Welcome to the 3rd profile in our new blog & podcast series by Artistic Associate Mariah Freda!
China Pharr is cute.
I say this because every time China likes something, she calls it cute, so I’m here to say, China Pharr is cute. Way back when, on May 5th, when the pandemic was just a one and half month old, China and I hopped on the phone and she graciously answered all of my questions. Allow me to introduce you to our next collaborator!
Name: China Pharr
Pronouns: She, Her, Hers
Signature Look: A head wrap. I will always have one of those.
Road Trip Snack of Choice:
Sunflower seeds. You need something to do.
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China is the newest cast member to the show, really only joining us full time for our Zoom phase. In many ways, I was getting to meet China for the first time too.
"I’m from Long Beach originally. LA, baby. And I grew up dancing all throughout my life. I did a little theater in high school and never got the principal role. I remember I auditioned a couple of times and didn’t get it and I was pretty bummed, but ya know, I was always dancing around somewhere. And, yeah, I’ve been in New York for four or five years now. It’s been pretty cute. It’s been cute getting to know Melissa. I did another production with her. She’s really great. So that’s a little about me and why I’m here."
China found The Anthropologists “randomly from a Backstage posting.” (Me too, China!) We were hosting our annual Open House for new collaborators in January 2019 and were lucky enough to have China join us in the room. She had just moved to Nantucket, but assured us she had plans to be back in NYC in the future. Sure enough, we were reunited with her just in time for us to be working on No Pants in Tucson.
"I don't know what was happening but we were on this whole trajectory.”
Without hesitation she met up with us for an exploratory lab in November 2019, jumping right into the work. As she recalls that first, wild rehearsal:
“I really like the way you guys take something very small and specific and just build this whole kind of world around it. And that was probably the most interesting part for me-- That we just took this one law and looked at all the different things that we were able to bring from it. And I remember at the end, the three of us were sitting at some table in a courtroom, I don't know what was happening but we were on this whole trajectory.”
Rehearsal photo: China (center) with Alexandra (left) and Mariah (right)
I’m pretty sure we were pretending to be Supreme Court Justices, while reading a ridiculous manifesto on how women could advance in the workplace. There were also hoop skirts. (Stay tuned to see if that truly inspired improvisation makes it into the final show!)
I wanted to know how China found her way into the theater world. In her introduction, she identified as a dancer and not an actor.
“I started off as a -- my mom loves telling this story--it’s really embarrassing, but as a street dancer. I used to like battle dance in the street and there were groups and these turf wars and, like, things were so serious. And one day my mom saw me out there battling my neighbor or something and she was like--huh, maybe I’ll put her in a dance class--And that’s how it started. And I ended up going to an Arts high school, dancing throughout. I was in a company, but I never really did acting. It was always dance focused super super dance focused. I had auditioned for a few things and it didn’t work out. When I met Melissa, I was like, “huh, I’ll try it.” There’s no annoying drama program director here right now to tell me I can’t get this part. I’m here at this workshop, let’s see what it does, ya know? And I think I’m okay at it. I made it this far!”
For the record, China is more than okay at it. So much so that this answer had totally caught me off guard.
Allow me to interject here that China wrote and composed a song that I’ve been using for our Shorts Edition Podcast! It’s amazing. Awe inspiring even. If China was new to acting, then I couldn’t imagine what devised theater over a Zoom call must have felt like. Here I was, trying to adapt to a new medium and China was adapting to a new, well, everything.
“Not gonna hold you up, it’s challenging. Most of the acting things that I’ve been in, have been very like: you get the script and then you read the script, you have an emotion, ya know? So all of these things that I associated with acting, I’ve had to throw out the window with this process, which has been challenging for me because I have nowhere else to pull from, I feel a little lost, ya know? But then I do like that The Anthropologists is movement based because there are times when I get really really lost and I can get in a kind of rabbit hole in my head, and I can just start moving. It doesn’t really matter what I’m doing at this point, I’m just moving around and something will happen. So that’s good. But yeah, it has been very challenging for me. Yeah, I just don’t have a lot of well to pull from. You know, with dance I know my tondu, I know my plie, I know how to do x, y and z, but I guess with this, I don’t have that arsenal of resources to pull from.”
I will let you all in on a little secret that I shared with China as well. I never know what I’m doing. This is the beauty of devised theater. There’s the plan, there’s what actually happens in the room and then there’s the places you go because you got lost along the way. According to this fool-proof methodology, China is a perfect fit for The Anthropologists.
The image she evokes of a “rabbit hole in her head” is a den I have cozied up in over the past few months.
China is also a perfect example of how to exist in this current theatrical moment.
Live performance artists are floating in a state of limbo right now. We have no idea what the future will look like, how our profession will move forward, how it will find a way to exist at all. The image she evokes of a “rabbit hole in her head” is a den I have cozied up in over the past few months. It’s a tempting place to live in, but this reminder to just get up and start moving is essential--yes, physically but also mentally. Think outside the confines of what you decided you already knew and you might find yourself dancing out of the rabbithole.
I’ve been asking each collaborator if they’ve ever gotten in trouble for something that they were wearing, since it is a running theme in the show. A pattern is beginning to emerge. China, like Marissa and myself, had to pass the ruler or fingertip skirt test during her school years. China often did not pass. As she points out:
“I wore fishnets and I was definitely like a punk rock kind of skateboarding kid so I liked to push the line as well. Like how much I exposed and the shock factor. I enjoyed the shock factor a lot with my outfits.”
Tell a teen to put on a uniform and you will most likely get some kind of rebellion. Heck, I wore a bandaid over my nose for my entire senior year of high school to cover my nose ring which everyone knew was there. Now I’m kind of regretful I never considered fishnets as well. I keep coming back to this same realization that our society has normalized the policing of young girls' clothing and therefore young girls’ bodies. Who came up with this arbitrary skirt length? Who decided that legs were so offensive? Were these rule makers the descendants of the rule makers who wouldn’t allow women to wear pants? Pants or skirts, people--what’s in going to be and why does it matter so much???
Stacy!? Are you there? We need answers! (Reminder to come to our show in 20-something to learn more about Stacy. She’s really something.)
We ended our call in the same fashion that I end each interview, by holding extra space for any bonus information and a final question for yours truly. China’s question for me was:
“What do you see happening in the future for the Anthropologists, and what do you hope to happen? Can you just imagine the start to finish of this? From Zoom and google docs to whatever manifests?”
And her final words that she left me with will keep me hungry for the rest of the day:
“I made some delicious chicken fajitas tonight and I’m pretty proud of them. I’m a Los Angeleno so I have to do my people proud. And yeah, I sent a few pictures, it was cute, but that’s It. That’s it about me.”
Like I said, China Pharr is cute and I can’t wait for you to see what she brings to this delicious, theatrical table.
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Interviewer Mariah Freda is the Artistic Associate of The Anthropologists. China Pharr is a member of the devising ensemble for No Pants In Tucson, currently in development and slated for a World Premiere in 2021. Learn more about the project here.
You can meet China at our next Zoom & Tell on Wednesday, July 22 @ 8:00PM.
It's just one of our many Patreon perks!
More info: www.patreon.com/TheAnthropologists