A short time after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, Carol Bebelle, founder of the Ashe Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans was contacted by Eve Ensler, the playwright best know for The Vagina Monologues.
Ensler had come to New Orleans, certain that among all that devastation there would be a story to tell about what happened to the women there, Bebelle says.
As it turned out, however, the acclaimed playwright didn't write the story, but 16 women from New Orleans who lived through it themselves. And on Monday, March 21, the result of that collaborative effort will be played out on the Neuhaus Stage at the Alley in Swimming Upstream. The cast members are professional actresses from New Orleans, Bebelle says.
Directed by Ensler (who also pulled dramaturg duties) and sponsored by Ashe and V-Day, an international activist movement to end violence against women and girls, Swimming Upstream seeks to document in stories and songs what happened more than five years ago. Beyond that, though, Bebelle says, the work (which runs about 80 minutes) translates to anyone who's experienced an unexpected disaster in their lives.
Bebelle says it was a therapeutic as well as a creative process for the 16 women, including her, who wrote about what happened. First performed at the New Orleans Superdome in 2008, the work has gone out on limited tour a few times since then, this time traveling to Baton Rouge, Houston and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Audience members will not be leaving the theater depressed, Bebelle says. "It starts the time before the disaster happened and it certainly brings you through it. If we've learned anything from folks who deal with emotional and mental healing, the ability to visit a hard time and not be bothered by it means that you're healed. This is an opportunity to revisit this with an eye toward having us come out of it in celebration."
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"It's a testimony, it's a prayer, it's a rant, it's a rage and it's a hallelujah," says Bebelle.
Swimming Upstream is one night only, 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue. For ticket information go to www.alleytheatre.org or call 713-220-5700. All tickets are $25.