by Laura Shamas
“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues….”― George Orwell, Why I Write
This election year, I’m concerned about the erosion of women’s rights on a number of fronts; that’s why I’m participating as a playwright in the Reproductive Freedom Festival on March 20, 2016. Featuring 25 short plays and poems, the event will stream live from New York’s TACT Studio this Sunday from 6-9 p.m. EDT/ 3-6 p.m. PDT via Virtual Arts TV.
As described on the RFF site, it’s: “a festival of short works celebrating the fundamental right to human reproductive autonomy.” Created and produced by Choice Theater (run by the amazing Cindy Cooper), its stated purpose is “to support reproductive freedom, rights, health and justice and to generate new conversations on these subjects.”
It has six parts, guided by six female directors. Here are the format details: “Half-hour sets, each completely different, of short theatrical works and poetry collected from across the country and presented by talented New York actors under the guidance of six directors. Artists and activists will describe their works every half hour.”
Each grouping has a theme: 1) Heroines; 2) Next Generations; 3) Conflicts; 4) Body Politics; 5) Discoveries; and 6) What We Know. There’s also a “Pre-Show” from Ireland at 5:30 p.m. EDT/ 2:30 p.m. PDT. You can watch just some of the festival or all of it—and it’s free.
I have a short comic piece in it called “Papyrus” about the discovery of an ancient scroll; it’s scheduled in the fifth half hour. Other LA FPI writers participating in the festival are Allie Costa, with her work “Two Girls” (in the second half hour), and Mildred Lewis, with her play “Chained Labor” (in the fourth half hour). For a complete performance schedule, with the writers and directors listed, please click here.
Costa’s piece, “Two Girls,” is a haunting, poetic duologue in which two women emerge from a violent attack. The play was first performed in London in 2015 at the Unheard Festival, produced by Goblin Baby Theatre Co. at The Bread & Roses Theatre. It has also been presented at the Clear Lines Festival and the Keble Arts Festival in London. This will be the first time “Two Girls” has been performed in the United States. Costa’s play “She Has Seen The Wolf,” which is thematically linked to “Two Girls,” just had its first staged reading this week in Hollywood at PlayGround-LA. Costa is a Los Angeles-based actress, writer, director, and singer working in film, TV, theatre, and voiceover.
Costa, when asked about why she’s part of the festival, observed: “Victims of sexual assault often have questions posed at them – ‘What were you wearing? Why were you out late at night?’ – that are tinged with shame and blame. We need to stop blaming victims and start listening to them, and give them a safe place to speak up and speak out. I am honored that my piece was selected for this festival, and I can’t wait to see it!”
In Mildred Lewis’ piece, “Chained Labor,” an African American woman reveals to her daughter that she gave birth to her in chains while she was incarcerated. Lewis notes: “That experience sadly continues. Facing the reproductive freedom issues that women face in jails (e.g., forced sterilization) demonstrates how urgently the conversation around reproductive freedom needs to broaden. It’s not just about abortion or birth control.”
Lewis is excited that “Chained Labor” will premiere at the RFF. “I can’t think of a better platform, particularly since it’s being filmed in my hometown (Go Stuy Hi Peglegs!) I’m also grateful that it follows a run of my piece, “Bleed Black Bleed Blue,” at the Secret Theatre’s Act One Festival.” Explaining why she’s participating in the festival, Lewis responds: “I am a beneficiary of the women’s movement. I had access to great sex education from my mom, an RN, and my junior high school. Watching old battles being fought again over not just abortion, but birth control(!) is maddening. Sometimes I write purely to entertain. But there are some points in history where I believe we must pick up our pens to fight. This is one of them.” Lewis writes and directs for theater, film, television and the web; she is also a full-time film professor.
The Reproductive Freedom Festival is officially part of SWAN Day, Women Arts’ famous international celebration which aims to “Support Women Artists Now.”
RFF will send you a reminder notice to watch the performance online on March 20, if you’d like. You can catch the livestream and sign up for the reminder notice here. There will be a live chat function during the Festival, for online users. Please join us on Sunday, March 20, for a look at some female-centric plays and poems about reproductive freedom (and more!), and let’s continue the conversation.