“Five French women. One crazy world. Has life really changed that much over the years? Watch as some of history’s most infamous French women discover what it means to be a woman in 2018.”
That’s the teaser for the one-woman show I wrote this past year for my honors thesis. But, it also encapsulates my experience living in another country and discovering that as different as we all are, those differences are what connect us.
During the fall semester, I studied abroad at Oglethorpe’s partner school in Lille, France. Going into it, I knew I would improve my French and get the chance to experience living and studying another country, but I had no idea how helpful it would be for firsthand research.
As a theatre and French double major, I spent most of my time in France researching and writing my honors thesis: a one-woman comedy show “#parlezvousfemme” about famous French women in history. I will perform the show on April 18th (in English) and on April 19th (in French) at 7 p.m. at the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art.
The show re-imagines the lives of iconic French women throughout history and looks at what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. Throughout the show, audiences will hear Joan of Arc address her feelings about being a symbol for the Front National, Marie Antoinette discuss the double standards women face on a daily basis, and Marie Curie lament the lack of women in science, among others.
Although audiences will only see the final product, the research that went into it is arguably the most important part of the process and experience.
Luckily, I had the French culture and landscape right at my doorstep and I found myself living (or at least trying to live) like the women I was writing. I took a few trips to Paris throughout the semester, and that became my richest source of material.
Before I began my travels, I did preliminary research by reading about each woman’s life. Then I searched for important relics that might give me insight into the way each woman lived.
My journey actually started just outside of Paris in the city of Versailles, the location of Marie Antoinette’s famed palace. I spent time admiring the beautiful architecture and visiting the intricate gardens throughout the estate. Photographs cannot show its immensity and regality.
From there, I went into the city of Paris itself and figuratively placed myself in the shoes of Coco Chanel. Although her famous apartment at 31 rue Cambon is not open to the public and her suite at the Ritz was about $18,000 outside my budget, I visited one of her favorite cafés, Angelina, instead.
Next, I visited the Louvre, where I saw Olympe de Gouges’ portrait and various renderings of the French Revolution. Then it was off to the Tuileries, where I saw one of the many statues commemorating Joan of Arc.
My final stop was the 5th arrondissement, the neighborhood in which Marie Curie lived and worked. I meandered the streets and stopped into the Musée Curie, where I got insight into her work as a scientist, even if I did not understand the specifics of her research.
There is something about sitting in the same cafés that Coco Chanel once frequented, or walking through the palace where Marie Antoinette once lived that helps put one in a similar mindset. These things may not sound “academic” in the traditional sense, but they helped me see firsthand how these women lived, and understand how they might have viewed the world.