#Speakup...the day of / by Shaun Fauntleroy

Image design by Isaiah Tannenbaum

Image design by Isaiah Tannenbaum

I cannot believe #SpeakUp is here. I’m a little overwhelmed and the magnitude of it all is struggling to seep in. I’ve spent so many years bouncing from project to project, trying to figure out what and where I should be, and all of a sudden I’m living the dream. Seeing women’s eyes light up when they clue in to the fact that a group of people dedicated a night to the silent scream in their hearts to say, “What was said/done to you was wrong,” makes me feel a peace like you can’t imagine. The notion that anyone should think of abuse as “something that just happens to me because I was born this way” is bullshit, and I’m calling it out. We’re calling it out. 

Five months ago, I had a conversation with Gus Schulenburg of Flux Theatre Ensemble about a theatrical event that would give voice to female-identified victims of street harassment. Today, I’m holding in my hands powerful, moving pieces written by the six playwrights who generously agreed to loan us a bit of their hearts and come on this journey with us. You have to understand something, these playwrights aren’t just friends of mine who agreed to help out, these women are artists that I’ve long adored and admired…artists I’ve looked up to. I first heard Pia Wilson’s work at the Public Theater’s inaugural Emerging Writers Group reading series in 2008. Her beautiful play Red Rooster was being performed and I, hungry for more African-American female role models, was hooked. I met Nandita Shenoy through Flux, and her boundless capacity for wit, self-reflection, and biting social commentary made me an instant fan of hers. I can’t even count the times I’ve heard something she wrote and suddenly felt my innermost secrets had been exposed. I was introduced to Maria Alexandria Beech through NY Madness when we both wrote for their “Radical Bias” event. I remember thinking, “This artist is unafraid and unashamed. How lovely.” Her writing gives me courage and hope. Her writing makes me cry. Lauren Ferebee is another incredible writer I met through Flux. She gives you the sense that she is always aflame and her work is smart, bold, funny, “feministy”, and filled with poetry and rhythm. I’m a sucker for poetry and rhythm. Sol Crespo is one of the Flux CP’s and is a bit of a revolutionary. If you’ve met her, you know this. She’s sweet, and funny, and sings like some kind of a f-ing angel, but through #SpeakUp I’ve learned that she can also write. Perhaps next week I’ll learn that she’s also a surgeon, or something. She casually drops skills on me like it’s nothing. Nicole Pandolfo is my dear, dear friend. We met about eight years ago during a one-act festival and I’ve had the honor of getting to know her and her work over time. Her writing is raw, funny, and encapsulates the agony and the triumph of the human spirit in ways that break my heart. I love this woman. I am so, so honored and overwhelmed that these six artists are a part of #SpeakUp.

To bring these beautiful pieces to life, we have Nicole Betancourt, Hanna Cheek, Holly Chou, Beth Ann Hopkins, Bianca LaVerne Jones, Vanessa Kai, and Anna Rahn. Some of these actresses’ work I know, some I don’t. What I do know is that they’re all powerful, magnificent artists and I can’t wait to see what they do tonight. I am so, so grateful they’re a part of this. I’m so grateful that they’re bringing these soliloquies to life.

For directors, we have DeLisa White, who I've worked with several times before and is amazing. She's so perfect for this project. Heather Cohn, who is a powerhouse mother and artist with a smile that lights up the room, Sol Crespo, dropping yet another skill, and Emily Hartford, who has wrought such lovely things from my piece that during rehearsal I thought I was listening to something someone else wrote.

Working with Flux on this has been a dream, so much so that several times a week since we’ve begun I wonder if this is all really happening. They are some of the most giving, patient, and gently perfectionistic people I’ve met. They always seem to be awake (I suspect they’re robots) and I get e-mails at all times of day and night from them, letting me know they’ve handled some new task or had some new wonderful idea. Their passion for art, community, and truth (and the fact that they basically let me step into their family and lead a project) blows me away. The entire #SpeakUp producing team, Gus, Heather, Isaiah, Sol, Alisha, Emily, and Dina, are some of the most beautiful, gracious, and kind people I know. Their integrity, patience, and generosity astounds me and I am infinitely grateful to them. I'm also grateful to the rest of the Flux CPs who have supported this project in various, wonderful ways (Kia, Kelly, Rachael, Jodi, Becky, Chinaza, and Will!)

My only regret with #SpeakUp is that I wasn’t able to involve voices from the LGBTQ community, as the numbers of street harassment victims in that community are huge and heartbreaking. I tried, but with limited time and not having enough people on my radar it didn’t happen. That’s a failing on my part. This project has made me realize that I don’t personally know enough LGBTQ artists and I’m working on that. If you see these pieces tonight and think, “they didn’t include me,” please forgive me. That sucks, and I’m really sorry. We see you, too.

So, that’s it. That’s all the love I have to spill this morning. I’m off to write a paper on Richard III and how a psychopath can still be a multi-dimensional character in drama. If you’re coming to #SpeakUp, then I’ll see you tonight. If you can’t make it but have sent encouragement, thank you — from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but today is a good day.