On March 3, 2003, more than 1000 groups of people in 59 countries staged simultaneous readings of Aristophanes’ classic antiwar comedy Lysistrata. In this mass protest against the imminent Iraq war, the performers ranged from celebrities such as Kevin Bacon to Kurdish refugees. The event, co-created by actress/writer Kathryn Blume of Charlotte, was billed as the “first-ever worldwide theatrical act of dissent.”
From just one spot on the globe, it was hard to grasp the scope of such a collective action. But the documentary film Operation Lysistrata, to screen at Burlington’s City Hall Auditorium at a June 15 benefit for the Peace & Justice Center, may change that. Directed by Michael Kelly for the small New York production company Aquapio Films, it’s a compilation of clips from recorded readings, accompanied by news footage to convey the climate from which the Lysistrata Project arose. “Since January 2003, Aquapio Films has shot or received more than 200 hours of video footage,” the film’s web page reads. “Tapes of readings poured in from nearly every U.S. state as well England, Iceland, Greece, Australia, Italy, Montréal, Nova Scotia and many more.”
Blume says Kelly — who will join her for a Q&A session at the screening — decided he “abso-lutely had to be involved” after hearing her interviewed about the project on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He used Blume’s email list of participants to send out a call for photos or footage of the readings. In lieu of narration, the film exposits via news clips of such events as antiwar demonstrations. “It’s very good. Very moving,” says Blume. “You forget how enthusiastic and engaged and widespread opposition to the war was before we attacked Iraq.”
The use of proprietary clips also delayed the film in postproduction, though. Blume says Kelly will probably take Operation Lysistrata to film festivals, but he’s “still raising money to pay for rights to clips from the network news. He’s had to raise an enormous amount of money over and above the cost of the editing itself.”
Meanwhile, Blume is doing some fundraising of her own on behalf of a second project, her one-woman show The Boycott. Though it takes aim at a new issue, Blume’s script returns to the Lysistrata motif with a play-within-a-play in which the president’s wife spearheads a mass women’s movement to deny men sex until they do something to address global warming.
Blume premiered The Boycott in a Vermont Stage Company production last January (see article). Since then, she’s revised the text and posted video of the entire performance on YouTube. After the premiere, Blume says, she received a phone call from philanthropist Barbarina Heyerdahl of Shelburne, who said, “Your show is incredible, and I want you to take it to the national level,” she relates. With the help of Heyerdahl and the Montpelier office of the Nature Conservancy, Blume has raised “about $57,000 so far,” she says. The money will fund a 6-week run of The Boycott this fall at the Arclight Theater on New York’s Upper West Side, with a “brand-new set and a brand-new soundtrack.” Blume says her “ultimate goal” is to turn the play into a “real concert film.”
For now, Blume hopes other activists will draw inspiration from Operation Lysistrata. “One of the stories that the film is really great about telling is how much it’s possible for a few people with not many resources to achieve,” she says. “I hope people will say, ‘Those women are just like me. Yes, I can have some kind of effect, too.’ All it takes is one person to say, ‘I will stand up, I will do something.’”
Operation Lysistrata screens on June 15 at Burlington City Hall Auditorium, 7 & 9 p.m. $10. The Boycott Benefit Concert is June 22, 7:30-10 p.m., at the Shelburne Town Hall. $10. The Boycott plays July 26-28 at the FlynnSpace, Burlington, 8 p.m. $25.