Tag Archives: Sweden


The Södra Teatern is theater complex in Stockholm, Sweden is located at the top of a steep cobblestoned street (“steep” as in the Santa Monica Pier ramp), overlooking waterways, carrying boats of all kinds. Six small theaters are spread up and down this scenic hill, connected by dozens of iron stairs. There, all nearly three hundred of us scampered or in my case, limped from readings to workshops, dashing back to the huge, old main theatre, and its red plush seats.

It was my intention to fill this blog with keen and incisive impressions of the many workshops and keynote events I attended at the Women Playwrights International Conference, in Stockholm, Sweden last month. Seriously. I had my trusty steno pad, Bic AND Sharpie pens with me at all times. The one thing I forgot was how the Universe gets a hearty chuckle at all of my good intentions. As usual, the Universe had an agenda all its own.

The message: see what comes along, listen, take notes and tell these stories to as many people as possible.

One day, I missed a keynote speech when a young playwright from Serbia took me aside. It seemed so urgent to her — this woman with eyes downcast and in a quiet voice to speak of her country of origin. She feared that I and the other Americans attending would be mad at her for atrocities “put upon Muslims.” I doubted if she was old enough to have been alive during that terrible time. Still, here was this beautiful, young, talented person, taking the guilt of a whole country onto her little shoulders. Once she saw that she wasn’t about to automatically be condemned, we created a great conversation in our new international language – that of the female dramatist. My advice to her – put it all into your next play.

A few days later, I gave up my spot on a workshop waiting list in order to sit on a bench in the square outside the main theatre, doing an impromptu reading of my Eileen Heckart Award winning play, HAPPY AND GAY, with the wonderful Swedish actress, Ulla-Britt Norrman. She was a brilliant ‘Betty’ to my so-so ‘Veronica.’ I looked up from the script to see a small crowd had gathered around us. We even got a bit of applause. In retrospect, maybe I should have passed a hat. Afterwards, I had to explain why ‘Veronica’ was so worried about the ramifications of the first gay wedding in their church. Ulla wanted to know why there was much “gay fear” in America. The more I tried to explain gay rights in America, a realization crept into my consciousness. What’s the big deal about America’s gay rights? I have no clue.

My new friend, the beloved Lia Gladstone, made an unexpected appearance at the Columbus Hotell (yes, two “l’s), where I was staying. She had just gotten in from a long flight and needed a good walk and talk before the arrival of her charges, the young women who would perform their “Afghan Voices” presentation later in the week. Lia knew from the moment they arrived from Afghanistan, she would have to constantly be there for them, giving multiple interviews with the press and shepherd her charges to the various public events.

Since this might be her one rare, peaceful moment before the impending media storm, I suggested we take a stroll through the Katarina Churchyard, located behind the Columbus Hotell. We walked and sat on benches, listening to the church bells dutifully toll every fifteen minutes. As a family of rabbits, the graveyard’s unofficial grounds keepers, nibbled on the grave side flowers Lia and I quietly chatted about everything from our lives, writing and eventually to her work teaching drama to young girl orphans in Kabul. Lia moved me to tears as she described giving one little girl a head scarf to play with for an improv exercise. The child rolled the scarf up, making it into a turban, the symbol of masculine power in Afghanistan. Lia said she looked out over the rest of the class, watching all of the other little girls empower themselves by rolling up their head scarfs into turbans and wearing them.

With my Steno pad, Bic and Sharpie in hand, I was bound and determined to take the iron stairs from the main theatre down to KGB West in order to find the director of “Isaac, I am,” my play to be presented the next day. Once again, the cosmic chuckle materialized into a downpour outside. About a hundred of us were caught in the lobby, awaiting the rain’s end when Van Badham, a fresh, fierce playwright from Australia, climbed up a couple of stairs and called for our attention. She announced the conviction of members from the Pussy Riot punk group, who had broken into a church and recorded a protest song about Putin in Russia.

Leaning on her cane (“I have a bum ankle,” she told me later), Van’s strong, clear voice delivered her message, electrifying the room. She announced an impromptu march from the theater to downtown Stockholm. The place went wild! With Van’s permission, I recorded her repeating the announcement on my little camera as she stood on the stage of the big red-plush-seated theatre. Lightning struck again! A few moments later, I sat with Van, as she gave a quiet, focused statement. She was illuminated only by a single window, which gradually brightened with the passing of the storm.

See below– these are short. Feel free to share these links.
Van’s announcement on stage:

Van’s quiet, focused statement:

I shared these links with Hettie Lynn Hurtes at KPCC/National Public Radio in Los Angeles. She passed them on to her colleagues.

You gotta hand it to the organizers of the WPIC. Besides hosting 275 playwrights from dozens of countries, they fed us, provided those who had play presentations with excellent directors and actors, who gave our work respectful and often brilliant treatment. The cast in my Helford Prize winning “Isaac, I am” was so enthused, they honored me with requests for full copies of the play so they could find out how it ended.

Yes. The organizers did a wonderful job. The only problem? There was too much ‘wonderful.’ It was physically impossible to see absolutely everything. On Saturday night, August 18, I had to choose between attending two performances in different venues at virtually the same time; Afghan Voices or the Gueerilla Girls. Hoping to catch up with the Guerrilla Girls back in the states, I chose to support Lia Gladstone and her Afghan performers.

We were mesmerized as one young woman made the stage her own with a self-choreographed hip-hop dance, while rapping her own lyrics. While I wish I could have translated her words, in the end it didn’t matter. What transcended any language issues was her joyous defiance and courage in the face of possible dire consequences back home. Her spirit moves me to this moment.

