“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling . . . I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world . . . It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. It makes her feel as if she were independent.”
So declared suffragist Susan B. Anthony in an interview with Nellie Bly (“Champion of her Sex: Miss Susan B Anthony,” New York World, Feb. 2, 1896). Flash forward to a feminist theory class in Philadelphia in the year 2125. How will women’s history be framed, how will women’s rights have advanced, how will women be viewed and view themselves in the next century as compared with the past, and will women be happier? These are the fundamental questions writer and performer Hannah Van Sciver explores in BICYCLE FACE, her original one-woman show in this year’s SoLow Fest.
The 50-minute piece derives its title from the bogus medical condition described in the 1895 edition of Literary Digest (“The unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance tends to produce a wearied and exhausted ‘bicycle face’”), written during the period when “The New Woman” first began the controversial activity of riding a bicycle, thereby liberating herself from the constraints of restrictive Victorian clothing and a sedentary indoor life. Van Sciver creates two fictional women—Prudence, a wife and mother of the late 19th century who has taken up the scandalous and exhilarating new craze; and Tess, a single young f-bombing hipster artist living in the 2010s and commissioned to photograph Philadelphia’s Naked Bike Ride—both recounting their experiences and therein tracing the evolution of feminism, fashion, and freedom.
Directed by David O’Connor, Van Sciver captures the contrasting speech patterns and attitudes of the women and their eras with humor and insight, and with apropos props and costumes (Sara Outing), which she changes with ease. The set (also by Outing) includes a backdrop of clever video projections that support the themes of the two periods and the context of a high-tech university course in the “gender-neutral” future, with lighting (Devin Barney) that gives visibility to all elements of the design. As expected from O’Connor and Van Sciver, the show is equally smart, funny, and provocative. [1219 Vine St, 2nd floor] June 19-21, www.hannahvansciver.com/bicycle-face.