Feminism Is not a Four-letter Word
Meg Phillips Crespy had become a bit frustrated. An award-nominated actress with a long résumé, she was having difficulty getting cast in local theater productions, but then a theater scheduled a musical revue with which she was not familiar.
“As I started looking into it, I noticed there were more male characters than female characters—which is normal. And each man had more songs than each woman—which is normal—but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the fact that every woman’s song was about a man,” Phillips Crespy says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’m ready to sing about something else, so I thought, ‘I write music. Why not write my own songs?’”
The result is a new song cycle for women composed of musical numbers that have something other than men as their subject. The Department of Women’s and Gender Studies is sponsoring the world premiere performance of Lady Parts this month in the MU Student Center. Phillips Crespy will perform the songs with seven other women, who range in age from their teens to their sixties.
The Bug Bit Early
Phillips Crespy is a Columbia native who majored in English at Truman State University and now works as a strategic communications associate for the Joint Office of Strategic Communication and Marketing. While studying at Truman State, she performed in numerous theatrical productions and took nearly every vocal music course available. Her love of music had been forged at an early age, beginning with piano lessons that started in the third grade.
Phillips Crespy says she recently found some music books she and her sister had as children, and she found some “not terrible” songs she had written when she was about 11 years old. At some point, she stopped writing songs but started composing again about a decade ago when she was involved with the Hormonal Imbalance Theatre, a local theater troupe that performs dinner murder mysteries. Additionally, her husband David, a professor in the Department of Theatre, had written a script with music years earlier but had lost the score, so he offered to write the lyrics if she would write the music. They entered the play in the Jackie White National Children’s Playwriting Competition. It won first prize.
Songs for Women About Women
Phillips Crespy says a song cycle is basically a musical that does not have a script. The 16 songs she composed are all show tunes, though she says there’s not really a particular theme that runs through them. She solicited ideas from friends on Facebook and received more than 50 responses in 24 hours. One of those ideas led to a song about miscarriage, and another song is about Phillip’s experience with pregnancy.
“There’s a musical called Baby, and it has this beautiful song about the circle of life and I thought, ‘That’s going to be great!’” she says. “I had morning, noon, and night sickness for nine months. It was awful. So I have a song about that.”
Phillips Crespy says she wanted to expand the project by involving women of all ages. She wrote a song about her aging parents and another song about autism in young girls, so she needed singers who could perform those roles. For a few numbers, she also solicited lyrics from other creative artists. One of the first songs she wrote for the song cycle is based on a poem she saw Natasha Ria El-Scari recite at Black Poets Speak Out in 2016 called “The Secret Life of Black Mothers.” Phillips Crespy says there’s no hidden agenda in the songs she has composed; rather, she wanted to give women an opportunity to perform songs they normally don’t get to perform. Still, she says, there is a message in her music.
“I had to write the final song and was talking it over with David, and I told him I didn’t know what to write and how to wrap it up, and he said, ‘How do you want people to feel walking out?’” Phillips Crespy says. “I said I just wanted people to feel like they can be their badass feminist self. He told me to write that. There’s a line in that song that ‘feminism isn’t a four-letter word’ because I think there are many misconceptions about feminism and gender roles. I just hope people feel energized, and if they don’t like the status quo, they should do something to change it.”
The world premiere of Phillips Crespy’s new song cycle for women will be performed April 13–14 and April 19–21 at 7:30 p.m. in Leadership Auditorium on the second floor of the MU Student Center. Admission is free for all MU staff, faculty, and students with a university ID.