Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of seeing ‘SHE,’ an off Broadway play that address the topic of violence against women, including sexual violence domestic violence and violence by police.
The choreoplay is set “Here, There, Everywhere;” it takes place “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. It is an intertwined set of intertwined stories of violence against women, told by those women, through their words, music, and dance. It is in equal parts disturbing and cathartic, horrifying and beautiful.
As SHE’s creator, choreographer, playwright, and star, Jinah Parker explains, she “created SHE out of a need – a need to challenge myself, and a need for women to be heard and experience a sense of release.” What she has achieved is an incredible piece of storytelling, blending contemporary dance, music, film, and the interwoven stories of 5 women.
Using art to tell these difficult stories, stories that are are so raw and difficult that mere words often can’t convey them, is one of the most impactful ways to change our culture.
As my friend and colleague, Mark Greene wrote in his powerful review of the show:
“You can not watch this play and not be shocked into a reappraisal of your world, compelled by the clarity and passion embodied by SHE’s actors and dancers…This is a play about rape and many other forms of unspeakable violence suffered by millions of women worldwide. It is portrayed in deeply human terms through the stories of women both known and unknown to us. These stories, which plum the depths of human suffering, carry a central message about human beings and trauma. That wherever there is brutality, the murder of the human spirit and the savagery of the our darkest human failings, there is also the possibility of a journey to resilience, joy and celebration.
This is not a play that lectures or pontificates. Its not a play that seeks our compliance or our allegiance. It is a play that does what needs to be done. It is a play that tells stories.
Stories we all already know. I only hope more of us will see it.”
Ms. Parker was able to get inside the issue of violence, and let the audience sit with its many ramifications. As Dr. Michael Friedman shared during the Talk Back session that followed the show:
“What Parker demonstrated was how sexual violence disrupts that process in many ways. Experiencing sexual violence can not only make us question our instincts as to how we pursue what we want in the world, but also we can feel that we are not “allowed” to be happy for fear of invalidating our own traumatic experience. And the world colludes with us — many people are more than happy to have a survivor of sexual violence suppress, avoid, and not share their experience because it makes them uncomfortable, and causes them to challenge their belief in a just world.
What was helpful about how Parker handled this issue was that she presented it without necessarily “solving” it. She presents a path by which acknowledging one’s trauma can be a first step towards allowing oneself to simultaneously pursue happiness, while still acknowledging and healing from trauma.
Parker’s mission to let people know that they are not alone, that their healing process is unique and under their control, and that it is possible to recover, is an invaluable service to survivors of sexual violence and those who love them.”
The play hit it’s mark with every member of the audience that I spoke with. The take-away for John Ramos, a NY-based community activist who works with the issue of violence against women, was how important it is for us to have these difficult conversations about violence against women. Indeed, there is no other way forward:
“We need to find ways to generate conversation with one another about the issue of ending violence against woman and girls. Performances like SHE allow us to use theater as a catalyst for conversations and meaningful ways of discussing trauma and it’s impact on woman and girls. I believe once men begin a process or just crack the door open slightly to these conversations, we may also begin our own process of healing and restoring the humanity we have collectively lost.”
Bravo (and brava!) to Jinah Parker, Producer Kevin Powell, and the incredible dancers and cast.
If you get a chance, please go see SHE! The next showings are on October 20-21, 2017 in New York City. Tickets and information are available here.
Photo Credit: Mickey Hoelscher