Interview conducted by Kelsey Duchesne
When you speak with Liliana Tandon you become aware of three things- she is driven as hell, does her research, and would be the perfect lady to share a bottle of wine with. Though we didn’t have a chance to bond over vino, we did have a long chat about menstruation stigma, visibility, and her punchy and hilarious web series, Period Piece. The 7-part series tells the story of women's menstruation through an array of time periods (lol) and cultures. Liliana shared why she created this series, it’s reception, and what she’s doing to give back.
What inspired you to create your web series, Period Piece?
LT: I went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for acting, and after I graduated the auditioning thing wasn't working out. I found the audition and rejection process to be very draining, and needed a new outlet. During this time, my friends encouraged me to write. I was with my friend Rachel Kent, and a couple glasses of wine in, we were laughing about the term “period piece” because of how great the pun is. The idea stemmed from that initial idea- women in history who have had to deal with their periods.
After doing some research and receiving encouragement from my parents, I realized how important these stories were. The lack of conversation and accessibility to menstrual products is not just happening in third world countries- it’s so much more common than I initially thought. I've seen organizations like THINX trying to break this taboo, and found it so inspiring! I put auditioning on hold and I’m extremely happy with how everything has worked out, because I’m so proud of this series. I want to create work that is entertaining but also socially relevant. I want to keep it light and funny while raising important issues.
How long was the process between the initial idea and creating the series?
It’s been about a year since the initial idea. It took me a little while to get started- I was a little scared to write something myself. Once production started, things moved incredibly quickly. We started pre production at the end of August, shot at the end of September, and we released in March, so the whole process took about 6 months. I couldn’t have done it without my amazing team- this project was self produced, and many put their time in for free. I had my core group who were there from day one- Rachel Kent, Amanda Roberge, Kate McGarrigle- they all had multiple roles including co producing, acting, art, hair, costuming, and makeup. I also had two amazing DP’s- Katherine Castro in Boston and Arina Bleiman in New York. I had a great support system from people that helped me get things off the ground quickly. They're all so extremely talented.
How did you decide what eras and cultures to focus on?
Each episode is based on the basic preliminary research. I wasn't looking for anything specific at the time, and now have over 20 episodes written and ready for production. I held off shooting stories that were a bit more complicated in terms of production, but plan on using them in the future. I picked the ones that were the easiest to create on a lower budget.
As an Indian-American actress, I was very focused on trying to create a very inclusive show. I know that within the feminist movement there can be a divide on how conversation is approached, and that conversation can exclude certain demographics of women. As a woman working in entertainment, and working in a medium that can reach so many people, I felt it was my responsibility to include all cultures in all different eras, because this is about all women for all women.
We loved that you didn’t just share a woman's period experience through one perspective!
Thank you! I feel that if you don’t make inclusivity a priority, it simply wont be. I will always make it a priority, and I feel like i can do an even better next time. You can always do more.
It was actually great for me, content wise, because the colonial episode was written about two native american women and two white men. At first I was discussing with my friends “I'm going to be in all the episodes, but i'm not a native american actress, do you think it's okay?” We decided that no, it wasn’t okay, because there are so many issues with cultural appropriation and we decided it wasn’t right. Since my decision was that i would be in every episode, it was decided i would be one of the men, which actually added a layer of humor because i wore a great big mustache, and it was pretty funny. We found two amazing native american actresses to play the women, and everything worked out well.
Was the Colonial episode your favorite to shoot?
I did love that one. This is a hard question! I also really loved the 1920’s episode. We found a great space, Northside Pharmacy in Wiliamsburg that was straight out of the 20s. The silent film aspect was so much fun, and the costuming was gorgeous, and the makeup and the hair! That was one of my favorite ones. Our editor Victoria did an amazing job with the effects.
Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Covenant House?
The Covenant House is a great non profit organization that provides care to homeless youth, usually between the ages of 16-21. They serve over 56,000 homeless people a year across the United States.
A friend hooked me up with Margo Seibert and Caroline Angell, who started an organization called Racket. Racket creates events that also act as drives, and events are free when you donate menstrual products, like a box of tampons or pads. I had decided that at the release party for Period Piece, we would have the party double as a charity drive- a free party but entry is a donation of menstrual products. We met up over wine, of course (laughs) and they are such wonderful amazing, people. They helped me organize the drive and after the party we made individual packs of menstrual kits with tampons, wipes, pads, chocolates. We made over 160 menstrual kits, and Covenant House took them and distributed them. The last time Racket donated to Covenant House, their contact said the packs were gone in an hour. When people think about homeless necessities, they think about shelter and food and clothing which is obviously important, but women's reproductive health is not something that is immediately thought about.
I also encouraged my male guests to go out and buy the tampons themselves- because that helps break the taboo, too! I was so excited when men were coming up to me and saying, “Look! I bought my first box of tampons!” The event empowered them in a way, too.
What type of reaction have you been receiving?
It's nerve wracking when you post a video for the world to see, but we've gotten an extremely positive response so far! We’ve been featured in some great publications, and my hope is that young girls and women will take ownership of their bodies and feel good about it.
My friend told me that she showed her grandma Period Piece, and at first she was laughing, but then started to cry. Her grandmother had never discussed menstruation with anyone, and poured out a lifetime of oppression and shame regarding her period. I was so happy and inspired that this women was finally able to release this lifetime of stories and shame. It was exactly what I had wanted from this whole experience. When I created this series, I thought a lot about young women, and it was nice to be reminded that this series can resonate and move a women at any age.
What's up next for you?
We are planning for a second season! We haven’t started filming yet, but I have some great ideas and storylines. I want to continue this project and work with great organizations and continue to raise awareness and promote conversation.