Cybil, Olivia and Melody play a video game with real-life consequences. “Playing With The Big Boys” is a multi-player game designed to teach women how to “make it in a man’s world.” The “man’s world” is a Silicon Valley gaming company. It rewards toxic masculinity while challenging the women with an onslaught of casual and overt misogyny through Tony, the manager and Rohm, the CEO. Cybil, inspired by disgraced Theranos CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, is determined to win at any cost. She constructs an elaborate lie to win the game, but finds it comes at great cost.
Overtly, you could view the women’s journey as a cautionary tale warning women to beware ambition. Yet, beneath the surface lies an allegory that aims to indict the systems that oppress and objectify women and celebrate toxic masculinity.
Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Washington D.C., corporate America–each system fails our culture. The media they produce and the ways they function, strangle innovation and imagination in favor of a brutal and cruel kind of capitalism.
In terms of Mirror Game and the central theme, the phrase, “It’s not personal, it’s capitalism,” is no more than an excuse for bad behavior that negatively impacts both the worker and the consumer, and eventually the one at the top.
Ultimately, one hopes a piece can speak for itself and that the ideas don’t weigh too heavily on it. Any artistic endeavor, particularly one as collaborative as new opera, must offer the very talented artists it assembles space to articulate their experience. Above all else, this piece must allow the audience member the freedom to discover it and perhaps enjoy it on the way.
IN SILICON VALLEY, THE GAME Will COST YOU EVERYTHING
Mirror Game is a new opera by Composer Celka Ojakangas with story and libretto by me, Amy Punt premiering November 29th at Portland State University.
Gaming programmers, Cybil, Olivia and Melody get transported into a video game called, “Playing With The Big Boys,” the game that teaches you how to make it in a man’s world. In order to escape, they must win. In order to win they must eliminate one another from the game entirely as they compete for the same promotion in a Silicon Valley company. However, Cybil and Olivia are in love. Each must choose between power and wealth and their relationship.
It is about the silent messages that influence bedrock values driving gender bias.
Overtly the story explores the consequences of internalizing a masculine narrative and subverting the feminine. Cybil, (inspired by disgraced Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes) creates a lie that sky-rockets her to fame and success. Yet, it metastasizes within her, perverting the woman she once was. While it first appears she wins the game, once the lie is exposed, she loses everything.
Why this story now?
I saw an opportunity to explore themes that, just a few years ago, didn’t feel culturally relevant to most people. This, despite the personal and individual costs many women pay for ambition, drive and achievement. While pursuing full time careers, women largely remain the primary domestic caregivers. Studies have shown that this decreases their chances at promotion over men and keeps their salaries a full 19.3% lower.
Our culture values men over women by a considerable margin.
A year or so ago I began seeing “Take Time To Be a Dad Today” billboards all over Los Angeles. It was a public service campaign created by World Wrestling Entertainment and the Ad Council. To be sure, Vince McMahon, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the WWE, is well known for his bigotry and misogyny. In fact, it’s his brand. So, if you want to discount this campaign as you consider the source, consider this. The Ad Council developed it on behalf of you and me, the tax-payers. Fatherhood.gov, run by The National Fatherhood Clearinghouse, is a “funded national resource for fathers, practitioners, programs/Federal grantees, states, and the public at-large who are serving or interested in supporting strong fathers and families.”
I appreciate that at one time society may have needed it–in 1962. However, right now, it sends the wrong message. Through it we further the regressive values of Leave It To Beaver-style parenting that continues to place the domestic burden squarely on women. What does this mean? All women, not just the women who have children, pay a price in lost wages and stalled careers. This, in effect, incentivizes women to stay home with the children. I can’t believe this is an accident.
To be clear, Mirror Game is not about a woman trying to find balance between domesticity and her career.
Instead it’s about the impact these silent messages have on us all. They influence bedrock values driving gender bias. Our culture values men over women by a considerable margin. Do I spell it out? Money = Value.
Why Silicon Valley?
In Silicon Valley, masculinity reigns in a way that’s somewhat unique. It’s widely felt that young, nerdy, introverted males make the best programmers. The degree to which one reflects that narrative determines the level of her success. The traditional alpha male bombast and frat boy hijinks of say, Wall Street or even Hollywood, doesn’t exist. I’m hoping that placing the story in Silicon Valley offers a fresh and modern take on the misogyny influencing every aspect of one of the most powerful industries in the world.
Hannah Consenz stars as Meredith in the Portland State University production of The Place Where You Started.
Director Kristine McIntyre asked me to write some poetry, for the opera The Place Where You Started, in Meredith’s voice. Kristine then displayed the poetry in a projection on the back wall of the stage for Meredith’s final aria. In the aria (think monologue in a play) Meredith discovers her passion for writing again. In this poem Meredith addresses her frustration with screenwriting, a career she chose for all the wrong reasons. She describes it as a barren house.
Words reflect the place
where you live
very little in this house
I once thought it elegant
an interconnected series of
held together by three *brads
and an agent
but the dazzling wheel cracked
caked with dirt of a million dead dreams
the rain never comes here to renew
broken yearnings stretch back 100 years
deep into the orange grove
now paved with cement and sorrow
*Brads are the brass prongs that hold screenplays together.
In this next one, Meredith writes to her boyfriend Steve who takes her for granted. The screenplay she writes during the opera, a vampire romance, features Roland, a brooding teenage vampire. It makes sense then that she calls Steve, Roland. Both are emotionally stunted. This poem is somewhat of a “Dear John” letter to Steve and to screenwriting.
I cannot stay
a wind blows
Sorry for the mess
I could not clean up
playing video games
sitting in the last chair
Vampires might live forever
But I do not
Here Meredith reflects on the unique beauty that exists in Southern California. Her relationship with her friend Macario, a genius in the garden, has connected her to the earth. The falling rain is, in a way, a symbol for Macario, but it’s also simply rain doing what rain is supposed to do.
The rain falls
It soaks the dust and stirs it to soil
At dusk the jasmine bloom
their night shade fragrance thick
over the garden
A brown house spider spins her web over our door
If I leave the light on
she will feast