Wednesday March 21st at 7:00PM in the University’s Bovard Auditorium, Visions and Voices, a multidisciplinary program sponsored by USC’s Arts & Humanities Initiative, will present a powerful evening of documentary theater examining the timely and important efforts of seven courageous women from around the world.
In 2006 Vital Voices Global Partnership President Alyse Nelson connected seven talented and award-winning playwrights with seven women who were (and remain) engaged in challenging and changing their communities, their countries and their cultures – often at the risk of their lives. The idea was to collect each of these women’s stories and weave them into a coherent piece of theater presented in a documentary format.
Over the course of a year the authors were able to interview their subjects during visits to bring attention to their efforts to the United Nations in New York and US Government officials in Washington DC. In preparation the playwrights established some ground rules – the foremost being that their intention was not to direct or lead the discussions but to let the women speak for themselves about their work, their life and their own journey from whatever their lives were before their personal decisions to not only get involved but to lead, and in most cases create, the causes and organizations that continue to promote the health, safety, education and freedom from violence of the women in their own diverse locales.
The authors, in order to better understand, and so convey, not only the movements and the causes these women were engaged in but, as importantly, the essential qualities and characteristics of the women themselves, asked that the subjects be abled to participate in the interviews and discussions in English. It was important to the writers that they hear directly from their subjects in their own words, not translated interpretations.
Each of the playwrights then proceeded to glean what they felt to be the core of their own subjects’ essential stories. Who were they before they became the leaders of a cause or movement? Was there a transformative moment or event? How did they find the courage to make their stand – and what has it cost them? These essential dialogs were then collaboratively intertwined in a dramatic format that allows for a marvelously moving look at what is nothing less than a pinnacle of human endeavor.
The seven women whose lives and work are presented, and the seven playwrights who have crafted this important and inspirational piece of theater are:
• Marina Pisklakova-Parker who in 1993 founded the former Soviet Union’s first hotline for victims of domestic violence. Ms. Pisklakova’s continuing work has resulted Center ANNA, which provides crisis and counseling services for Russian women.
Paula Cizmar, Playwright. Paula Cizmar’s plays have been produced off-Broadway, in London, and in regional theatres from Maine to California–including Portland Stage, American Place Theatre, The Women’s Project (NY), San Diego Rep, the Jungle Theater, and Playwrights Arena. Ms. Cizmar has received numerous awards including a National Endowment for the Arts playwriting grant. In addition to remaining an active playwright and screenwriter she currently teaches playwriting at USC.
• Mu Sochua is the former Minister of Women’s Affairs in Cambodia. In 2005 she was co-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work that highlighted and campaigned against the sex trafficking of women in Cambodia and Thailand. Mu Sochua was elected to the Cambodian Parliament in 2008, after door-to-door visits to homes, public forums and worksites in 482 villages.
Catherine Filloux, Playwright. Ms. Filloux is an award-winning playwright who has been crafting theatrical works addressing human rights and social justice for the past twenty years. Her plays have been produced in New York and around the world. She has received awards from the O’Neill, Kennedy Center, Omni Center for Peace and New Dramatists.
• Annabella De Leon wasborn into poverty in Guatemala and changed her and her family’s destiny through the political act of getting an education. Ms. De Leon has been a congresswoman since 1995 and received death threats due to her speaking out against against corruption and for the rights of the poor, particularly women and indigenous peoples. Her continued survival is in part due to bodyguards provided through the Organization of American States.
Gail Kriegel, Playwright, was honored as Artist-in-Residence at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in 2005-6. For her prize-winning play ON THE HOME FRONT Ms. Kriegel received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, One World Arts Grant, NYFA grant, the Ruby Lloyd Apsey Award and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
• Inez McCormack is an activist for women’s and human rights, labor, and social justice and a former President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Ms. McCormack played a critical role in the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accords and continues to advocate for equal rights and fair labor practices for women and minorities. She now chairs a program, the Participation and Practice of Rights Project, that helps the disadvantaged access resources and services in Ireland, both North and South. Ms. McCormack currently serves as chair of the Participation and the Practice of Rights Project (PPR) and in 2008 received the prestigious Irish Tatler Woman of the Year Award.
