Wearing jeans, a bright purple shirt, and a gigantic matching phallus constructed entirely of balloons, Cineseas (played by Kevin Bacon) spun downstage, tore at his clothes, and bellowed, “MYRRHINE!!!” His onstage wife (played by Bacon's real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick) took a long and longing look at her priapically challenged man, but then popped her gum, turned on her heel, and with a flick of her hair and a sway of her hips, sauntered away, leaving poor Cineseas very high and very dry. The audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music doubled over with laughter.
This was one of the 1,029 performances of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata staged on March 3 in protest of Bush's war on Iraq. The two of us came up with the idea and before we knew it, an estimated 225,000 people in 59 countries and all 50 U.S. states had created the “Lysistrata Project: The First-Ever Worldwide Theatrical Act of Dissent.”
The project began on January 4. Kathryn was inspired by a New York group called Theaters Against War to produce a reading of Aristophanes' Lysistrata as a peace action. A funny, bawdy romp of a play with a strong anti-war message, it seemed an ideal vehicle for theatrical protest. The title character, Lysistrata, organizes women from warring Greek city-states to band together and deny sex to their husbands until they stop the Peloponnesian War. Unable to bear their intense—and highly visible—longings, the men finally agree to lay down their swords and call a permanent truce.
Fellow actor Sharron happened to send an e-mail that day suggesting a collaboration. In a series of wildfire yes-and conversations, we decided to use the reading as a fundraiser for a peace charity, and cast celebrities in the leading roles to draw press and generous audiences, and e-mail friends nationally inviting them to do readings too, and why not internationally, and ... the snowball began.
In 24 hours, friends in Seattle and Austin started organizing readings. We slung up a website, www.lysistrataproject.com, with downloadable scripts, press releases, and comprehensive instructions for producing a reading. We sent out announcement e-mails, inviting participation and forwarding. And forward they did! Playwrights with adaptations and translations of Lysistrata came out of the woodwork, donating their scripts for use. Calls and thousands of e-mails came from all over the world. Soon, press calls lit up the lines.
Many readings donated proceeds to peace charities and humanitarian aid organizations. A secret reading in northern Iraq was organized by members of the international press corps, who had to keep it quiet or risk losing their jobs. In Patras, Greece, a joint group of Greeks and Kurdish refugees held a reading.
This all came together in two months—because two actors didn't know that it was impossible. We wanted to tell the world that Bush doesn't speak for all Americans, and to provide a megaphone for voices of dissent. New activists who participated in the project told us that the readings were a raucous blessing—a wildly funny, openhearted night of worldwide solidarity where people came together to laugh and hope for peace.
For a complete list of readings, see www.lysistrataproject.org. Kathryn Blume is an actor and writer whose latest project is a solo piece called “The Accidental Activist.” Sharron Bower works in theater and television (www.sharronbower.com),
and looks forward to the 2004 election.
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