It ended up being the most influential class I took.
Yes, we read Aphra Behn and Clare Boothe Luce and talked about the women in Ibsen's plays, but we more importantly gained understanding about the true circumstances concerning women—that the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be ratified, our pay is not equal, our sexuality must be hidden behind pantsuits to be taken seriously, and in other countries, women are treated as less than equal—covered up, beat up, shut up. I was fortunate to share ten weeks with a group of women that shared their thoughts and experiences with each other as we studied the history of women in Western theatre from the Restoration forward. We had good laughs, good cries, as each of us began to understand where we stand and that maybe it's not where we thought we were, that it has every effect on our lives.
I'm not saying there aren't other soapboxes to stand on, but I like this one. It has given me a sense of identity as well as a group to identify with. It has given me a plethora of playwrights, many of whom have been tossed aside in history. It has given me an outlet. I can volunteer at women's shelters or donate or do whatever good samaritan deed seems right for the day, and maybe I will. But what is so fantastic and timeless about theatre is that it doesn't take money and it can go anywhere. It delivers a message and connects people on the same topic. Theatre can be used as your soapbox of choice.
A couple nights ago, I finished Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security-Obsessed World by Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues, founder of V-Day, and a huge inspiration to me. In Insecure, she wrote:
Theater insists that we inhabit the present tense—not the virtual tense or the politically correct tense. Theater demands that we truly be where we are. By being there together, we are able to confront the seemingly impossible, we are able to feel that which we fear might destroy us—and we are educated and transformed by that act.
Theater is sacred because it allows us, it encourages us, as a community of strangers, to go someplace together and face the issues and realities we simply cannot face alone. Alone, we are powerless, translating our suffering and struggle into our own private narcissistic injuries. When we become a group, these issues become social or political concerns, responsibilities, a reason for being here together.
James Cromwell spoke with us at the Savannah Film Festival and expressed his thoughts on the broken state of our industry and our country. “Everything's broken,” he said. “We have to start over, build from scratch.” He spoke on creating theatre in a community to tell its story. That there is no competition in your hometown and “what is most important is what you have to say.”
I'm biased, but I consider our art to be the most powerful. Theatre has caused people to be outwardly angry, started riots. In the case of Eve Ensler, it has also raised $50 million for grassroots organizations around the world. It is the megaphone of the arts. What we do with it should be selective, personal, and benevolent for the sake of ourselves, our art, and the soapbox of our choice. For myself, I think it should also make a little noise.
Ensler, Eve. Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security-obsessed World. New York: Villard, 2006. Print.
Want to know more about Ensler's V-Day Foundation? Check it out at http://www.vday.org/home.