After a rally in Albany this summer, in solidarity with victims of the terrorist attack in Charlottsville, a friend expressed her desire to gather a group of women to open conversation within the community on the reality of our present social and political climate. A few months later, this idea evolved into a project with Creative Action Unlimited.
Quoting Creative Action Unlimited’s website, it is “A studio for development of theater projects for social justice and guided support for individuals creating personal change” founded by Michael Kennedy. A few calls to action later and an eclectic group of local women assembled to create something that would speak to our experience.
The name of the project: Our Now.
Among the group were experienced actors and novices, long time activists, and others just finding their voices. This group sought to express who we are and how the socio-political climate was affecting us personally. Our Now was performed as part of the Nasty Women of the North event in Troy at the end of October, and told stories of the performers and community members. The result was a 45 minute, high impact declaration of what the present time means to us and to our sense of identity and safety.
When Co-Director Susan Priess asked how I was affected by all that had happened since the election. It took about 30 minutes for me to spew all of the confusion, turmoil, hopelessness, betrayal, and desolation that had been bottled up for months. She asked what I was hopeful about, and all I had was one seemingly insignificant thought in a sea of doubts, anger and pain.
In record time- just over a month, Directors Michael Kennedy and Susan Priess crafted Our Now from various submissions from women in the community. From a smorgasboard of stories, fears, hopes, losses and injustices, they crafted a flowing, powerful piece that echoed so many voices all of us have heard for the past year, or longer. At times these had even been our voices. Others were the voices and stories of those we had been taught to view as “others”.
And somehow in about a month’s time, a group of concerned women became actors, some for the first time. Due to time constraints we performed the show as a staged reading, lines memorized but script in hand in case reference was needed.
At each rehearsal, members of the group spoke about how this project had become a lifeline. The two hours one or two times each week in rehearsal I felt I had a buffer from the stress of whatever the latest outrage on the news was that week. In that space we had a sanctuary from the fears of violent attacks, hate crime, sexual assault, nuclear war, loss of healthcare.
A friend asked if the performance was “Anti- Trump.” The answer is no. It is more about the experiences of everyday people on all sides of the political and social spectrum- including immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, Latino/a community, people with disabilities, people of color, children, mothers, daughters, those who did and didn’t have social privilege, and even the voice of someone who had voted for Trump. The piece is about the people who are asking to be heard. It is intended to open a conversation and build connection between who we are, what we are hearing and seeing, and how we are feeling. That is how Our Now gave a voice to the community.
And I can think of very few things more empowering than standing on stage with my sisters, as we gave voice to the full range of emotions pouring forth from the community.
As for that scrap of hope that seemed insignificant before, talking about that memory on stage made me realize that there was more power in that memory than in any of the pain or anger I had been carrying. That memory, shared with others in Our Now, became a sea upon which I have been floating since.
Not because it was my memory, but speaking about it in context of 7 other women sharing their stories of hope, imbued each of our stories with a magnified energy. As performers we weren’t just saying words, we were embodying the hope in the stories we told.
For more information about Creative Action Unlimited, and your chance to see a performance of Our Now, visit https://www.creativeactionunlimited.com/
Interested in hosting a performance of Our Now or participating in creating socially relevant theater? Contact Michael Kennedy at MsMichaelKennedy@gmail.com