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Enter Lola: A Word With (Ph)(F)reaking Actress, Serena Ryen

Serena Ryen plays Lola in CPT’s Public Reading of (PH)(F)REAKING
Friday Jan 21st 10pm at Dixon Place


I returned to New York City about six months ago, after nearly a year with a theatre company out west. Since my homecoming, I’ve been diligently pounding the pavement (as we say in the biz) and working to perfect the magical balancing act that all New York-based artists are familiar with:

“Okay, I can babysit from this time to this time and that will keep the rent paid while I go on these two auditions today but then I won’t have time to do the laundry which means that dress I wanted to wear to my second audition tomorrow won’t be clean and I definitely won’t have time to do the dishes so I’ll have to buy dinner out and I guess I can just memorize my audition sides on the train, right?”

Wrong.                                 

After a few months of this, I was unsurprisingly burnt-the-fuck-out. Not only were the dishes never done, but I had become completely detached from my need to make art. I went on auditions almost every day, but I didn’t feel like I was able to truly share a part of myself at any of them. When I sang, the notes escaped my throat devoid of any truthful connection. When I read novels, none of the words resonated deeper than the page. My creativity felt completely zapped by the daily grind.

Enter Lola.

When I first read the script for Critical Point Theatre’s developmental reading of their play (ph)(f)reaking, I knew something special had just fallen into my hands. Here was a play that instantly drew me in with its unabashed questions surrounding misogyny, internet addiction, and empathy. What could be better?

I was given the exciting task of dissecting and embodying Lola, a small-town girl who gets her kicks performing for a faceless audience via her webcam. I run in some wacky circles and have a few friends who’ve dabbled in various types of sex work, so I was able to avoid the trap of judging Lola for what she chooses to do with her body. The stickier quagmire was how to identify with her; I can easily understand that some people enjoy the thrills of camming, but how could I find that impulse within myself so an audience believes Lola’s desires are my own?

Sexuality, for me, has always been a personal, private experience. The idea of faceless men oogling and objectifying me is the opposite of a turn-on. I struggled to relate to Lola and went through endless imaginary circumstances as to WHY she does what she does: I said to myself “Maybe she’s so deep in student debt that this is the only way she can pay all her bills,” or “Maybe she was sexually abused as a child and now she doesn’t think she deserves more than being objectified.” I realized that these justifications were little more than veiled judgements, which I had been prematurely proud of myself for avoiding. Then Will Jennings, the director of (ph)(f)reaking, sent me something that opened my eyes.

Will and Jackie, the minds behind The Lola Project
Will and Jackie, the minds behind The Lola Project

(Ph)(f)reaking, the play, is one piece of a much larger artistic puzzle that examines sexual freedom and respect in the digital age. The Lola Project is a webseries in-the-making that Will and fellow Critical Point Theatre member Jackie Mullen have written to delve deeper into Lola’s life and motivations. In the first episode, Lola’s webcam identity is hacked, and her videos – which she once controlled – are distributed to dozens of websites without her permission.  When Lola’s brother essentially asks her “Why the hell would you want to be a webcam girl??” her response is “…an outlet I guess. Artistic freedom. A chance to own my own body…”

Bingo!

Everything started coming together. Lola does not put herself on camera to be objectified, but to empower and express herself! And why not? We live in a world in which men have dictated how women should be allowed to use their own bodies for centuries. Why shouldn’t Lola and real-life women like her take their sexuality into their own hands? Who says girls shouldn’t enjoy their bodies and enjoy sharing them in whatever ways they see fit? It had never quite occurred to me before that, when consensual, sexual expression is just as valid of an artistic outlet as painting or singing or acting.

For me, this discovery was twofold: on one hand, it helped me to empathize with people who previously seemed so separate from me; and on the other hand, my deepened understanding of Lola’s need for a creative outlet reignited my own artistic life! As you know, the daily grind had started to annihilate my connection to my art and to the rest of the world. Diving into Lola’s world and working to understand her complex psychology has reminded me why I love performing. I LOVE learning why people do what they do, and even the toughest hustle can’t take that away from me.

 

COME SEE (PH)(F)REAKING
AT DIXON PLACE IN NYC!
JANUARY 21 | 10 PM
TICKETSWEBFACEBOOKTWITTERINSTAGRAM

 

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