In the Beginning…
Back in 2013, composer Janet Kutulas of Kitka began creating music inspired by three fairy tales that feature women overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Kitka performed the music in a concert series, and afterwards the audience wanted more! What happened to the women in the songs? Clearly, there was a demand to see these women who wore iron shoes in the fairy tales.
Janet and Shira Cion, the executive/artistic director for Kitka, met with director/choreographer Erika Chong Shuch about bringing these tales to life. Erika is renowned for her multidisciplinary approach to creating stories. She recommended working with Michelle Carter, who she describes as “a playwright unattached to words… the best way to tell story might not be through words, so she takes into account the ‘action’ and brings disparate pieces of information into one thread.” Janet Kululas was impressed with the amount of research Michelle prepared for their first meeting, and with the questions she asked: what is the journey of each girl? What is the starting point—and how do these stories get told?
These three lead collaborators (Janet, Erika, and Michelle) submitted a proposal to Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor program, a summer residency lab for new work development. Iron Shoes was one of 18 projects chosen out of over 600 applications. Shotgun Players company member Beth Wilmurt participated in the workshop along with members of Kitka, dancers, and Erika Chong Shuch leading the process. Playwright Michelle Carter created a through line with the fairy tales of the women who wear iron shoes, woven through with the voices of Kitka. The next stage of their journey began.
In each of the fairy tales, there are distinct stages for the women working to overcome their obstacles. So it is with the development of Iron Shoes. Michelle Carter explains:
“By the end of a two-week workshop at Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor, we’d made our way to the crisis point in each of our stories, the moments where each of our three maidens had hit rock bottom. And after the workshop was over, it turned out that none of us were interested in just continuing each story where it left off. The challenge of how to make use of that moment felt really interesting. Why would a narrator abandon the telling of each story when her characters are at their lowest moments? It was that question that drove the exploration of the narrator—what she wants, what she fears, what she needs to experience in order to find her place in the world. Building the narrator’s arc gave us a new way into each of the three maidens’ stories.”
The Source Fairy Tales
There are three fairy tales that sparked the creation of Iron Shoes—two from Russia and one from Romania.