Carol K. Mack, Playwright. Ms. Mack’s plays have been produced off-Broadway and in regional theatres across the U.S.. Without A Trace premiered at the Tron, Glasgow in 2002 and subsequently toured Scotland. Her new work, The Visitor, received a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Culture. Ms Mack’s awards include the Stanley Drama Award, Julie Harris/Beverly Hills Theatre Guild Award and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. She authored A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels & Other Subversive Spirits, published by Profile Books, London, 2008.
• Farida Azizi became an activist fighting the marginalization of women under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Due to direct threats on her life, she was granted political asylum and lives in the United States with her two children and continues to work on women’s rights and peace-building in Afghanistan.
Ruth Margraff, Playwright. Ms. MARGRAFF’s play Harlequin, commissioned by a Playwrights’ Center McKnight award, was read at Victory Gardens (Chicago) and the New Group (NYC). Her martial arts opera Dragon vs. Eagle was commissioned by a Rockefeller award. Ruth was delegated to represent the U.S. State Department on a Peaceworks Cultural envoy to Calcutta, India and received a Fulbright New Opera Award to Greece. She is an alumna of New Dramatists, an active member of LPTW and Theater Without Borders/Brandeis Coexistence International, and Associate Professor of playwriting at the Art Institute of Chicago
• Hafsat Abiola of Nigeria became an advocate for human rights and democracy following the murder of her activist parents and subsequently founded the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, which provides skills-training and leadership opportunities for young women. She now helps facilitate productive dialog between African and Chinese women, as China expands its presence on the African continent.
Anna Deavere Smith, Playwright. Deavere Smith is an actor, teacher, playwright and creator of one woman plays. She has won two Obie Awards, two Tony nominations for TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES, and a MacArthur Fellowship. Also a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her play: FIRES IN THE MIRROR, Ms. Smith is the founder and director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at New York University. She has appeared in the television series WEST WING. Her book, LETTERS TO A YOUNG ARTIST, is published by Anchor.
• Mukhtar Mai is from Pakistan. She was gang raped by four men and forced to walk back to her home almost naked as retribution for an alleged honor crime. Her story was covered by the world press. Instead of taking the traditional women’s route of suicide for bringing embarrassment upon her family, she spoke out – bringing her attackers to justice. Ms. Mai has continued to work building schools for women in Pakistan, and has become an advocate for education in her country.
Susan Yankowitz , Playwright is also a novelist and librettist. Her best-known plays include PHAEDRA IN DELIRIUM, TERMINAL, 1969 TERMINAL 1996, A KNIFE IN THE HEART, and NIGHT SKY, which has been performed throughout the U.S. and in translations world-wide. Ms. Yankowitz is also the bookwriter/lyricist for TRUE ROMANCES with Elmer Bernstein, SLAIN IN THE SPIRIT with Taj Mahal and CHERI with Michael Dellaira. Her work has been honored by the NEA, Guggenheim, Rockefeller and NYFA foundations.
SEVEN has been translated into 8 languages and presented internationally. It is fitting that the play is being presented in Los Angeles during Women’s History Month. Wednesday evening’s performance may be the only production of SEVEN in Southern California this year. Each of these stories is powerfully brought to life by a group of terrific actors in the USC Theater Program. It is sure to be an inspiring and dramatic presentation.
Although the women represented in SEVEN are from a wide range of countries and cultures the issues faced by each of them and the conditions that give rise to these issues are present to some degree in our own. Although the play is definitely an acknowledgment and a celebration of courage and heroism, it also serves as a cautionary tale against provincialism and the erosion of democracy and access to education. It looks forward as much as it looks back.
(Many thanks to Paula Cizmar for her thoughtful conversation in preparation for this preview)
For information and tickets contact USC Visions and Voices: http://www.usc.edu/dept/pubrel/visionsandvoices/
For more information on SEVEN or to contact any of the playwrights: