snow blanketed Detroit last Monday, more than 70 actors, directors
and artists, including some of the best-known names in local theater,
converged in a large rehearsal room on Wayne State's campus. The performers
had gathered to rehearse for a public reading of the ancient Greek
comedy "Lysistrata," scheduled to take place tomorrow night
at the Bonstelle Theatre.
Among the faces familiar to local theatergoers were veteran actor
Roy K. Dennison, the Purple Rose's Will Young and Michelle Mountain
("Across the Way,"), Planet Ant directors York Griffith
and Travis Reiff, Detroit Repertory and Plowshares regular Council
Cargle, actor and Gem Theatre artistic director Danny Jacobs, Meadow
Brook favorite Tom Mahard, Performance Network actresses Terry Heck
and Shirley Benyas ("Necessary Targets") as well as actors
the Hilberry, the Theatre Company, and Oakland University.
Not far away, in a flat in Detroit's historic Woodbridge neighborhood,
two dozen actors, activists and artists were rehearsing for their
own reading of the same play on the same night at Detroit's Furniture
Factory performance space.
Both groups are part of the "Lysistrata Project," which
is being called "the first-ever worldwide theater event for peace."
The project revolves around readings of hundreds of readings of Aristophanes'
anti-war comedy (see sidebar) set to take place Monday from New York
to Athens. The movement is the brainchild of New York actors Kathryn
Blume and Sharron Bower, who organized the event to provide "a
humorous entree into a healthy community dialogue" and to raise
money for organizations that "work for peace and human rights."
So far, 807 readings of "Lysistrata" in 49 countries were
schedule to take place as part of the project. Both director Gillian
Eaton, who spearheaded the Bonstelle reading, and Amy Arena who is
directing the Furniture Factory group, first heard about the project
on the radio. After visiting the group's website (www.lysistrataproject.com),
both women spread word quickly via e-mail - to overwhelming response.
put out the word in the Southeast Michigan theater community
that anyone who wanted to be in it could be in it," says Eaton,
who has directed numerous productions in the area. So many actors
volunteered to take part in the reading at the 1100 seat Bonstelle
(made available to the group by Wayne State's theater department)
that direction of the reading was divided between Eaton and local
theater legend Lavinia Moyer, who led the male and female choruses.
Arena also found more than enough people were willing to participate
in the smaller scale reading.
"The beauty of the project," says Arena," is you can
do it wherever - in a coffee house, in your living room."
As it turned out, several venues offered their spaces to Arena's
group - which decided to stage the show at Walk & Squawk's Furniture
Factory, a Detroit art gallery and theater that seats about 80. The
Furniture Factory cast features "non-actors," community
theater actors, and a handful of young professional actors, including
Lessa Bouchard, Leah Smith, and former Second City player, Emily Merrell,
Furniture Factory are performing different adaptation's of the play,
but both versions share the original's heavy dose of broad sexual
One of the things that's coming out of this movement," says
Eaton, "is that we can deal with issues with humor - which can
remind us of our humanity sometimes more than the pictures of tragedy."
"It is very funny," Arena says. "But by the end the
end the men are saying you know what, war isn't the most important
thing in the world. There are more important things."
One important byproduct of the readings, according to participants,
was the sense of community they fostered.
"The project offered a chance to be part of a global community
and also a local one," says Eaton. "And sometimes, even
if leaders aren't taking any notice, it's important to be able to
find solidarity with others."
"I'm not necessarily someone who would go out into the street
for a rally or a protest," says actress Merrell. "But I
find this more constructive, because it raises funds (see below).
And I'm meeting a lot of people who have similar interests."
Proceeds from the Bonstelle reading of "Lysistrata" will
benefit Detroit's Freedom House, a non-profit organization for political
refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. and Canada. Funds raised by the
Furniture Factory performance will go to MADRE, a women's international
human rights organization.
Both readings will feature actors reading from handheld scripts.
However, both productions will also feature some very theatrical elements.
The Bonstelle choruses will sing original songs to improvised musical
accompaniment, and then there's the sheer spectacle of seeing such
a large gathering of area actors onstage. And the Furniture Factory's
male actors will perform in togas, while the women will wear "white
pretty things." That show will also feature musical interludes
and a pair of silent clowns.
A dramatic reading of "Lysistrata" is scheduled
at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 3 at the Bonstelle Theatre, 3424
Woodward Ave, Detroit. For more information call (313) 577-5126. The
play will also be read at 8 p.m. at the Furniture Factory,
4126 Third Street, Detroit. (313) 832-8890.
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