To say Samantha Shane received an unconventional bar mitzvah gift would be an understatement. When the aspiring actress reached adolescence, her father gifted her a copy of The O'Reilly Factor for Kids, saying, "You're ready. You're a woman. Here you go."
"I never read it," Shane said of the book, which remains in a box in her childhood bedroom. "His face scared me, so I hid it in my closet."
It is a safe assumption that O'Reilly, an outspoken supporter of what he calls "traditional American values" would have a thing or two to say about Shane's first career venture as an adult: the young woman and her friend Cristina Henriquez are founding A Red Lipped Rebellion, a theater group that will produce theater with a progressive angle, focusing on feminism. They hope to provide work for other emerging artists and form a community of like-minded individuals with artistic gifts. Their first production, of Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things, will be performed in February.
Shane and Henriquez attended William Esper Studio together and after graduating from the two-year program found themselves looking for theatrical works that reflected their values and ambitions. While perusing the aisles at The Drama Bookshop the two found themselves reading The Shape of Things and immediately felt drawn to the play.
"We both read it and thought, 'This is our play. We have to do this,'" Shane said. "The characters are like who we are in our lives. They're very emotionally smart and the women are not in distress or in need of saving."
"I had read the play before and seen the movie," Henriquez said. "Reading it again, all the questions started bubbling in us about art and love. What is art and what is love, and is there a right or wrong way to define those things?"
Shane, who described her feminist voice as "just starting to grow," described reading a scene in Mauritius, by Theresa Rebeck, as inspiring her view of theater from a feminist perspective. Thinking about how many of her classmates were not assigned a work by a female playwright, Shane said she enjoyed exploring conflict and relationships through the eyes of a woman.
"I wouldn't say all the time, but sometimes female characters can be put into a 2D box," Henriquez said. "Especially as women, to approach a role in a sort of open and not scared and truthful place, to tell the story openly in its rightful form..."
The two cite Eve Ensler, Theresa Rebeck and Tracy Letts as well as Shane's aunt and Henriquez's mother as writers they admire. "We just have really phenomenal women who are writers and strong and progressive in our lives, and it's inspiring and you want to go find others," Shane said.
"Ensler came out recently with a collection of monologues from the point of view of women and young girls she had talked to," Henriquez said. "The book is called Emotional Creature. She does that monologue about women being an emotional creature. I thought that was very powerful, and I really wanted to do that as a monologue, but I didn't know how to execute that - incorporate these completely relevant ideas to be brought out there doing art. It's extremely inspiring and courageous on her part."
When discussing the idea of feminism in a post-feminist world, both Shane and Henriquez said they are both forming their own idea of what feminism is.
"I feel like it's sort of evolved into your individual self as a female in the world," Shane said. "Not being afraid to use the word 'vagina' -- kind of owning that. I feel like it has so many different meanings and feelings, and I think it's all personal to every single woman. I think it's more sort of humanism."
"From the way I see it, sometimes it's conversational," Henriquez said. "It's being able to start conversation about vaginas and woman's issues and not feeling like you're coming from a fist-shaking place. Actually being able to have a conversation and talk about it and be open about it and hear other people's opinions about it and introduce your ideas to other people. That's what I think. Let's talk about it. Being a human -- more specifically from a female point of view. We're humans, but we're females."
The two are promoting their group by leaving cards with suggestive statements around the city. One that I caught a glimpse of asked, "If it's with your mouth, does it count?" They hope the suggestive nature of the message will entice people to seek more information about their group.
As young women attempting to start their own artistic company, Shane and Henriquez know they are in for a challenge. They described themselves as feeling excited but also nervous.
"It was kind of scary going into it -- being young and doing it all ourselves," Henriquez said. "The response from a lot of people has been so wonderful and almost has given us more fuel. People... are encouraging."
"It's cool to be going through this with your best friend," Shane added. "This is fun. It's hard work and it's scary, but we balance each other out."
While producing theater with a distinct political message can be a challenge, Shane and Henriquez say they are determined to follow this path, which they say is extremely important to them.
Citing the success of the political but also comedic hit The Book of Mormon, Shane said, "Maybe subliminal is the way to sneak it in. In the whole mixture of things, the best way to get the message across is through art. In my deepest intuition, I know art is the way to get it done."
The Shape of Things will be performed in February in New York. For more information visit A Red Lipped Rebellion's website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Those wishing to contribute to A Red Lipped Rebellion's production can visit their IndieGoGo page and make a donation.