Finding Joan, Part One: A Conversation with Actor Lizzie Parmenter

This summer, Theatre Prometheus is bringing the fire to the Capital Fringe Festival with The Second Coming of Joan of Arc by Carolyn Gage. Now that we've celebrated our opening on July 11th, we wanted you to get to know the talented creative minds behind our show. Today we’re talking to Lizzie Parmenter, the actor bringing the role of Joan to life.

This show asks, #WhoIsJoan? Who was Joan to you before you started the rehearsal process? Did you have any preconceived ideas about who she was?

I knew Joan was this teenage martyr, or something, and that she saved France. I was most familiar with Shakespeare's depiction of her as a demonic whore in Henry VI, but I always knew that characterization was just him patriotically shitting on the French more than anything.

Carolyn Gage’s Joan has a very distinct point of view--she’s quite different from any version of Joan of Arc we’re familiar with! How did you get into her head?

I really began to drop into Joan when I started thinking about myself as a kid. In the play, Joan talks about loving herself as a young girl, when she was somewhere between women and men, somewhere no-one could catch her. I've always identified with my assigned gender, but in childhood, I occupied this liminal space in which I hadn't yet been sexualized or objectified. I hadn't yet been confined, defined and measured by my potential as a commodity. There was a lot of freedom in that space, and a lot of Joan's story centers on her fight to be express her gender and sexuality freely. Tapping into that helped me figure out what makes Joan tick.

"Joan" is a one-woman show.  In creating the character of Joan, how was your artistic process different from shows in which you share the stage with other performers?

Actually, my process with this show wasn't really different at all. It's the same work -- looking for the same kinds of clues in the text, finding the physicality and the voice. I definitely bounced a lot of stuff off of Tracey, probably more than I would have if I'd had a scene partner.

Early in the play, Joan warns that although we seem to have made a lot of progress since the middle ages, “the men haven’t changed, the rules haven’t changed, and the institutions haven’t changed.” Does this ring true for you?  How have your own experiences with the patriarchy shaped your Joan?

It has been an awakening. Joan drops a lot of "truthbombs," and every day I see both the micro and macroaggressions that she discusses happening all around me--to me, to my friends, to strangers. For a while, we'd come in and start every rehearsal by sharing the ways we'd been sexually harassed that day. "This guy was hollering at me from outside of the store where I work," or, "this guy grabbed my boob outside the gas station," or "my Uber driver tried to get me to have sex with him ... but I felt like it was my fault." I shit you not. All of those things really happened. So, no, the rules haven't changed. It's still acceptable to treat women as sexual commodities, as less-than. It's still acceptable for men to feel entitled to women's bodies. It's still acceptable to deny women just about anything on the basis of our gender. 77 cents to the male dollar, anyone? The institution of misogyny hasn't changed much -- it's just become more insidious, less over

What do you hope audiences take away from your performance?

With this show, I want people to feel the breadth of what is possible. I think there is freedom in articulating and hearing someone else articulate the struggles that you've experienced individually and collectively. It's affirming--yes, these struggles are real! No, you're not crazy! It's healing. There are so many ways to live outside of the oppressive norms that have been pushed onto us, and simply living our lives outside of them is an act of radical resistance. I want people to feel that, and feel the possibility of joy in that.

We're lucky to be part of the second largest fringe festival in the country! Why should audiences come see "Joan"?

It's unlike anything you've ever seen before. "Joan" is a powerful piece of political theater, but it's also the story of a fierce, flawed, and fascinating human. It's been a privilege to inhabit Joan over the course of this show, and she's someone you deserve to meet. She's absolutely amazing.


Tickets to The Second Coming of Joan of Arc can be purchased here.