February 6-12, 2003
On March 3, groups of performers all over the world will take to heart the phrase "Think Globally, Act Locally." Using that adage as a slogan, the New York-based Lysistrata Project is helping to organize simultaneous readings of Aristophanes' classic in multiple countries (or as close to simultaneous as time differences will allow). The readings of the play, in which Athenian and Spartan women withhold sex from their husbands as a means to end the Peloponnesian War, will raise funds for various anti-war organizations and serve as a protest against the threatened U.S.-Iraq war.
The project was founded last month by New York actors Kathryn Blume and Sharron Bower, who then contacted Columbia University MFA theater student Drue Robinson Hagan about supplying the script. Hagan had been working on what she calls "a woman's translation" of Lysistrata, one that she hoped might someday be performed in Athens. Hagan agreed to allow her translation to be used free of charge for readings on March 3, and made her script available for downloading at the project's website,www.lysistrataproject.com.
Hagan's text, which she jokingly calls "warped Dr. Seuss," updates the verse with modern slang while maintaining the bawdy humor that's made the play controversial over the years. (Case in point: Director Robert Brustein rejected Larry Gelbart's translation of the play as too bawdy before the production reached the Prince Music Theater in spring 2002.)Sample dialogue from Hagan's translation:
Lysistrata: Fine. I'll come right out and say it thus: We mustn't give an inch of ' us!
(Women look shocked and begin to grumble)Oh come now, why the furrowed brows?
The grunting like disgruntled sows?
Where's your vigor where's your pluck?
Myrrhine: You mean to tell me we can't --
(Calonice puts her hand over Myrrhine's mouth)
At press time, the project had 313 readings scheduled in 28 countries, and has garnered public support on the website from such diverse sources as Augusto Boal, creator of France's Theatre of the Oppressed, and Eve Ensler, famous for The Vagina Monologues. Here in the Philadelphia area at least two readings are planned, one in the suburbs (organized by Reva Fox) and the other in the city, produced by Julia Granacki. Granacki's reading will be directed by Fringe Festival program director Deborah Block, and feature an as-yet-undetermined roster of local talent.
"I was feeling so powerless about what was happening," Granacki explains of her initial involvement with the project. "I knew that by doing [a reading] it would get so many people involved in the theater community who would be feeling what I was. I wanted to do something tangible, that had immediate results."
Those results include raising money for MoveOn (www.moveon.org), a web-based organization that has produced TV commercials and other media in an effort to raise awareness of anti-war efforts. Granacki also hopes to "just get people out and get people together. On the same day, a group in Jerusalem will be doing the same thing that we're doing. That's really exciting. It's important not to feel docile and apathetic and not feel so powerless, because so many people feel that way."
Block says her goal in directing the reading is to "bring the audience into the feeling of the play. The characters in the play ask of each other to make a commitment toward working on peace, and we're basically going to ask the audience to do that as well in simple ways that are not too intimidating. We want to keep it fun and light."
The fact that Lysistrata is a comedy is important to the project, local advocates say. Actor, director and Villanova professor Ben Lloyd is a self-proclaimed "cheerleader" for the project. "I believe that comedy is slighted in our American culture, and not -- well, it's sort of paradoxical to say -- but not taken as seriously as it should be in terms of being a really valuable way to make a point," he says. "It kind of puts an energy out into the world which is just a wonderful antidote for all of the horrible shit that's going on right now."
Lloyd is one of several local performers who recently took up the project's cause after it was lambasted on the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia's listserv, via a post left by a person identified only by the pseudonym "Susan Saranwrap." The post called the actors involved in this project hypocrites, asking where the worldwide protest was for the past decade while a Democratic administration committed acts of war. The poster did not reply to City Paper's requests for comment, but Lloyd and other community members quickly became involved in an online debate about the topic.
"I think there's prejudice against artists speaking up," Lloyd says. "Especially from the right, there are people who consider themselves artists who bear a grudge against the sort of left-wing majority in the artistic community, and take pains to mock us when we participate in our protest rallies and belittle us for being stupid actors."
Listserv subscriber and local independent film producer Harry Litwack finds the controversy ironic, saying the debate was like "warring over not warring." Litwack suggests "people use that energy for figuring out how to use technology and resources" to make the project more effective.
Translator/playwright Hagan is somewhat baffled by the debate, saying, "It's time to put everything aside and really be a united voice." She points out that she set aside artistic ego in letting her script be released (for readings only) the world over, and adds, "It's time to get theatrical egos out of the way and serve the [anti-war] purpose."
While location and time have not yet been set for Reva Fox's reading, Granacki's will take place at 7 p.m. on March 3 at The Hub South, 1914 S. Seventh St. (at Hoffman). For more information, e-mail Granacki at email@example.com.