This fledgling stage troupe aspires to raise a call to arms.
By Paul Dervis
Boudica Theatre, a new performance collective from England, is presenting The Boudica Series: A Festival of Women’s Voices at New York’s Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street (through August 28). It a week-long celebration of work (performances, talks, and workshops) for the stage from the United States, England, and the Continent. The kick-off was on Monday night and, though the evening was a mixed bag, there was enough of merit here to bode well for the series.
The name Boudica comes from Queen Boudica, a first Century British Celtic Iceni tribe leader who lead an uprising against the occupation of her homeland from the Roman Empire…pretty bloody historical stuff. This fledgling troupe aspires to raise a call to arms.
The week’s line-up opened up with a Ceremony, a one-woman show ‘conducted’ by Heather Ensworth, who is a psychologist and certified Astrologer housed at the Rising Moon Healing Center in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Her portion of the evening was geared for audience participation…maybe too much so, as least for my taste. She had us chanting and holding candles. Okay for true believers, but a bit much for the skeptics in the house. Suffice to say, this opening went on far too long for the doubters among us.
This piece was followed by what is listed in the program as a interlude of poetry by Aleda Bliss, but it was more of what I would call a spoken word performance. Bliss’s sister joined her on stage, and the pair recited simple yet touching musings on life, interspersed with some quite beautiful folk songs, performed a cappella. It would not be unfair to characterize the first hour of the Festival an exercise in calmness and tranquility. Of course, you had to wonder — where was the warrior spirit of Queen Boudica?
Well, it came after the intermission.
The second half of the evening started with terrific examples of theatrical rant. Yada Guevara-Prip’s six monologues were spot-on as they hammered — with ferocity — on issues of love, disappointment, and mother/daughter relationships. Performed by three high energy performers, these screeds demanded the audience’s attention and boy, did they get it.
But the highlight of the evening was its forth segment, Storytelling, lead by Jamia Wilson. Wilson has held positions with activist organizations ranging from Action Media to The Women’s Media Center, and has contributed material to New York Magazine andThe Today Show. She invited the audience up on stage and began by telling stories about growing up black and female in the era of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. She not only was a fascinating speaker, but a skillful leader who gracefully invited audience members to share their own intimate tales. Her segment of the evening was both powerful and touching.
Each evening The Festival of Women’s Voices will offer a different program. On Friday there will a production of a play by the group’s Artistic Director, Dominique Sinagra, a former Bostonian who now lives in England. Her intriguing-sounding script, Joan of the Mississippi, is culled from interviews with women from around the world, its voices including those of Syrian refugees, child soldiers, and African AIDS orphans. She wraps a retelling of the Joan of Arc story around real life testimony.
Other offerings coming up include a play entitled Dear Miss So and So by Sophia Chapadjiev, a discussion on Thursday evening called “All the World’s a Stage” that will focus on using theatre as a tool to foster international social justice. The Festival concludes on the 28th with readings by several poets and artists, ending with a closing ceremony lead by Native American activist Pat McCabe. Much of this week long Festival is in support of various charities, including the well known Henry Street Settlement. Kudos for that decision.
“My goal,” says Sinagra, “is to marry my experiences abroad with different people and hearing their stories with my interest in theatre as a tool that brings people together.” Monday night of the Festival of Women’s Voices suggests that Sinagra is a young stage artist who, at times, is going to stumble over her good intentions. But she has plenty of fire in her belly, and the promise that comes with it. Sinagra would like to bring yet another series to New York next year….here’s hoping she does.
Paul Dervis has been teaching drama in Canada at Algonquin College as well as the theatre conservatory Ottawa School of Speech & Drama for the past 15 years. Previously he ran theatre companies in Boston, New York, and Montreal. He has directed over 150 stage productions, receiving two dozen awards for his work. Paul has also directed six films, the most recent being 2011’s The Righteous Tithe