Conceived by Iris Rose
Written, directed, and performed by Kim X Knowlton, Melanie Monios, Iris Rose, and Maggie Siena

Franklin Furnace, NYC      December 1984

Additional performances:
January 1985 – The Alley Theater, Houston, TX
March 1985 – D.C. Space, Washington, DC
March 1985 – Limbo, NYC (excerpts)
August 1985 – The Pyramid Club, NYC (excerpts)
October 1985 – 8BC, NYC (excerpts)
October 1985 – Danspace at St. Marks Church
April 1986 – Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (excerpts)
July 1986 – Watchface’s Greatest Hits, Gates of Dawn, NYC (excerpt)
September 1986 – Watchface’s Greatest Hits, Darinka, NYC (excerpt)
March 1987 – A Watchface Sampler, Jeffrey Neale Gallery, NYC (excerpt)
Date unknown:
Women in Music panel of the New Music Seminar, Marriott Hotel, NYC (excerpt)

Of Little Women
Role Models

Meg: Marriage
Jo: Work
Jo and Laurie
The War
Amy and Laurie
Beth: Death
Amy: Art

When she was twelve, Iris Rose and her family visited Acres of Books in downtown Long
Beach, California – an enormous, musty used bookstore (sadly, no longer in existence) – and
after hours of browsing, Iris made her selection – Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women. It
was love at first read, and she reread it countless times during her teen years, highlighting
her favorite passages and period details. Iris’ copy of Little Women

The night that House of Jahnke was performed at Franklin Furnace, Iris noticed that behind
the audience there was a kitchen, and she imagined a show in which the performers
prepared food during the first half and served it to the audience at intermission. She had
toyed with the idea of creating a piece based on Little Women for many years, but seeing
the kitchen helped the concept take form. So did the fact that she knew the three perfect
women to play her sisters: Kim X Knowlton, Melanie Monios, and Maggie Siena from House of
. Iris played the oldest sister Meg, Kim was tomboyish Jo, Maggie was shy Beth, and
Melanie was Amy, the artist. Iris wrote a proposal to Franklin Furnace and was accepted for
their upcoming season. Franklin Furnace flyer

The show was divided into two very different halves. Most of the first half was made up of
discussions based on recordings of actual conversations among the four women, on topics
suggested by Little Women, including beauty, role models, cleaning, Christmas, and
confessions. The performers wore their own clothes and spoke (most of the time) very
naturally, though selected sections employed the movement style that was to become
associated with Watchface. As Iris had visualized, a snack was prepared for the audience
during PART ONE – though on an electric hot plate, as it turned out, since the Franklin
Furnace stove was not functional – and served to them at intermission by Maggie as Beth,
the most domestic sister. During PART ONE, a Christmas tree was visible on stage and, at the
end of the section about Christmas memories, the performers presented four fortunate
members of the audience with presents. The gifts were selected based on what their
characters would choose to give – a notebook from Jo, the writer, for instance; a box of
Whitman’s Sampler chocolates from traditional Meg – and the recipients were chosen at
random. Though the Franklin Furnace performance happened to be in December,
subsequent performances at any time of year also included an artificial Christmas tree and
the giving of gifts.

During intermission, while the audience members consumed their cake and cider, the four
performers applied makeup and changed into homemade dresses suggestive of the 1860s,
in which Little Women was set – mostly in full view of the audience. Iris had also sewn
together a 30-foot-wide red curtain, printed with black roses, that was now drawn across the
stage (her job as a receptionist for textile jobbers on lower Broadway entitled her to free
fabric). The red curtain, and the footlights that they set up at the front of the stage area,
suggested the theater of the 19th century and created an obvious separation between the
very different styles of PART ONE and PART TWO.

For the second half, each of the four performers wrote a poem inspired by a single word
chosen by Iris to capture the essence of each sister in Little Women: for Meg, marriage; Jo,
work; Beth, death; and Amy, art. Although Iris had always identified with the independent,
headstrong Jo in the novel, she played Meg instead since she was engaged to marry James
Siena the following spring and welcomed the opportunity to explore her own ideas on the
subject of marriage. Industrious Kim wrote Jo: Work; Maggie, whose mother had died before
she was a teen, wrote Beth: Death; and artistic Melanie, a collage artist who worked at the
Museum of Modern Art, wrote Amy: Art. Each woman was responsible for directing her
character’s section and choosing the music based on these restrictions – it had to be a
piece performed by a single instrument and written before 1870.

In the middle of PART TWO, there were two very brief scenes showing Jo and Amy’s
contrasting relationships to Laurie, the primary male character in the book. Kim and Melanie
were the performers in both scenes, with Melanie donning a straw hat and mustache to play
Laurie in the Jo scene, and Kim, as Laurie, wearing them in the Amy scene. Between the two
was an equally brief scene about the Civil War, performed by all four women, since the war
was an important, though distant, element in the first half of the novel Little Women. All three
of these brief interludes had no text and were performed to music.

Rehearsals consumed 3 and a half months, though the show was only scheduled for one night at
Franklin Furnace. On her dining room table, Iris silk-screened posters bearing portraits of the
four sisters, then wheat-pasted them around Tribeca, the neighborhood surrounding the
venue. Of Little Women’s debut was well-attended and well-received, and the four women
were eager to perform it again.

The prestigious Alley Theater of Houston, Texas, had a Monday night series for subscribers at
which they presented single performances or readings of interesting or challenging plays.
Michael Dixon, the organizer of the series, wanted to include an example of performance art
for this audience, so he enlisted the help of Michael Peranteau of Diverse Works, a nearby
gallery and performance space. Michael, who often made trips to New York looking for
exciting new work, had previously brought 1984: The Future Repeats Itself and Negotiations
to Houston. He thought the same performers’ work would be a good fit for the theater
audience, so in January 1985, six of the seven eventual members of Watchface went to
Houston. Of Little Women was chosen as the inaugural performance art piece for the
Monday night Alley Theater crowd, but the preceding weekend, Diverse Works also
presented Camden, Boys Will Be Men, and Our Secret Little Ritual.
Alley Theatre press release
Alley Theatre program

In the spring of 1985, the entire Of Little Women was seen at DC Space in Washington, DC,
DC Space mailer and excerpts were performed, as a double feature with James Siena and
Chazz Dean’s Boys Will Be Men, at East Village clubs Limbo, the Pyramid Club, and 8BC. The
Cleaning section was performed to open the first Women in Music panel at that year’s New
Music Seminar at the Marriott Hotel in Times Square.

In October 1985, as part of the Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church, Of Little Women
enjoyed its only New York run as a complete piece since its single performance at Franklin
Furnace. Danspace Project flyer The four women performed excerpts of the show the following
spring at the Johnson Museum at Cornell University, Kim’s (and James’) alma mater.

Three months later Watchface officially became a group and performed for the first time
under that name. Its first show was Watchface’s Greatest Hits, which included the members’
favorite sections from most of the shows they had already created together up to that point.
Of Little Women was represented by the popular and road tested Cleaning. Watchface’s
Greatest Hits
was performed at the opening night of Kestutis Nakas’ Gates of Dawn
Gates of Dawn program and later at Darinka. In the spring of 1987, Amy: Art was included in A
Watchface Sampler
at the Jeffrey Neale Gallery.
Jeffrey Neale Gallery postcard
Jeffrey Neale Gallery program

Whenever the whole show was performed on the road, it presented one unique logistical
challenge: finding a suitable place for Maggie to bake the homemade treats that her
character, Beth, prepared for the audience’s intermission snack. Store-bought cake would
just not have been appropriate.