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Those Little-Town Blues Are Melting Away

On February 14, CNN’s Newsnight program described the U.S. peace movement as “muted” and “slow to organize and slow to build.” Over the next two days the stunned network tried to account for the millions of anti-war demonstrators who rallied around the world that weekend, not the least of which were 200,000 New Yorkers, 30,000 Angelenos and 150,000 San Franciscans. Like many semiofficial media, CNN had been oblivious to the existence of the hundreds of small anti-war protests and meetings that have been spreading throughout America for the past six months. The Lysistrata Project is a perfect example of how, in the age of the Internet, a modest protest forum can multiply with blurring velocity without ever being featured on Larry King Live.

Los Angeles, California:

Like so many local Lysistrata Project organizers around the world, Chiara Sulprizio heard about the idea on NPR.

Sulprizio’s group will stage an al fresco reading in Founders Park on the USC campus, but is also reaching out to the surrounding working-class community. “A lot of us are these nerdy academic types,” laughs Sulprizio, a grad student in the University of Southern California’s classics department. She and her fellow classicists are maintaining an amateur profile. “It’s just going to be mostly the grad students here at USC in a low-keyed production — we’re not really performers,” Suprizio explains.

Dumfries, Scotland:

“I’m in a very remote part of the country where you can’t get a lot of people together, especially in winter,” says local Lysistrata Project organizer Cally Phillips, a playwright who’s updating the comedy. “Dumfries is pretty much a farming community — we were famous for foot-and-mouth disease a few years ago.”

Phillips heard about the reading via an e-mail from someone involved in theater. “The first thing I did was e-mail everyone in the country,” she says. “People here don’t usually go to big demonstrations in the cities — they’ve got animals to take care of.”

For the reading, Phillips plans to use the town cinema, which has a maximum capacity of 60 people.

“It’s going to be very minimal, because one thing we don’t have in this region is any sort of professional actors. We have a core of 10 readers, and we’re going to draft people in the audience to come up and take part — although we’re keeping that part a secret.

“I’ve never actively got involved before,” says Phillips, “but this looked like something I could actually do rather than be just another number. I have not met anyone across Scotland who thinks this war is a good idea. Everyone believes it’s ridiculous.”

Sydney, Australia:

Lisa-Maree Da Fina, a recent university graduate from Sydney, told the Weekly that she’s having trouble finding a charity that will accept the performance’s proceeds because of fears that accepting such donations will compromise its nonpolitical status under Prime Minister John Howard’s pro-Bush government. Even finding a theater willing to be a venue for the reading has not been easy, because of the nervousness of potential bookers worried by the event’s political nature.

“This is pretty much my first brush with performance, although my sister is in the theater,” says Da Fina. “A lot of other people have contacted us who are involved professionally in theater, and we’re looking for politicians willing to read parts, although Parliament will be in session, so that’s a problem.”

Da Fina heard about the project through an NPR broadcast on Australia’s ABC radio network. “I was very interested and looked up the program on the NPR Web site.”

“We’ll have maybe 10 to 15 people reading,” Da Fina predicts, “using very basic costumes. The reading will take place in a theater. We hope to have the actors memorize the lines.”

Nelson, Canada (British Columbia):

“A significant majority here don’t support [the war],” says Geoff Burns, in the small Canadian town of Nelson, “but the politicians who run the U.S. and Canada are running a juggernaut that’s unstoppable.”

Burns teaches high school drama. He — like Phillips in rural Scotland — first encountered the reading project via an e-mail from a friend.

“This is a new thing for me,” he explains. “It has a clear political purpose and is very exciting because in the world today a lot of us feel powerless. So we said, Wow, this is great, let’s do it!

So far, he’s encountered no resistance. The reading will take place inside the Capitol, a theater that seats 420 people: “I suspect it will pretty much be people sitting in a semicircle and standing forward when it’s their turn.”

Long Beach, California:

“I tell my students, here’s the middle, here’s the right, and I’m way over there,” says Kathryn Jennings, a reading instructor at Long Beach City College. She heard about the Lysistrata Project on NPR.

“Almost everybody in the English department is involved,” says Jennings. “Some have said we might get in trouble for proselytizing in our classes about it, but I do try to be balanced in my classroom discussions. People have shut up about the war, but we have to talk.”

The reading is being produced by the college’s acting teacher. “He’s going to have the lead male role because he’s quite a hunk,” Jennings explains. “I told him that we needed a babe to play Myrna, and he said he could probably find one.”

Though the college’s theater department offered the use of its auditorium for the reading, Jennings prefers to do it on its steps — “our free-speech area. That will keep it outdoors so that students will see it.”

Jennings’ Long Beach City College group figures its reading will run 90 minutes, and during a recent strategy meeting held in the English department’s faculty lounge, costuming ideas range from togas for the actors and the ushers to official Lysistrata Project white T-shirts to basic black.

“I want to play the butler!” the young advocate for basic black announces.

“Does anyone really know this play?” Jennings asks.

“It’s been a while since we’ve read it,” comes the answer.

“Did you Xerox all of the scripts?” one instructor jokingly inquires. “Is that legal — will we get sued?”

“We need good voices —”

“Karen is stentorian enough — let’s ask her.”

“Someone needs to contact Facilities for 200 chairs.”

“I’ll do it.”

“We can download the flier from the Web site, but we should have our own.”

“I’ve got a digital camera — I can take pictures of my parents’ Greek artwork and use that for the flier.”

The meeting ends on one debate note: Can a female play the role of the herald?

“The herald can’t be a woman,” a purist points out, “because the role is for a ‘citizen,’ and Greek women weren’t citizens.”

There is a moment of reflection before someone cuts to the spirit of the play and, indeed, of the project itself:

“But this is an anti-war play! We can fudge a little.”

For more information on the Lysistrata Project, go to www.lysistrataproject.com. For info on local readings, go to www.peaceact.org. Tickets to the LAFCO reading in Venice are first-come, first-served. For information on the reading at the Wilshire Ebell Theater, call (310) 281-8385.

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