One of Emma Goldman's most well known quotes "If I can't dance -- I don't want to be part of your revolution" speaks directly to what is happening this month in several venues in downtown NYC. Women Center Stage (WCS) is attempting to start a revolution -- one with women artists and activists at the center. WCS was conceived over a decade ago by Allan Buchman founder of the Culture Project, in memory of his performer daughter to "actively promote the work of women artists and engage a dialogue around issues of pressing human concern." This year the festival has taken on a new level of seriousness with the hiring of performer and social justice activist Olivia Greer as the festival director, who has brought an eclectic feminist perspective to the 25 events in the three week long festival. Her goal, in the spirit of Emma Goldman, is to make social change fun and interesting and she has worked to achieve that through a diverse program of films, panels, performances, music and theatre playing in New York City throughout July. To see a calendar of remaining events, click here.
Women are consistently underrepresented in all artistic arenas and WCS is trying to fill this vacuum by creating a festival that is part incubator where women artists come to work on new pieces, and part industry destination where female talent can be discovered like Sundance Festival is for film.
What makes this festival different from others is its diversity -- by age, race, sexual orientation and class. A sampling of the first week's events included a panel, spoken word performer and several musicians. Opening night was a panel of feminist activists discussing why they work on women's issues. Panelists included: Letty Cottin Pogrebin; Idelisse Malave; Gloria Feldt (WMC board member); Carol Jenkins (WMC president) and Aisha al-Adawiya. Each woman shared her story of how she became an activist. The panel also showed that there is still much work to be done between women by surfacing long held unresolved resentments about class and race.
While the opening panel was on the more mature side, the next event "Emancipate" was younger, and decidedly hipper. Emancipate brings together activist women songwriters using art to raise consciousness in their communities. Singer Taini Asili, who is committed to the movement to free Mumia Abu Jamal, used her set to sing about breaking out of our own mental prisons, and Alix Olsen a self defined radical lesbian feminist railed against the political establishment.
The week ended with dynamic poet and author StaceyAnn Chin unveiling pieces from her upcoming memoir about growing up mixed race and poor in Jamaica.
There are some great pieces left over the ten day including Becoming Natasha a theatrical piece focusing on the sex trafficking industry; Liz Swados teaming with a group of young performers and writers to challenge our political system in Political Subversities; a reading of The Scarlet Letter starring Marisa Tomei adapted by Carol Gilligan; and radio host Laura Flanders hosting a panel dissecting the recent abortion battle in South Dakota.
Greer dreams the WCS will "inspire audiences to take what they see, hear and experience away with them -- to carry the call further out into the world." Hopefully other communities can take this model to create similar platforms for women artists to inspire social change across the country.