Engaged Theatre investigates global violence against women

Engaged Theatre investigates global violence against women

Freehold’s Engaged Theatre program is in the developmental stages of an exploration into gender-based violence, both in the United States and around the globe. A team of five women, from Seattle, California, and Cape Town, have come together to start a project with the goal of using art to acknowledge, examine, and spur action on this issue. We recently spoke with Freehold founder Robin Lynn Smith, as well as artists Fatima Dike, Carly Cipriano, Elizabeth Heffron, and Ladan Yalzadeh, as they shared the beginnings of their process.


Can you describe what this project is?

Carly: The mission statement of the project is: “We believe that the health of society is tied to the health of all its citizens. The global culture is out of balance because it excludes the wellbeing of women.”
We are looking to investigate the underlying causes of global violence against women and create a play (and contextual forms) that serve as a catalyst to acknowledge and examine this issue, and encourage communities to take action towards establishing balance. The epidemic of gender-based violence has been grossly exaggerated by the pandemic.

Elizabeth: So we are working on a project that the kernel of it, the
major star, is a play which we haven’t fully worked out. It will have a story with three possible protagonists: women who are dealing with this from around the world. Then around the play will be these contextual forms, which might include a podcast, multimedia ways for the local community to get involved in the pieces, plays, stories, festivals, websites; possibly a hybrid presentation of some kind where there is live performance and also Zoom.

Robin: This will be a partnership principally between Fatima’s artists in Cape Town, herself included, and Seattle. It’s going to be bi-continental for sure, and maybe more. So, we’ll probably involve actors and musicians from Cape Town, as well as actors and collaborators from the United States. It might be more than that, but it will definitely not just be a Seattle-based project. We will develop it in the next year, and we will refine it and hopefully we’ll be able to tour it in 2025.


How did this project come about?

Robin: So Liza [Freehold Associate Partner, Liza Comtois] and I had a great opportunity to meet Fatima in Cape Town in 2002. We were working on a project for Intiman Theater and the University of Washington’s Comparative History of Ideas Department with a guy named Jim Close. We got to meet Fatima, this profound and amazing theater artist, while we were there with these students from Roosevelt H.S. I didn’t get to go back, but Liza got back [there a couple of times], and we were thinking about doing something, before I die [laughs]. I’m telling you the truth. That’s where it came from. I really want to work with artists like Fatima. I really do.

Fatima: This year I had the opportunity to mentor five writers. They
came from different places: one of them from Johannesburg; another one was from the Eastern Cape; the other three were from the Western Cape. There are two plays in particular that two women wrote about the topic of gender based violence. I became extremely fired up and I immediately told Robin that I found these two amazing plays and it gave me a sense of , “Yes, I want to be part of this! Definitely!”

Elizabeth: And then it became about the global nature of women and
violence, historically, socially, and how it is perpetuated; almost unspoken and always there. Why is that? And what are the forms that it has? What can be done about it? That’s what the exploration has been for the last few days, hearing many different aspects [of gender-based violence]. What’s so beautiful about theater is there’s a sense of, “I am going to gather what I got, what I know, and what I can bring in.”

Robin: This type of violence toward women is perpetuated through
customs, through religion, in many parts of the world, and sometimes it is a kind of internalized feeling for women that they have no recourse or they don’t even have a right as a human being to say you need to treat me with more respect. And that’s in our 21st century and it’s everywhere, the United States, everywhere that women are second class immediately. How did that happen? And why do we all participate? There is truly an unequal, unbalanced system of gender inequality that is rampant and is everywhere and it leads to violence against women.


Who is the intended audience for this project?

Ladan: As for audiences, we are looking at people all over the world. We are telling an international story to an international audience because this is an international problem. So that’s why there are so many tentacles and things attached to it, including the whole digital side of it, because it is happening everywhere. The stories are similar, the specifics might be different.


Check back with us as we will continue to share more of this project as it develops.