Global theater sends peace message with Lysistrata Project

New York – From the Brooklyn Academy of Music to a coffeehouse in New Mexico to the National Theater of Iceland, actors are planning a day of international theater protest against a possible war with Iraq. Today, participants in all 50 US states and on six continents will read «Lysistrata,» Aristophanes’ bawdy comedy of ancient Greece in which women withhold sex until men agree to outlaw war. At a last count, 919 readings were scheduled in 56 countries, according to Kathryn Blume and Sharron Bower, two New York actresses who started the Lysistrata Project. The project began with Blume, who had been working on a modern adaptation of «Lysistrata» as a screenplay. She had heard about a group called Theaters Against War that was urging theater companies to put an anti-war statement in their programs or make a curtain speech against war. Blume thought she would do a reading of «Lysistrata» as her contribution. That same day in January, Bower called, suggesting they work together on something. «It was a magic moment in the history of politics and theater,» Blume said. «It turned into something very large very fast.» By the next night, the women had readings planned in two other cities, and the Lysistrata Project was born. «We put up a website [], e-mailed everyone we knew and they e-mailed everyone they knew,» Blume said. «Soon, we were getting e-mails from all over the country and all over the world.» Among those who responded were Michael Paulukonis, a volunteer at Artists for Art, a community-based, non-profit arts organization in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Stefan Baldursson, artistic director of the National Theater of Iceland. «It struck a chord in me,» said Paulukonis, who runs the performance series at AFA in Scranton. «I had been looking for some way that I could get more of my own voice out in the rush to war.» Paulukonis will direct more than a dozen community-theater actors in a reading in the organization’s small storefront space. «Everyone wants peace and I thought it was good to take part in this,» said Baldursson. «Some of the best actors in Iceland – more than 20 – will take part. It’s a very good and funny translation, too, made directly from the original Greek.» Blume and Bower will be involved behind the scenes at a celebrity-filled production in New York. The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s reading at its Harvey Theater will feature Mercedes Ruehl in the title role, with a supporting cast that includes F. Murray Abraham, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Bill Irwin and Kathleen Chalfant. In Los Angeles, a reading at the Los Angeles Filmmaker Cooperative’s Powerhouse Culture Space will be equally starry: Julie Christie, Alfre Woodard, Christine Lahti and Eric Stoltz, among others. There won’t be anything quite as formal at the Paloma Blanca Coffeehouse in Questa, New Mexico, a farming and mining community of 1,700 people not far from the Colorado state line. «There is no director,» said Anne Constanza, who organized the event at the town’s only coffeehouse. «Each reader will bring to the reading whatever they want, in terms of preparedness, props and costumes.» Most venues are not charging admission, asking instead for a small donation. Blume and Bower say they have spent a couple of thousand dollars on the project, financing it through «a lot of faith and credit cards.» «Sharron and I will both tell you that we came to New York to become megastars,» Blume said with a laugh. «That has not happened in the theatrical realm, although it seems now that pretty much everyone knows who we are – they just haven’t seen our faces or know our work.»

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.