I’m writing from this from home with the Democratic Convention livestreaming on my laptop beside me. My poor steno pad is within reach, its Bic and Sharpie waiting patiently nearby. Before the WPIC, my biggest concerns were working to get productions and hoping for good reviews.

Spending one extraordinary week with these women playwrights and performers who, every single day put it all on the line while expressing their art has given me a greater appreciation of the freedom we have always known, must protect and encourage in others.

Mary Steelsmith Goes To Sweden

When: August 15 – 20, 2012
Where: Riksteatern, Stockholm, Sweden
What: The 9th Women Playwrights International Conference
Why:  From the WPIC website: “The conference will be an opportunity to meet and to create genuine, lasting contacts between women playwrights and other theatre professionals. The conference’s aim is to have a supporting impact on collaboration and to build bridges between people from different parts of the world.”
Who: Women playwrights from around the world, including LA FPI’s own Mary Steelsmith.
Mary’s play Isaac, I am will be featured at WPIC 2012 on Saturday afternoon, August 18, 2012.

Award-winning dramatist Mary Steelsmith and her highly-lauded play Isaac, I am will be featured at the upcoming 2012 Women Playwrights International Conference in Stockholm, Sweden.  It’s a six-day conference with international focus, filled with lectures, workshops, and most of all, performances of works by women. This year’s theme is “The Democratic Stage.” The WPI Conference moves around the world: it’s held every three years in a different city. In 2015, it will be held in Cape Town, South Africa. For more on Women Playwrights International, and to join, visit their website.

107 plays from around the world will be featured at WPIC 2012, and Mary is thrilled: “What an honor it is to have Isaac, I am chosen to be presented at this conference! The opportunity to meet with and learn from so many female dramatists from other countries and cultures is a rare and wonderful one. While it will be an expensive journey, the experience of this conference in beautiful Stockholm will be priceless.” Only fourteen women playwrights from the U.S. were selected to attend. (To see the complete list of selected plays and playwrights, click here.)

Steelsmith’s Isaac, I am is a story of love, life, death and AOL. A winner of the Helford Prize (and she’s only female playwright to win it), Steelsmith also lists productions of Isaac, I am at the Racounteur Theatre in Columbus, Ohio, and most recently, here in Los Angeles at the Women’s Theatre Organization at the University of Southern California.

Steelsmith has won other playwriting awards, including the Eileen Heckart Drama for Seniors Competition and the Hewlett-Packard Action Theatre Prize (Singapore).

Would you like to help Mary Steelsmith get to Sweden? On Saturday, July 14, 2012, 2 p.m., there’s a benefit performance of 5 short plays by Steelsmith  at Vidiots Video, 302 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA, 90402. She’s also selling copies of her work on Amazon.

For more info, go to marysteelsmith.com.

Guest Post: Women’s Work by Paula Cizmar

At dawn, only hours after I arrived in Istanbul, the muezzin at the mosque across the street from my hotel began chanting the call to prayer:  Allah u Akbar, Allah u Akbar, Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah… It was loud.  Loud beyond belief.  An ancient song amplified by modern technology and audible, I’m sure, all the way across the Bosphorus.

Out on the streets later, I was fascinated by the pace, the crowds, the lively culture.  And curious about how in one ten-foot space there could be women in miniskirts and women in full burkas—not just the hijab, but the burka that is all enveloping, all black, with just a tiny slitted opening for the eyes.

I was in Istanbul not just as a tourist, but also for work.  SEVEN (or YEDI in Turkish), the documentary play I wrote with six amazing women writers—Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, Susan Yankowitz, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, and Anna Deavere Smith—had been selected for the 18th Istanbul International Theatre Festival, and the Swedish Consulate had invited us to attend.

Sweden and Turkey?  Could any two places seem more opposite?

Four of us made the journey—Carol, Susan, Ruth, and I.  When we arrived, we were instantly caught up in a swirl of activities related to the performance; the Swedish director and Turkish producer and their crews were all articulate, creative, committed, active artists who believe in the intersection of arts and politics.   SEVEN excited them; it tells stories about women who aren’t passive or victims.   It’s documentary theatre, told in the words of female activists who work to stop human rights abuses—including government corruption and violence against women.    The stories are real—and I think that’s why the play affects people so deeply.

When we had lunch with the Swedish Consul General, Torkel Stiernlof, the mystery of the Swedish/Turkish connection became clear.  He told us that Turkey wants to enter the EU, and that Sweden is performing its role as friend to Turkey to help out in this cause.  Though Turkey has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and is qualified for EU membership financially, Turkey’s human rights record is a whole other story.  Before the country is acceptable to the European Union, it’s going to have to address those issues, among them being violations of women’s rights—not just denial of basic freedoms, but also spousal murders and abuse at the hands of fundamentalist family members.   SEVEN/YEDI is helping in that goal, because the Swedes believe in using the arts and humanities to create awareness, start discussion, influence the culture.  Hence our presence at the theatre festival.  (Sigh…oh that we valued the arts more in the U.S., or at least, that non-artists recognized the value.  Oh that we wouldn’t have to constantly defend the importance of what we do, or feel as if it is an afterthought or trivial.)

Later, I was part of a panel composed of American, Swedish, and Turkish women talking about the value of telling women’s stories—because they don’t always get told with truth. What a thrill to be part of this interchange of ideas.  Smart, reasonable, calm, creative-thinking women talking about drama in the most modern and ancient sense of the word in a city where so many cultures, past and present, East and West, come together.   The play, too, in a venerable old theatre, with a full house, kept the buzz and the discussion going.

This is the dialogue we all crave as women in the theatre.   I’m happy that SEVEN has been a catalyst for so much hopeful discussion.  With any luck, it will open someone’s mind, set somebody free, even inspire new plays that will go again out into the world and make more ripples.

I am so proud that I am doing women’s work.