Frida Kahlo Steps Out
An 8-minute skit
The audiocassette is available in the Media Center on the Phelan Campus and at the TRC at 33 Gough.
Synopsis: Two women, a mural docent and a mural viewer, discuss possible reasons for the fact that Diego Rivera painted Frida Kahlo with a blank canvas. Later, when the docent thinks sheís alone, Frida Kahlo comes to life and wants to step out of the mural to find out whatís been happening since she was painted into the mural in 1940.
Recorded February 2001
Julia: Candice Gowen
Ana: Brandie Norris
Frida Kahlo: Susan Jackson Collins
Narrator: Tina Martin
Frida Kahlo Steps Out
By Tina Martin A skit to be continued, expanded, improvised, or re-written by students in Theatre Arts Department.
Scene: The Diego Rivera Theatre at City College. A docent has just finished giving her tour of Diego Riveraís Mural of Pan American Unity. She and the remaining tourist are in front of the center panel of the mural. They are discussing the way that Frida Kahlo is depicted in the mural..
Julia: Look at the way he painted Frida Kahlo.
Anna: Yes! She looks beautiful. More beautiful than she sometimes painted herself. She showed herself holding scissors more often than a palette of paints. In fact, she only showed herself as a painter once! Think of that--only once in seventy paintings!
Julia: But do you notice something about the easel?
Anna: Well, nothingís on it.
Julia: Thatís right. Why is the canvas blank? Is he giving her the artistís equivalent of writerís block? Did he want to be sure she wasnít too productive while he was busy with another woman behind her back?
Anna: Oh, but he was supportive of her as an artist. He praised her art. He said, "Frida is the only example in the history of art of an artist who tore open her chest and heart to reveal the biological truth of her feelings."
Julia: And I supposed thatís supposed to make up for his infidelity.
Anna: Well, you know the Dorothy Parker poem.
Julia: Dorothy Parker? Whoís Dorothy Parker?
Anna: Youíre a woman, and youíve never read Dorothy Parkerís verse? How have you survived? Thereís a poem in which she tells her lover that sheíll take almost any other criticism or insult, "But say my verses do not scan, and I get me another man."
Julia: Well, I know she was hurt by his infidelities, and that woman he says is Paulette Goddard looks an awfully lot like Frida Kahloís sister Cristina--one of the women he had affairs with! I read that when Frida found out, she was unable to paint for several months. So maybe the blank easel is an acknowledgement of that.
Anna: You mean Diego Rivera is apologizing, saying that he knows his behavior was responsible for her not being able to paint?
Julia: Maybe. Or maybe heís just showing her at the beginning. After all, we have the expression, "a blank slate," and thatís supposed to mean a fresh beginning. No baggage. Theyíd just remarried, so maybe both the easel and the marriage represented a fresh start, endless possibilities.
Anna: Yeah. I read that she was beginning the second marriage with the knowledge that heíd never be faithful. Whatever the case, heís given her a prominent position. Sheís in front of him.
Julia: Thatís where Andre Breton put her. He said she was a surrealist and he was more impressed by her art than by Diego Riveraís.
Anna: Maybe thatís because Breton considered her a surrealist, like himself, and Diego Rivera wasnít a surrealist. That brings up another possibility. Maybe Rivera left her easel blank because only she could paint like Frida Kahlo.
Julia: Whatever the case, she needed to paint. In the portrait she painted in 1951, the one of her doctor and also the one showing her as a painter in a wheelchair, she said there were three things she wanted to do when she left the hospital.
Anna: What were they?
Julia: Paint, paint, and paint.
Anna: Hmm. Very interesting. In fact, the whole tour has been fascinating. You really make art come alive.
Julia: Thank you. You seem to know a lot about art yourself.
Anna: Well, I teach art.
The women walk to the door together and Julia shows Anna out. She then reaches toward the light switch when sheís startled by a voice.
Frida: Oh, Iím so bored!
Julia jumps, startled.
Julia: Oh, I thought I was alone in here! (looks around, trying to see whoís there)
Frida: I canít stand it a moment longer!
Julia turns toward the mural and realizes that the beautifully accented English is coming from the center of the mural. Frida Kahlo, a palette in one hand, is extending her other hand beyond the usual confines of the mural.
Julia: My God!
Frida: Take my hand and help me out, and Iíll paint your portrait.
Julia: (in voice showing a panic and shocked disbelief) Go back! You canít just step out of the mural like that!
Frida: Why not?
Julia: Because Iím in charge here, and Iíd get in trouble if you disappeared. Iím in charge of keeping people out and components of the mural in.
Frida: You keep people out?
Julia: Not if they have a scheduled tour. But I keep out thieves and art desecrators.
Frida: Please help me out. Just for a little while. I just hate this passive pose, being gawked at all the time when what I really want to do is-as I heard you say yourself, paint, paint, and paint.
Julia: (starting to calm down as she enters the willing suspension of disbelief phase) Iím afraid Iíd get in trouble. Youíre the very center of the mural.
Frida Kahlo once again extends her hand.
Frida: If you help me out, I wonít have to force my way out, and the mural wonít be destroyed in the process.
Julia: Oh, my God!
She takes Frida Kahloís hand and helps her step out.
Frida: What time is it?
Julia: Four ten.
Frida: What year?
Frida: Dios mio! Iíve been trapped in there for sixty years. No one should have to stand still that long.
Julia: I donít understand. All this time you stay put, and suddenly after sixty years you just step out? Why now?
Frida: I couldnít stand it a moment longer. Besides, I heard what you said about my blank easel. (turning around and looking at the mural) Sometimes you have to step back to get the full picture. (Her eyes settle on the vacant spot where she is no longer standing and then on Diego Rivera, who is behind her missing form, holding hands with another woman.
Frida: Oh, how typically Diego! As I stand with my idle palette, next to my blank easel, heís carrying on behind my back with another woman.
Julia: (going into her docent routine). Thatís Paulette Goddard, an actress famous in the thirties and forties. And the lit up tree you see is called--
Frida: Heíll never grow up. That infant, that great monsterÖ
Julia: Oh, thatís what you say in the video we show. I Paint What I See ...
Frida: Whatís a video?
Julia: Oh, you have been stuck in there a long time. Youíre even on the Internet now--a whole web site. www.riveramural.org. And Iíve seen your likeness on a mousepad, too. Youíre very big these days!
Frida: (looking at herself) Big?
Julia: I mean, thereís a whole Frida Kahlo cult. And youíre veryÖprevalent. All over the place, like Starbucks!
Frida: Whatís the Internet? Whatís a mousepad? Whoís Starbucks?
Julia: I guess it must be confusing being sixty years behind the times.
Frida : Could you bring me up to date?
Julia: Well, we've just entered the new millennium! And things have changed a lot for women over the past sixty years.
1.Continue the script! Talk to Frida Kahlo or take her on a tour of the campus or out into San Francisco.
2. Improvise. Act it out from the beginning or pick up where it ends here.
(For more suggestions, see Womenís Studies and Research Project)