By Jacqueline Lee
Friday, July 13, 2007
Women's eNews is sending Jacqueline Lee to blog on the first Women Center Stage festival in New York, three weeks of multicultural performances and gatherings to hear women's stories, promote shared goals and celebrate.
June 28--I left last night's event, "Beauty on the Vine: The Beyond Beauty Initiative," feeling happy and content. The play itself was well-written, witty and thought-provoking: all the necessary ingredients for a good conversation with the audience afterwards.
"Beauty on the Vine," written by Zak Berkman and directed by David Schweizer, debuted at Epic Theatre Company in New York, but when Olivia Greer saw it for the first time, she knew she had to include it as part of the Women Center Stage festival because it was a play about the role of power and beauty in women's lives.
The leading character is a popular Republican radio show host, Lauren, who has hooked a diverse audience--young girls to old men--with her provocative comments on social issues and her signature tagline, "Call me." After Lauren is mysteriously murdered, her father and husband seek out two of her former classmates--who had gotten plastic surgery to look like Lauren, only to realize that Lauren was more than just her looks.
The play wasn't as well attended as previous WCS events, but it made me realize that it is more important to provoke a high-quality discussion no matter the audience size.
After Berkman reminded us that today we have a $30 billion diet industry, plastic surgery, airbrushing, etc., he asked the panel and audience to discuss how they struggle to alleviate the tension between the instinct to belong and the instinct to be distinct. Instead of the validation of "you can do anything," he said, women are faced with the pressure of "you have to do everything."
Berkman successfully led the conversation, instead of dominating it, and was open to various critiques and interpretations of his play. With nods of approval from the mostly-female audience, he said that it would be ironic if a man were to lead this generation's women's movement. Everyone laughed, because there's no way that's happening.
The conversation turned to how we can address these issues among younger women, and the audience voiced the importance of women mentoring one another and of younger women being exposed to women from all walks of life. Since the word 'empowerment' has a different definition for each woman, depending on her personal circumstances or where she may be living, we all need to find what makes us feel powerful and beautiful.
It's difficult. Most of the women agreed that at one time or another, they've wanted to look like the prettiest girl in the class, and some still do. When do we stop wanting this? What makes us want it? Some parents are actively telling their daughters that looks don't matter, but what is society and the media's message? And what of the parents who actively tell their daughters that looks DO matter? I'm glad this play sparked all these questions and insights.
Additional information about costs of the Women Center Stage festival: Each event has a different price (about $10-$20), but here are some deals audience members can take advantage of:
Hope to see you at these events!
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June 27--I arrived late at the Knitting Factory for the third Culture Project Women Center Stage event to find folk poet Alix Olson shouting increasingly louder and louder into the microphone to an extremely responsive crowd of about 40 women who were all simultaneously clapping and nodding and laughing.
I had missed poet/vocalist Taina Asili, the first of four artists performing together as part of Emancipate, which bills itself as "a new initiative gathering women musicians who are activists in their communities all around the world." Olson was accompanied on stage by guitarist and vocalist Pamela Means, who also performed alone after Olson's gig. The last performer, Eisa Davis, wouldn't have arrived until 11p.m. so I didn't get to see her because it was past California bedtime.
One of the flyers said that "Emancipate aims to provide an organized, coherent and sustainable place from which to build on, and significantly expand, a base of solidarity and action." I felt more confident about myself and my own thoughts just being in a roomful of women who could speak their minds so strongly and have it be OK, and to hear how they think and what they have to say.
Between acts, Olson told the appreciative crowd, "I try all the time to have messages on my boobs and the ass of my car because people look, you know?" At this show, she was wearing a shirt she made herself with the message: "No one is illegal." Her other shirts have messages such as "Lesbians Sing Gospel Too," "America's on Sale" and her personal favorite, "No Divorce for Straights."
Her material includes snippets from her personal life, such as attending a workshop titled "The Female Ejaculation" with her 84-year-old grandmother, which inspired her to write a piece about her feminist legacy.
Olson, who now travels 200 days a year to perform and teach spoken word workshops, says she has faced obstacles in her work, "not because I'm a woman, but being a radical feminist has definitely made it hard." She thanks Alice Walker, bell hooks and other political feminists for paving the way, and hopes to "make enough money to help the next generation of girls do this." This summer she will be teaching week-long workshops to girls in Palestine, Jordan and Pakistan through the "Girls Empowerment Initiative" first organized by Eleanor Roosevelt.
I really wish I could have seen all four artists perform and that I got a chance to speak to all of them too. It was really great to see that these women were just as effective in getting the message across by laughing, shouting and singing about things that make them angry.
Anyway, there will be three other "Emancipate" events held as part of the festival. All shows will take place at the Knitting Factory (at 74 Leonard Street) on Tuesday evenings and tickets may be purchased at www.knittingfactory.com for $15 per show. Free discussions with the artists will be held at 9:30 a.m. (before each respective night performance) at the McNally Robinson Booksellers at 52 Prince Street.
