How many people do you know who have written a play in French? Add one to your list, because Etty Hathaway ’14 recently wrote and performed “Un Portrait Perdu: Femmes Artistes de la Belle Epoque,” a one-woman play featuring four French woman artists from the Belle Epoque, for her senior honors project.
Belle Epoque was an era lasting roughly 1871-1914, which centered on Paris and was known for its lavish lifestyle and focus on the arts. For her presentation, Hathaway selected excerpts from her writing about the four women, Victorine Meurent, Jeanne Hébuterne, Camille Claudel, and Sonia Delauneay, and performed as each character.
Hathaway’s presentation was almost entirely in French, as was the written component of her senior honors project. Hathway’s interdisciplinary project utilized her French major and Art History and Psychology minors.
“I think most language-learners would agree that writing is one of the easier ways to interact with a second language, since the majority of classroom language learning tends to be writing intensive. I’m also a bit of a nerd when it comes to words, and I had a lot of fun being able to play with the French language in a more creative, rather than academic, context,” said Hathaway.
Hathaway’s play, which she performed on Nov. 6 and 7, was the public presentation of her senior honors project for the Antonian Scholars Honors Program. This senior project is the culmination of Hathaway’s participation in the Antonian Scholars Honors program. It is the product of a year of independent study, facilitated by an interdisciplinary committee of four faculty members, including Hathaway’s project adviser, Dr. Francine Conley-Scott.
“It was her energy and insight as a professor that encouraged me to take on the French major. In addition to our mutual interest in the French language, we also have a shared interest in art and theater, so it was natural that Francine should be involved in this project,” said Hathaway.
To research her project, Hathaway used a combination of English and French resources, using whatever was available to her.
“I’ve been participating in theater for most of my life, and have done one-woman performances before; but I had never performed anything I had written myself. I hadn’t anticipated the challenge of having to assume the roles of playwright, editor, director, and actor — all at the same time,” said Hathaway.
In performing her play, Hathaway used minimal props to differentiate between the multiple characters. The article of clothing Hathaway chose to represent each artist symbolized something about each woman: A hat for Meurent, a great traveller; a scarf for Hébuterne, who Hathaway referred to jokingly as the Belle Epoque version of a hipster; a work blouse for Claudel, who always put work first; a quilt for Sonia, who branched out across different art media.
“The process of making this into something I perform, into a play, made me able to connect with each of them,” said Hathaway.
Hathaway became each character in her play, one after another; she mimicked body language, changed her tone, and allowed the characters’ personalities and histories to shine through, even for members of her audience who spoke little French.
“I thought she was very emotive, and even though I don’t speak French, I was able to understand the body language and emotions of the piece,” Elea Ingman ’15 said.
A central theme of Hathaway’s project is the danger of society stifling creativity, and the power of art to overcome it.
“But why tell these stories? To what end do I share them with you? Because they have intrinsic value, and a relevance that transcends the ages… Because creation is the base of our souls, and power of our spirit. Because these women inspire,” Hathaway said.