As Fighter Jets Go By

Our theater veterans like to remark that they haven’t seen anything quite like the global spontaneous combustion of the Lysistrata Project since the Vietnam-era protests, though in truth the scale and swiftness of this theatrical movement has no antecedent. On March 3, Aristophanes’ ancient Greek anti-war comedy, Lysistrata, will be either read or staged in 390 cities in 40 nations. Kathryn Blume and Sharron Bower dreamed up the idea in New York, posted it on the Internet, spoke on NPR, and within days March 3 readings and productions of Lysistrata were being planned from Dumfries, Scotland, to Istanbul.

The play’s simplicity (women withhold sex until the men stop warring), like that of the current anti-war movement itself, responds to a general feeling that our policies have gone suddenly haywire. There are centers of Lysistrata activity across Southern California — from the USC classics department, to Long Beach City College, to a star-studded reading at Venice’s LAFCO Powerhouse Cultural Space, which is hosted by Tom Hayden and features Julie Christie, Alfre Woodard, Christine Lahti and Ed Begley Jr., among others.

But the largest local hub comes from L.A.’s small-theater community and organizers Gleason Bauer, Rebecca Gray, Tracy Hudak and Tamar Fortgang. Director Hudak is interlocking a multitude of scenes from Drue Robinson Hagan’s translation, to be performed by a consortium of local artists and 20 different companies at the historic, 1,270-seat Wilshire Ebell Theater in an event slated to include former NEA president Jane Alexander.

Athens, Greece:

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“I learned about the Lysistrata Project from an actor friend of mine who happened to know Sharron Bower,” says Anna Tsichli, who is putting together a reading in modern Greek of Lysistrata at the 500-seat Akadimos Theatre in central Athens.

“Eighty-five percent of the European population is against the war,” adds Tsichli, who is organizing the project in conjunction with the Greek Centre of the International Theatre Institute. She is a theater director herself, trained at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, and the University of Athens, though she says she is neither acting in nor directing this reading: “It’s going to be [a cold] reading, as if for the radio, but in front of 500 people,” and it will feature “very well-known actors who have very strong opinions against the war, and are willing to demonstrate them in public.”

Istanbul, Turkey:

The Weekly spoke with Yesim Ozsoy Gulan while she was vacationing in Izmir, Turkey. As she spoke of the “human shields” from Italy and America that were passing through her country on their way to Iraq, the screams of U.S. fighter jets blazing across Turkey could be heard in L.A. via her cell phone.

“They say 95 percent of the Turkish population is against the war,” says Gulan, “and we have protests every day, though not big ones like you have in the U.S. As you know, we have a conservative government that keeps talking about how our economy is very much dependent on the U.S., and the deals that we’re going to make to get money. We’re not much in hope that the French and German governments will end up stopping this thing because they don’t have as much power. In the east of Turkey, people are digging up shelters, and what they do, they put nylon bags over their windows, they think that’s going to protect them. It’s really sad.

“You do a performance of Lysistrata and you think it won’t amount to anything, but in history there have been protests in the theater that stopped things, like [the Velvet Revolution] in Czechoslovakia.” Gulan is organizing a reading of the play at Istanbul’s Bosphorus University. It will be in both Turkish and English, and will be filmed with a webcam.

“It’s going to be very simple,” Gulan explains. “There isn’t going to be any costume, no audience onsite, but they can watch it on the Internet.”

Paris, France:

An expat Canadian and an Englishman — producer-director Clara McBride and co-director Adrian Hornsby, respectively — are staging a full French-language production at what McBride calls a 100-seat “artists’ squat” in central Paris. (There will also be three other productions in the city.)

McBride, who has been in France for five years studying at Paris’ International Acting School, sent a preliminary e-mail about the project to her theater friends, “and that snowballed — actors who I didn’t know contacted me and we thought, ‘How are we going to get everyone involved?’ The vast majority of people here are very strongly against the war, I might even say a bit disgusted, in terms of the enthusiasm that’s coming from the States for the war.”

Moscow, Idaho:

“People here are not totally in the dark,” giggles former New Yorker Cecelia Lushnig. She’s a Greek-language professor at the University of Idaho. “I listen to NPR all the time, and they never interview anybody between the coasts. We’ve been here for 28 years, and we never seem to get representation.”

When Lushnig announced to her Greek class that she was organizing a reading of her own translation of Lysistrata, “Nobody wanted to be in it,” she says. Most of Lushnig’s students — in the town of 15,000 people — are Christian conservatives. “There was a little [anti-war] march on campus,” she says. “I hear that some people were bullying the marchers. The closer we get [to war], there will probably be more factions.”

Things have improved for Lushnig since she passed out fliers for her reading at an anti-war bicycle rally of about 40 “old hippies and young granola types.” And Lushnig sounded gratified that “at a homecoming parade, there was an anti-war group walking down Main Street, and nobody yelled at us, and a few people even applauded us.

“We got a room at the university for the reading. We’ll try for three rehearsals. Some people in the theater department want to help. I’ve never directed a play. I’ve never even been in a play; but I’m hoping, you know. The Women’s Center volunteered to contribute a mannequin. Yes, I think we’re getting a lot of interest.”

Los Angeles, California:

At Shakespeare Festival L.A.’s downtown studio, Circle X Theater Company and GLANKthePRODUCT (a musical ensemble) are in rehearsal for a full guerrilla production of Lysistrata to be staged at various locales. One scene from their staging will join those performed by 19 other companies at the Wilshire Ebell. For the first time in half an hour, co-director Matthew Bretz approaches the actors, still holding scripts, and gives some interpretive notes. Three company members shout from a peanut gallery in the bleachers: “Oh my God, he’s directing. Oh, it’s beautiful!

During a break, actor Virginia Hamilton says that the company is coming “from all different places” ideologically: “There are no pro-war people here, but there are people who aren’t anti-war.” Hamilton says she hasn’t yet formulated a firm position on the war, and that she’s using the rehearsal process to help her work it through. “This [anti-war] movement,” she explains, “is really against apathy.”

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