By Coni Koepfinger
Women’s History Month 2018
A CALL TO INSPIRATION
Earlier this year there was lots of breaking news about sexual assault and misconduct in the film, television and radio industries, as well as in politics and blue collar work force. #MeToo stories abounded but no one was talking about the theatre industry. We have our own “casting couch” stories to tell! I posted a tweet disclosing my own #MeToo story and wondered why weren’t other theatre people posting, or identifying themselves as theatre people. I decided to organize an event specifically bringing out #MeToo stories from theatre women during Women’s History Month (March) 2018 and put out a call for #MeToo tweets, scenes and monologues in the theater industry. To my knowledge, I was the first to put out such a call specifically to the theatre community in New York, if not nationally.
WHO, WHAT, WHERE
In response to my call for #MeToo tweets, scenes and monologues, I received not just stories from the theatre industry, but also dance, music, and visual arts. Entries came from states outside of New York, as well as an anonymous posting about misconduct occurring at a theatre company that I spotted on Facebook. Dominique Sharpton-Bright, daughter of Reverend Al Sharpton, contacted me asking if she could be a part, offering the National Action Network’s House of Justice to hold the event. The event was live streamed for those who could not physically attend.
#MeToo Theatre Women Share Their Stories was a reading of tweets, monologues, music and scenes on the subject of sexual assault or sexual misconduct within the theatre industry. Some notable stories include those of Tedx’s Amy Oestreicher; (James Toback victims) Karen Sklaire Watson, Shani Harris, and Selma Blair (one of the “Silence Breakers” and Time magazine’s People of the Year). Rounding out the writers sharing their stories were: Raquel Almazon, Anonymous, Nora Cole, Farzana Datta, Emma Goldman-Sherman, Yvette Heyliger, Prudence Wright Holmes, Penny Jackson, Coni Koepfinger, Martha Patterson, Jane Schlapkohl, Susan Shaffer, and songwriter Germaine Shames. These readings on the subject of sexual assault or sexual misconduct within the arts industry were followed by a power point presentation on harassment prevention in the artistic workplace, as well as preventative action steps led by Akia Squitieri of Creating Safe Spaces. Rehearsal space was made possible by a grant from League of Independent Theatre.
At the National Action Network's House of Justice
RESONANCE AND RESPONSEThe response was tremendous and immediate. All who were gathered seemed bonded together in a common concern and desire to create safe spaces. As a result of the success of this event, I was invited to present a workshop at National Action Network’s National Conference at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel held during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April). #MeToo: From Testimony to Prevention featured selected monologues written by yours truly, Raquel Almazan, Anonymous and Janet Schlapkohl; a power point presentation about sexual harassment in the workplace by Aimee Todoroff of League of Independent Theatre; a distinguished response panel including: Rachel Dart of Let Us Work Project, Jenna Chrisphonte of the Dramatists Guild and Lillian Gallina of Actors Fund of America; followed by open sharing from the audience, a Q & A, and handouts with contact information of agencies and service organizations working in the area of harassment in the workplace.
At National Action Network's National Conference at Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel
I have been invited to participate in New York City’s first #HealMeToo Festival founded by Artistic Director Hope Singsen and presented, in part, through Kori Rushton and IRT Theater’s Residency Season. “From March 27 to April 14, 2018 (Sexual Violence Awareness Month) the #HealMeToo Festival will present multi-disciplinary works in development, creating an intersectional space for conversation, learning and laughter that sparks resilience and growth. Workshops and live panel podcasts will raise critical questions about cultural change and explore many approaches to healing: from activism, to bodywork, to the latest therapeutic advances, to creative writing, art, music and dance.” Contact me (Yvette Hiliger) for more information about this festival which answers the question, “What’s next?”
ON THE HORIZON
Bridge to Baraka, my solo show was selected for the United Solo Theatre Festival, “the world’s largest solo theatre festival”. Emboldened by the 1960s Black Arts Movement yours truly, Yvette X, stakes her claim as a female dramatist coming of age during the ongoing fight for parity for women in the American Theatre. The play empowers artists of all stripes to tell their own stories their own way, and to get those stories to the masses “by any means necessary.” One audience member sent me an email saying, “Good job! The combination of your fine craft of writing, your open-hearted and captivating delivery... the performance had me engaged from start to finish”. I received such a great reception to the show; I decided to try my hand at setting up a tour! To this end, I enrolled in Theatre Resources Unlimited (TRU) Producer Development and Mentorship Program’s Master Class with Broadway producers Jane Dubin and Rachel Weinstein. A long-time producing artist, my actionable goal for the class is to set up a viable tour of Bridge to Baraka to begin during the 2019 – 2020 season.
What a Piece of Work Is Man! Full-Length Plays for Leading Women, a collection of plays written by yours truly and edited by Alexis Greene, delivers a power-packed collection of plays for leading women (and the leading men who love them!). Ideal for professional actors, directors, designers and producers seeking new projects, as well as students of the theatre and lovers of politics, drama and activism! Artistic essays, critical reviews, production cast lists, as well as selected photographs and lead sheet music by composer Larry Farrow, illuminate the work of this producing artist and educator. The book is available in paperback or e-book from your preferred bookseller. Mine is the Drama Book Shop which has signed copies!
And finally, I am pleased to announce that I have been named the official representative of the Founding Alumni of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a premiere performing arts high school in Washington, DC. This is a full-circle moment for me, as I was honored to server as senior class president and was valedictorian of the first graduating class (1977) during the school’s formative years.
YVETTE HEYLIGER is a playwright, producing artist, educator and activist. She is the recipient of AUDELCO Recognition Award for Excellence in Black Theatre’s August Wilson Playwright Award and Dramatic Production of the Year. She received Best Playwright nomination from NAACP’s Annual Theatre Awards. Author of What a Piece of Work is Man! Full-Length Plays for Leading Women, she has also contributed to various anthologies including, Performer’s Stuff, The Monologue Project, Later Chapters: The Best Scenes and Monologues for Actors over Fifty and 24 Gun Control Plays. Selections from her play, Autobiography of a Homegirl, appear in Smith and Kraus’ The Best Women’s Stage Monologues 2003 and The Best Stage Scenes 2003. Other writings: The Dramatist, Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance, Black Masks: Spotlight on Black Art, HowlRound, and a new blog, The Playwright and The Patron. After many years in front of the footlights, Heyliger returned to the stage as a solo-artist in her first one-woman show, Bridge to Baraka. From this one woman show came two spin-offs, The Pen Instead of the Gun and I Am That Bear. Memberships: Dramatist Guild, AEA, SDC, AFTRA-SAG and League of Professional Theatre Women. A partner in Twinbiz™, now celebrating its 30th year, she is the co-recipient of the first National Black Theatre Festival Emerging Producer Award. She has a BA and MA from New York University; an MFA in Creative Writing - Playwriting from Queens College; and a Master of Theatre Education from Hunter College (pending). She was an Obama Fellow and is a founding member and longtime volunteer with Organizing for Action. As a citizen-artist, she has worked on many issues including: gun violence prevention, equal opportunity and pay for women artists, and most recently, the #MeToo movement. Yvette lives in Harlem, USA.