I was instantly intrigued when I read the line “the consequences that arise when our society fetishizes the notion of virignity” in the press release for Impurities, playing at this year’s Fringe Theatre Festival. I had never heard this phrase before – or indeed ever thought of virginity in that light – before reading that press release. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that in many ways, that phrase does describe society’s view of virginity, and that view creates a lot of issues for young women. Issues that myself, and my friends, have all struggled with as we’ve grown and matured.
Impurities is the story of three young women trying to deal with the complex notion of virginity – what it means if you are a virgin, and what it means if you don’t. The play’s storyline is done through vignettes of three women – one who attends a “purity ball” with her father, one who attends a “rainbow party“, and one who plans a romantic way of having her “cherry popped”.
I am incredibly excited for this play’s Fringe run, so I got in touch with playwright and director Natalia Knowlton to get the lowdown on the show. Natalia first began thinking about society’s view of virginity after picking up the book The Purity Myth while going through a breakup with her first boyfriend. Natalia says, “I dated this guy and waited for the right guy and things still didn’t work out and I didn’t feel different as a person, it wasn’t as important as other people told me it would be, I didn’t think it changed me as a person and I started thinking ‘why is it that our society emphasizes virginity so much?’ and then I started questioning what virginity is and that’s what the book starts questioning too.”
The play was developed while Natalia was participating in the Citadel Theatre’s Young Companies program, and features not only a difficult topic, but also an complex cast – the play has 35 characters! The three young women whose stories are the central drivers of the plot are accompanied by a cast of 4 actors who play 32 characters – everything from peers to parents to teachers! Although the characters are both male and female, Impurities has an all-female cast. When Natalia and I discussed this, the complexity of this choice was really interesting. Natalia says, “It’s a play about female sexuality, so I just thought it’d be better if women told these stories, the other thing, because some of these male characters do bad things, I felt that if a guy played them either people wouldn’t really question it or, if you look at a drag queen or a drag king they’re an exaggeration of gender so… if you’re an audience member looking at a girl dressed up as a guy, it makes that behavior even more obvious. If you see a guy playing it, you don’t really question it…. [Also] when there’s sex on stage or any sort of graphic content it makes it less graphic by having an all-female cast… If it’s a scene where it’s a woman giving a woman a blow job, it’s not a big deal. But if it’s a woman with a man, it makes it more graphic.” Natalia says while the all-female cast sheds more light on stereotypical male behaviors, it isn’t meant to blame men or make a blanket statement. “I’m not telling people that all men are horrible. If men do horrible things, it’s because of patriarchy, not who they are. With the play even, I know the men in the play will seem like they take advantage of women, but its the system. I’m hoping people will look at that more critically and not as an attack.”
Impurities runs at King Edward School (8530 101 Street) August 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, and 23. Tickets are at: tickets.fringetheatre.ca.