Monday, September 3, 2018

And so it begins again...

September 1, 2018

The end of summer means fall is just around the corner and I am back on the road! This year I will kick off my 2018 ART OF ACTIVISM fall tour with a stop at the Spencertown Festival of Books. 
Donna Kaz at Spencertown Festival of Books
Spencertown Festival of Books 

Spencertown Festival of Books has been held every year since 2006 at the Spencertown Academy Arts Center.  A sleepy, verdant hamlet located in Columbia County, NY, Spencertown has a Country Store stocked with homemade pastries and jams and the best BLT I’ve tasted north of Manhattan. There is not much else to do in Spencertown except to experience the Academy – a cultural and community center housed in a landmark 1847 Greek Revival schoolhouse. Each year the Academy hosts a line up of events, one of the most popular being their festival of books – a curated used book sale with some of the best looking used books around. At this year’s festival I slipped a collection of short stories by Rick Bass under my arm and headed for the cashier while my husband, Richard, grabbed up novels by Helen Simonson and Anthony Trollope and followed me. 

Me and "UN/MASKED" 
But used books are not the only thing Spencertown Festival of Books offers. Every day the festival stage features readings from writers of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. They even host a young writers contest and I was so happy I arrived early to catch Claudia Maurino read her excellent and moving essay, “Loss,” as the nonfiction prize winner. Read it here.

Saturday, September 1st was my day as a featured author and I was paired with Linda Dahl, the author of the recently published “Fight Doctor.”  Now at first I thought my memoir about surviving domestic violence would not be a good fit for a memoir about boxing. But we were billed as “two formidables” and took our cues from each other, reading about struggles with finding our place as women in the world. 
It was a beautiful, sunny and, thankfully, not very humid day as a solid crowd gathered to hear us read. I so appreciated the nods of recognition from the local crowd as I read my story of being a masked avenger taking on sexism in the arts. As I began to talk about sexual abuse and assault, my thoughts suddenly fixated on my good friend Charles Harper, who I used to visit this area with back in the 80’s.  I write about Charles in “UN/MASKED” and felt him with me during the hard parts of my story. 

Of course my reading would not be complete without a banana toss and a Guerrilla Girl On Tour poster give-away. These have become my signature moves and make my readings more like parties with food and party favors. 

So thank you, Spencertown Festival of Books, for a memorable Labor Day Weekend 2018 and a great kick off of my fall tour. I could not leave without a last look through the great selection of books on sale and a slice of my friend Magadini’s blueberry pie. 

Lee Magadini
See you on the road!  For a complete list of tour stops go here

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Maplewood South Orange Book Festival

June 9, 2018

Maplewood Book Festival 

June in New Jersey!  On June 9th I boarded an Amtrak Train at Penn Station and headed to the Maplewood South Orange Book Festival to participate in a #MeToo panel, reading and book signing of UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour.

With author Helen Wan 

Local festival organizer, Becky Kraemer, had added the panel to the new book festival because she felt it was important to talk about harassment and abuse in the work place and books that shed light on this issue.  She invited me, along with author Helen Wan, (The Partner Track) to share our journeys from victims to activists.  The panel was moderated by Fordham professor, Anne Fernald. 

My train was an hour late but I made it just in time to sneak downstairs to the reading room at WORDS bookstore in Maplewood.  A nice crowd has assembled, including an old friend of the Guerrilla Girls, Michelle Hartung!

With Michelle Hartung 

Anne led us all through an open and thoughtful conversation about our journeys and how we came to use the truth of our stories for change. The audience asked stimulating questions and many provided stories of their own.

It always feels like this is a conversation that should not end. There needs to be a continual dialogue about how to end violence against women. #Timesup and #MeToo are not movements that have faded. They are important and necessary vehicles for women to speak out and support each other. There is momentum in harnessing the power of truth

Thank you Becky, , Anne, Helen and Maplewood for the memorable afternoon. 

Go Bananas!

Aphra Behn 

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Power of the Push!

