By: Simon Husted
When Marissa Robinson taught at Buffalo Public Schools, she was always reminded of how little status quo teaching engaged a student’s mind.
“You open up a schoolbook and it talks about the Depression,” Robinson said, illustrating an example of a status quo lesson. “Well who wants to learn about the Depression?”
In class, Robinson said she strived to make connections between the class lessons and personal stories. One day for example, Robinson brought a 1912 family portrait of her grandmother with nine brothers and sisters to class.
“Even the boys were interested in looking at the short pants,” Robinson said. “(The male students asked) ‘Ms. Robinson, why did boys wear short pants?'” Not only did this spark interest in the fashion history of young men in the 1910s but it also led to other discussions in class including the politics and events that occurred in the years which led up to the Great Depression.
When Robinson was laid off two years ago, that technique of teaching led her to pursue a new career–forming and leading a primarily all-women theatrical ensemble. After doing research on feminine-based words, Robinson named her group “Sibyls.”
Sibyls are very ancient beings derived from the greek word Sibylla, meaning women prophets. Robinson’s research found that many of the stories in the Bible are inspired by the stories of the Sibyls. Eventually however, men began raping Sibyls and calling them ‘witches.’ As a result, all of the women prophets escaped the male dominated lands and cultivated a female community, living there for about 75 years until it was safe for them to integrate in society with men again.
Although many people misinterpret “Sibyls” as having a strong link in witchcraft, “that’s not what it is at all. It really means women empowering themselves,” said Sandra Jardine, who along with Robinson, leads the women ensemble.
Jardine, who over decades has worked in education and many facets of art including historical restoration, dance, acting and directing–and on top of that owned a children storytelling company for 11 years called “Serendipitous Storytelling and Creative Play for Kids,”–joined Sibyls shortly after Robinson posted a classified in the paper. The ad “spoke” to her, Jardine said.
Since those two years, seven actors have joined Sibyls, and the ensemble has produced two vignettes or short plays. Both vignettes are original pieces written and researched by Jardine and Robinson.
The third production Sibyls is preparing, “Three Faces Of The Moon,” will be performed three times during the Infringement Festival, which is currently underway.
The vignette sets the stage with a mother and her seven daughters, all of which were born during a full moon night sky. The mother knows her time in life is coming to an end but doesn’t know how to leave her fortune of jewels. The mother buries her fortune and makes a pact with the moon to sidetrack her three surviving daughters as they seek to find the mother’s jewel necklace. (The other four daughters went missing mysteriously before this story.)
“The show deals with narcissism and sibling rivalry,” Jardine said.
Sibyls’ will also perform another vignette, “KEEP IT DOWN!” written by Nelly Terrell. The story is a satirical comedy that looks at a triad relationship of a married couple living with the mother of one of the spouse’s.
All of Sibyls’ vignettes use plenty of devices to bring the audience into the story’s setting, including music, appropriate background noises, backdrops, costumes and props. For costumes and props specifically, the ensemble utilizes unwanted items from Salvation Army and Closet Tool.
“I went to Salvation Army and bought four gowns once for less than $10,” Jardine said, adding that Robinson bought one Victorian-style dress for a dollar.
“Three Faces Of The Moon” and “KEEP IT DOWN!” will be performed this weekend in three locations, at the Ujima Theatre, the Manny Fried Theatre, and on the garden rooftop of the Broadway Market. The third setting may seem a bit unusual for a theatrical production (then again, this is a part of the Infringement Festival), but Robinson and Jardine said their ensemble is attracted to venues with beautiful backdrops. During an interview, Jardine pointed to the beauty salon, “Everything Beauty” on Elmwood Avenue, as another venue where Sibyls hopes to perform in the future because of the earthy colors and exotic decorations that fill its interior. It is the non-traditional, yet beautiful places (like “Everything Beauty” and Broadway Market’s garden rooftop), that allows the women’s ensemble to spur a more unique experience to its audience, Jardine said.
The first year and a half proved to be a rocky start for Sibyls, Robinson said, mostly because of how difficult it was to recruit actors. However, after now gathering a committed team, Robinson and Jardine are looking to new productions in the near future, including one that deals with heroines in American wars.
There’s still room for more help however. People interested in joining a Buffalo-based female theatrical ensemble aren’t just limited to acting on a stage. Writing, directing, stage production, and fundraising are all options for anyone who desires to be a part of Sibyls.
“The worst thing is to be rejected, especially if you like theatre,” Robinson said. Sibyls is open to everyone and that includes men–no matter how ironic that sounds.
E-mail Sandra Jardine if you’re interested in helping or joining Sibyls.
SYBILS’ Three Faces of the Moon & KEEP IT DOWN!
Sun. July 25 5-6:30PM Ujima Theatre
Sat. July 31 4-5:30PM Manny
Sun. Aug 1 4:30-6PM B’way Market Roof Top Garden
Admission $7.00 for both performances
Additional information: call
882.3715 or 885.2791
Simon Husted is a South
Buffalo-born journalism student studying at Kent State University in
Ohio. This summer, Simon is back home and contributing to