial? You know what, you all know it’s real. There’s people right here in this town who get their pleasure from violation.”
In talking about this moving story, Jinx says that she often does similar pieces to remind “people what’s going on in their own backyards, and tell them that they can address it. All women understand and most have experienced violation, and we can heal and transform our oppression. We can find meaning in our living, in our pain, and realize we’re not alone.” The men and women who come to her shows, Jinx emphasizes, are open to learning, to listening, and participating in their own transformation.
After this piece, Jinx spontaneously turned the stage over to two guest artists, one Mary Helen, a performer who did a piece about a homeless woman named Elizabeth who angrily talked about how it feels to be on the streets in the U.S. The second guest performer was Jinx’s father, David Davis, introduced by Jinx as the person from whom “I learned all of my craft.” David Davis talked about doing theater with fellow soldiers while imprisoned during World War II in a Nazi prison camp. He went on to dramatize the reading of a children’s storybook.
Jinx’s final character for the evening was a homeless woman; childlike in her naiveté about the world she functions in. For this story, Jinx borrowed a wallet from a man in the audience, and depicted the very humorous attempts of her character to figure out, with a lot of consultation with audience members, what to do with this wallet she has found. This very vulnerable character, one Jinx has included in several of her shows, teaches the audience much, she notes, about allowing themselves to be vulnerable through their interactions with the character. And “ultimately our vulnerabilities will allow us to transcend and learn from them.” That, Jinx believes, is one of the greatest strengths of her theater, that it is an environment in which people of all kinds meet together, and are willing to be vulnerable and open to learning and growth and understanding of themselves and one another.
Jinx’s performances offer an experience of theater that few women as audience members have had. It is a theater where stories are told that includes us, in which we can see ourselves and our lives reflected, and of which we can be an active part.