Manifesto: In Review

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By Rachel Lauren Storm

Nestled in the Armory Free Theater on campus, captive audiences witnessed a theatrical performance this March that urged an examination of feminist histories and futures.

“How do you talk about 300 years in four minutes? [sighs, laughter, applause] Was it ever so apparent we need this dialogue? [laughter, applause]”

Lorraine Hansberry, the first Black woman to have a show produced on Broadway, A Raisin in the Sun; introduction to her speech at “The Black Revolution and the White Backlash,” forum at Town Hall sponsored by The Association of Artists for Freedom,
New York City, June 15, 1964.

Manifesto is the latest production from INNER VOICES Social Issues Theatre, an educational theater project that addresses contemporary social justice issues through performances followed by post-performance dialogues. A meditation on the necessity of intersectionality in feminism, Manifesto centers the perspectives of renowned women of color, trans women, women with disabilities, and those who have been marginalized by white, middle-class feminist discourse. By weaving a call to action from the wisdom of those at the margins of feminist discourse, Manifesto successfully invites the viewer to consider that a feminism that embraces intersectionality ought to emerge through our collective understanding of how our dynamic, overlapping identities (race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, culture, ability, immigration status, etc.) inform both our experiences of oppression and create a road map for feminist theory and activism.

Lisa Fay, INNER VOICES Social Issues Theatre ensemble director and program coordinator for the INNER VOICES Social Issues Theatre program, has been writing and performing social issues theater for years. Her work in devising and producing INNER VOICES performances varies, ranging from encouraging preproduction conversations that lead to the production of collective new work to writing scripts and directing projects such as Side-Eye that investigate racial micro (and macro) aggressions. “I invite and support the production of the work of other artists for INNER VOICES Social Issues Theatre ensemble, for instance Tell It, the work of Dr. Durell Callier, last spring, and Endangered Black Girls by Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown some years ago,” said Fay.

Fay hopes Manifesto achieves its mission of educating the campus community about the framework of intersectionality. “The term ‘intersectionality’ was not coined as an academic term, rather it was a way of framing an issue in order to see the issue, as Kimberly Crenshaw states,” said Fay, who encourages students to explore the work of the prominent civil rights lawyer, as well as her subsequent activism with #sayhername.

Daisianee Minenger, who attended a performance of Manifesto at the Armory Free Theater, said the experience was affirming. “Manifesto taught me that my feelings are valid. I learned that even though we all experience similar struggles, we are not the same people. Race and background add their own dynamics.”

Tianshu Zhao, who serves as the Assistant Director of INNER VOICES, has found the experience of working with the ensemble to be both personally and politically fulfilling. “It’s a platform for me, in terms of theatre arts practice and social participation. And here I find people who are fighting for a better society.”

Due to the sensitive nature of many of the topics, INNER VOICES always includes a post-performance dialogue at each show. Tekita Bankhead, an instructor for the Leading Post-Performance Dialog course, is the Director of Animateurs, facilitators who lead the post-performance dialogues. “Because our shows typically tend to deal with sensitive and potentially triggering topics, I train the animateurs to provide context for the shows, provide counseling resources if needed, and to lead dialogue in a way that is thought-provoking and enlightening,” she said.

Tekita began teaching with the ensemble this semester and has found the experience rewarding. “It has been a labor of love for me. Manifesto truly showcases how beautiful and impactful feminism can be when all voices are included.

“Feminism that is not intersectional is simply not feminism,” said Bankhead. “To fully highlight the unique experiences of every type of woman, you must honor their truth in every way possible. No two women are alike, so it’s imperative that we examine our feminism to truly ensure that all women are invited to the table, have a seat, and have plenty to eat (and seconds, too). The fight to end patriarchy is different for all of us, but when shared equally, is much more likely to be dismantled.”

INNER VOICES Social Issues Theatre’s next performance is entitled “Break the Silence,” and will discuss sexual violence, premiering in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April.

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