To know me is to know just how much I love the So & So Arts Club and its founder Sarah Jane Berger. So & So is a professional development organization by actors for actors, and I cannot even begin to explain how my life has changed for the better because of this club.
Now, as I have absolutely no trouble in admitting I’m a snob (but in a good way!;) and wish So & So was still a very well kept secret; one that only the best sorts of people would be privy to (ahem). But I commend Miss Berger for creating a global artists club, and I’m still advocating to be American Representatives and/or head a chapter here (Please oh please!). If there’s one thing Sarah knows how to do (and let’s just be honest, the woman is a wonder as an Actor, Director, Producer), it’s put on a festival. From Women in Arts and Hopefull Rep, to Kick up the Arts and Women and War, So and So offers numerous opportunities for artists to connect, engage, learn and work.
This year, I was lucky to be in London during Women and War, which was held at the So & So space at 6 Fredrick’s Place. While I did not have time to see everything I wanted, I was able to see my extremely talented friend Zelina Rebeiro and the lovely Isaura Barbé-Brown (who even fooled this Midwestern gal with her American Accent!) in Veils.
Written by Tom Coash, the play focuses on American University in Egypt roommates Intisar and Samar. “Intisar, a veiled, African-American Muslim student, thinks she might finally fit in when she enrolls for a year abroad at the American Egyptian University in Cairo. However, the Arab Spring is about to explode across the Middle East, threatening to overwhelm the young American woman and her liberal Egyptian roommate, Samar. In the struggle to find their footing in this political storm, the young women instead find themselves on opposite sides of a bitter and dangerous cultural divide. Will the violent events leading up to the revolution salvage their friendship or shatter it?”
Veils is a great two hander focusing not only on religious differences (and similarities), but also the bonds between women, the Arab Spring (and what that meant for Muslim Youth), displacement and cultural hybridity. Zelina Rebeiro is superb as Samar, the party loving, freedom fighting non-hijab wearing Egyptian Muslim; and Isaura Barbé-Brown dazzles as Intisar, the American born conservative Muslim student who hopes to finally be understood and respected in Cairo. The exuberant Samar enlists her new African-American roommate in helping her create a blog debating the practice of wearing veils, but when the revolution interrupts, it threatens to ruin their friendship.
After Veils, it was on to see The Marvellous Adventures of Mary Seacole, a one woman show starring actress and songstress Cleo Sylvestre. The title is a play on Mrs. Seacole’s autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), which is considered to be one of the first autobiographies by and about a mixed-race woman.
Who is Mary Seacole you ask? I was wondering the very same; and was amazed to discover she was a Jamaican/Scottish/African entrepreneur, world traveler, hotelier, healer and self taught nurse who successfully tended to battlefield soldiers during the Crimean War. It is widely believed that Florence Nightingale was the first woman to develop what we now know as modern nursing, but to hear Mary Seacole’s story puts all of that into question. The viewer even learns Mary applied to the War Office to assist (and even spoke to Florence Nightingale herself), but was refused (no great surprise there…).
The play takes you on a journey from her early days learning about herbal healing from her mother, to her travels through Jamaica, London, Panama, her marriage, the Great Fire of Kingston, the Cholera Epidemic, and the war. Throughout her life and career, Mary was held in the highest regard, and associated with such dignitaries as he Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Cambridge, and many other senior military officers. Late in life, when she faced economic downturn, Mary was able to survive and live somewhat comfortably due to the fund and care of her illustrious patrons.
In 1991 she was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit, and in 2004 was voted the greatest Black Briton. More recently, a statue of her describing her as a Pioneer Nurse was erected at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on 30 June 2016. The only known portrait of Mary Seacole resides in the National Portrait Gallery in London, England.
The final play on my agenda was Shrapnel, “A Collection of poetry, monologues and a play excerpt from the writers Chris Fogg, DHW Mildon and Rose Solari, ranging from a mother grieving the death of her son in the final minutes of WW1 to a mortician at Camp Bastian preparing for a date. Voices of women across class, generations and history [are heard].” The featured shows and interwoven poems were Posting to Iraq by Chris Fogg, Coda, Go Firm, Shades and Prize Giving by DHW Mildon, and two Poems by Rose Solari. I mostly had to see this show because, as long as I’ve known Sarah, I’ve never seen her act. But now, I’m so happy I have! (secretly thinking of a show to in which to have her star…)
All in all, Women and War was an amazing festival, and I wish I had time to see more shows. But, knowing Sarah and the So and So Arts Club, another festival isn’t far behind.