Ladies' Night

You know that feeling when you've encountered something that very well may be a Very Good Idea? Sort of hopeful and excited and buzzy? Yeah. That's me right now. Tentatively jazzed even, which doesn't happen easily.

I just got back from a brainstorming meeting of people interested in starting a women's theater in Madison. About 25 of us crowded into the meeting space at a local coffee shop. Most of the people in the room (not me) had fairly extensive theater backgrounds. Many had years of organizing and activism experience. All were artists in some way. One was a judge. And almost all of us, save three or four men, were women.

There were black women, lesbian women, straight women, butch women, old women, white women, young women, Wisconsin-born women and transplants. It was one of the more diverse groups I've been in since landing in Madison. And it felt SO GOOD to be in their midst, with so many different voices and experiences and backgrounds coalescing around one very cool idea.

This was the first meeting. The mood in the room was electric. Some of the women came from more traditional theater backgrounds and simply wanted a space to showcase their work. But most of the people there, it seemed to me, came to the meeting because they saw something that felt transformative. The organizer -- a woman I met through a writing group last fall -- shared with us the statistic that less than 20% of all plays staged in the U.S. by either professional or community theaters are directed or written by women.

I was in a couple of stage productions in high school and really got interested in technical theater for a while, but I was never serious about it. Then, in 2004, I saw a staging of The Laramie Project. I was in documentary journalism school at the time, and the play -- based on interviews with real people in Laramie, Wyoming, in the wake of Matthew Shepard's murder -- opened my eyes to the power and beauty of extrapolating the notion of "documentary" to the stage. It wasn't a new idea, but I hadn't seen anything like it before. And I thought, I could do this. But then I didn't. And now I can.

The thing I miss most about Alabama is the feeling of connection in those small groups of people working to change the system. The feminists and the LGBTQ community and the racial reconciliation workshops happening in living rooms. The urgency in those circles is something I hadn't found in Madison.

I had looked here for something like the reproductive justice work I did in Alabama -- the clinic defense and Christian Coalition protests. But so much of that work has been done in this town. The pro-choice leafleting at the farmer's market doesn't really cut it. But tonight I realized that by living for a few years in a place like Alabama, where activism happens so close to the quick and in the dirty trenches, I had forgotten that things like art and theater can be revolutionary. Some might say the only true art is revolutionary.

And so maybe I have found a circle where I can help push a transformative agenda and have fun at the same time. And maybe I'll get to learn how to work the light board. That would be cool, too.

1 comment:

Dustin Christopher said...

I moved to Madison from a small town here in Wisconsin...it's like the south, except a lot less blatant. But you're right, moving to Madison from a much less progressive place can be both liberating and handicapping.

Thanks for the comments, and I'll enjoy reading your blog as well.