The upcoming events are:
July 3 (7:30 p.m.): Cris Williamson, Vicki Randle, Christina Courtin and Pistolera
July 10 (8:00 p.m.): Film launch of "Myth of the Motherland" and Queen Godis
July 17 (7:30 p.m.): Chantal Kreviazuk, Imani Uzuri, Marta Gomez, Aguafuego and a special appearance by DJ Nicole Leone
June 26--At the opening conversation event at Women Center Stage, I was satisfied by the diversity of the audience--it was a full house of about 150 people--and the panel of speakers.
Jennifer Buffett, president of the NoVo Foundation, moderated the conversation and started by asking the women to tell their story in five minutes. This was a great way for the women to talk about how they got involved in the women's movement and how they got to this point in their lives. It is always motivating for me to be reminded of how life was like before women had rights and to hear firsthand what made these women angry enough to take action.
Gloria Feldt, a former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, talked about how life was before the invention of birth control: "They just sorta came along," she said, and you'd just have to plan your life around having children. Idelisse Malave, former executive director of Tides Foundation, remembered how her family saved up money for her brother's education, while she got half the amount of money . . . for her wedding. Carol Jenkins, who is now president of the Women's Media Center, was one of the first black women hired in the broadcasting industry--at a time when she was told to only be concerned with her own paycheck and not those of her male counterparts.
These were times when women had to look at the Help Wanted: Women section of the New York Times; when most of these female pioneers never had a female professor; when to get a loan in New York their husbands or fathers had to cosign.
I was disappointed, however, because there simply wasn't enough time to talk about how to bridge the cross-generational gap so that younger women feel more connected to their foremothers. During the question and answer period, several audience members asked, 'What next?' type questions and somehow we ran out of time discussing this.
I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe a step-by-step guide from these awesome, hard-working, inspirational feminists on how they did it, how they somehow made the world, my world, an even better place to live in?
Quotes from the conversation:
"Figure out what pisses you off, get pissed off and organize."--Gloria Feldt
"People always think that when we want to get rid of patriarchy, they think we want to replace it with matriarchy. We ask: what about democracy?"--Carol Jenkins
"I don't want to dilute this movement because we're not done yet. It's the truth and I don't think we need to apologize for that."--Letty Cottin Pogrebin
"It's clear that women have to make the changes in this world. It's very clear now."--Aisha Al-Adawiya
"I wanted to change the world for women and girls, and I wanted to change myself: to be a woman who has power, who has access."--Idelisse Malave
"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."--Jennifer Buffett
After the conversation, I made a list of Rights I Want: I want my husband to be able to take on my last name without legal difficulty. As an American of Chinese-Vietnamese descent, I want to be included in these feminist/womanist/humanist discussions and movements. I want my (future) husband to have paternity leave so that he can spend just as much time with my (future) children. I want violence against women around the world to stop!
Stay tuned for my post on tonight's musical event, "Emancipate."
June 25--Today begins my second week interning with Women's eNews (and coincidentally my second week here in New York). When I got my first assignment at the editorial staff meeting on Wednesday, I was a bit stunned. Do they really expect me to attend and blog every single Women Center Stage event for the next three weeks?! It seems like an abuse of my press credentials, but I'm not complaining; it's amazing when the definition of work is synonymous with my idea of fun…
Women Center Stage 2007--called a "multi-disciplinary festival" by the producers-- indeed begins tonight (7:30 p.m. at the Culture Project at 55 Mercer Street), with a kick-off panel discussion titled "Why Women Center Stage?" that will discuss why it's still necessary to create such a space for women. Tonight, the five veteran women's activists will also discuss their personal work and the accomplishments of other women striving for social change. The festival is a catalyst for conversation between performers and the audience on tackling political issues in a creative manner. There will be at least one event a day from now to July 17.
It's disappointing that in the heart of New York--the origin of Broadway and home to an absurd concentration of artists--there is still a disparity between men and women in the performing arts. I am hoping that this will begin to change, starting today, with Culture Project's Women Center Stage.
Producing director Olivia Greer "feels like there's a significant lack of imagination in the political arena in the United States right now" and is hoping to remedy that with a strong dose of film, conversation, music, theater and--my favorite antidote--comedy. This is a space where art meets politics.
When asked about who the target audience is, she answered, "My hope is that we will have an audience that reflects our world." I do wonder about that: whether it will be a cross-generational festival, whether I'll be frustrated at another forum that's not as diverse as it was intended to be, whether men will attend, whether I'll be the only non-New Yorker.
Jacqueline Lee is a Los Angeles-based reporter interning with Women’s eNews for the summer. She enjoys traveling and recently returned to the U.S. after studying for a semester in Amsterdam. She has also been to Thailand, China, Morocco and other European countries for personal leisure and learning as well as disaster relief. Lee will graduate this December from the University of Southern California with a double major in print journalism and gender studies.
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By Jacqueline Lee