- Global Feminism from Page to Stage:Teaching Half the Sky and Seven
Imagine a dark stage with, one by one, seven women stepping forward to declare their name and country of origin. They then sit and interweave seven monologues of their individual struggles for gender justice in Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Russia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Guatemala. “What can I do?” asks Farida, an Afghani woman who feels powerless; “Maybe I can help the women of my country,” Mukhtar Mai from Pakistan realizes later in the play (Cizmar et al. 14, 27). These voices intersect, themes overlapping from speaker to speaker even as the seven stories belong to different places and times. Each woman begins by telling her story directly to the audience; but by the end, the actresses include each other in their gazes and respond to each other’s words, a symbol of their joint suffering, shared strength, and the solidarity necessary for lasting change. At the play’s conclusion, Guatemalan Congresswoman Anabella De Leon’s declaration “No more silence!” is a call to the entire audience (37). Women’s voices are heard, individually and collectively, throwing a spotlight on global gender issues and women’s crucial role in social change.
What I have briefly described is the documentary play Seven, the collaboration of seven female playwrights with seven women activists connected in 2006 by the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit nongovernmental organization supporting the development of female leaders (Vital).1 The stated mission of Vital Voices, to “identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities,” is well served by the creative drama Seven (Vital). Like the more well-known Vagina Monologues, Seven is an ensemble piece of documentary theatre based on interviews. Also like Vagina Monologues, the play has minimal staging—usually just seven women, scripts in hand, on a stage devoid of props or sets. Anna Deavere Smith, an actress and writer known for her “journalism-based theatre” (Pressley), interviewed Nigerian activist Hafsat Abiola, and is perhaps the best known of the playwrights attached to the project, who also include Paula Cizmar, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, and Susan Yankowitz. Each playwright interviewed [End Page 17] and researched her subject and wrote a monologue; pieces of those monologues were then interwoven so that each woman speaks and acts out micro-scenes of her life, flowing seamlessly from one to another. Like the Vagina Monologues, Seven was created as an artistic response to social and political issues, a feminist intervention, and it has benefited from the support of actors, public figures, and politicians, including Meryl Streep, Marcia Gay Harden, Diane von Furstenberg, and Hillary Clinton. It has been performed around the world as a staged dramatic reading, including at The Hague by members, male and female, of the European Parliament (“Seven Women”). And, I argue, like the Vagina Monologues, it should be taught and staged on American college campuses as an opportunity to educate and inspire students and larger community audiences about women’s leadership in solving global issues. Doing so offers an opportunity for feminist pedagogy and a form of activism to both faculty and students. Teaching this text in a women and gender studies, international studies, theatre, or other classroom offers a unique opportunity for teachers to engage students with a variety of feminist issues. This article will trace the performance of Seven at a private liberal arts college and offer suggestions and assignments for teaching the text.
From Half the Sky to an Entire Campus
The particular scene on a dark stage described to open this article did not take place in New York City, London, New Delhi, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, or The Hague, but at a small liberal arts college in central Illinois, a school with slightly over nine hundred undergraduate students set in a town of about twenty thousand Midwesterners in Jacksonville, Illinois. Founded in 1829 by a Yale band set on bringing education to the new western state of Illinois, IC is proud of its history of activism in the abolition movement and...