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After watching and enduring the political and social upheaval of late 2016, American Players Theatre’s Melisa Pereyra knew exactly what she needed. “I needed to be in a room with other women where I didn’t have to justify my existence,” the Argentinian-born actor says. She needed to vent, to write, to turn her feelings into art.
She mentioned the idea of a writing retreat to Jessica Lanius, the artistic director of Theatre LILA, who leaped at the idea of sponsoring it. Pereyra collected a group of fellow female writer-actors of color that included Atra Asdou, Aidaa Peerzada, Olivia Dawson and Malkia Stampley-Johnson. For three full days last spring, the five women convened in Spring Green to participate in collaborative writing exercises. That collaboration led to “Lines,” the invention Theatre LILA will stage the last week of April.
As the title suggests, the vignettes that make up the show will center on lines — as Pereyra puts it, “the lines we've encountered, crossed, erased, ignored, and those stubborn lines we wrought into bridges.
“As we put the women of color at the forefront of the narrative, we aim to make the piece about truly looking at ourselves as we are and sharing with the world experiences that oftentimes we choose to remain silent about,” she says.
It’s already had an effect. With the aim of celebrating who they are, the creators found the creative experience eye-opening. They hope it will be the same for their audience.
“I thought I knew all there was to being a woman of color,” says Dawson, who contributed to, directed and was part of the cast of LILA’s last invention, “The Bed.” “But I’m not Pakistani, I’m not Venezuelan. There’s so much more to it.”
Depending on the success of “Lines,” Dawson and Pereyra would consider further installments. Pereyra has tentatively floated the idea of a trilogy, and has a concept in mind for part two — “Circles.” There’s no question she’ll have plenty of material from which to draw.
“If I didn’t speak to these issues, then what am I doing? I can’t turn away,” Pereyra says.
Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.