Faculty of Wilkes and Kings, PA 
Poster making workshop 
 But first, a classroom full of students and faculty assembled to try their hands at making protest posters during a 3 hour workshop.
You are always perfect - final poster 

Feminist Artists in Workshop 
The Wilkes workshop (which was comprised of feminists from both Wilkes and Kings College in Wilkes-Barre) was one of the most focused I led. Perhaps it is the times we live in, but all participants were eager to hunker down and collaborate on some kick ass posters and sticker campaigns. Their final presentations were inspiring!

A packed house was the perfect ending to the “Art of Activism 2018” spring section of the tour.  Old friends, Karen Anselm of Bloom u and Bob Tevis of NYC Saloon days stopped by. New friends’ smiling faces bloomed from the audience and kept my spirits high all throughout the talk. At the end I sold books to some seasoned and brand new fans. It is always an honor to meet the readers of the memoir that took 4 years to write. I do not regret unmasking for a New York minute.

With Karen Anslem and Bob Tevis 
PUSH/PUSHBACK, 9 steps to make a difference with activism and art (because the world’s gone bananas) now settles down for a summer simmer while I travel to the Marble House Project for a 3 week residency in June to turn the talk into a book.

Fall tour dates are filling up, however.  If you are interested in bringing PUSH/PUSHBACK to your town sign up for the Guerrilla Girls On Tour newsletter here or check out our latest emailblast.

See you in September!

Much love and gratitude,

Aphra Behn

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A return to two towns…Brockport and Scranton

February into March 2018

It is homecoming month for me, Aphra Behn, Guerrilla Girl On Tour and on my way back to two places which have been very important to me – so important that I write about them both in my memoir UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour.

Back to Brockport! 
On February 20th I returned to my alma mater – SUNY Brockport where I received my undergraduate degree in theatre. I wrote extensively about my college days in my book - mostly about the fact that I was sexually assaulted by a professor in the theatre department.

With Dr. Panning and Dr. LaSavoy 

I was a bit nervous about my return the Brockport so I contacted the coordinator of Brockport’s Writers Forum, Dr. Anne Panning, to discuss with her how I could maximize my impact on campus. I should not have been worried for Anne Panning completely understood how important it might be for me to talk about sexual assault to the current student body on the very grounds where it happened. She was completely with me when I told her this was an important moment for me and talked about how I might make the most of my return to Brockport. We decided to take advantage of time and she scheduled a full two days for me to mingle and talk with as many students and faculty as time would allow. 

Women's and Gender Studies Rock Star Students at SUNY BROCKPORT 
I flew into Rochester and rented a car.  So many times I had taken the road to Brockport but since it had been about 35 years since I had been to Brockport I found myself driving on new roads and unfamiliar routes. No wonder I made a stop at the Brockport Diner as soon as I found it in the same spot I left it.  My first waitressing job was at the Diner – the graveyard shift from midnight to 7AM. 
Back at the Brockport Diner

SUNY Brockport’s campus is twice the size it once was but the main road through campus was the same. It was raining when I parked illegally in the faculty parking lot at the Fine Arts Building and dashed inside for a quick look at the theatre department. It was deserted – none of the bustle and noise of the days when the department boasted 200 majors. I found the main stage open – a half painted set in the middle of the stage.  A floodgate of memoires opened and washed over me. Everything was eerily familiar. I knew my next stop would be the creepy predator professor’s old office. I had to laugh when I found it was now a janitors closet.  Revenge is sweet.

Creepy Professor B's former office. 
After that all apprehensions melted away. My return to Brockport turned into one big love fest.

Lucky me - I got to speak to students at a Women’s and Gender Studies class (with Dr. Barb LeSavoy), a theatre class (with P. Gibson Ralph and Dr. Davida Bloom). The smiling face of Dr. Oh-Kon Cho appeared – he came to Brockport just as I was graduating and gave me a very warm welcome back. We reminisced about the days I was a student and there were 17 full time theatre faculty on staff.

With Dr. Oh-Kon Cho
Interviewed by Barb and Anne for Writers Forum Brockport

During my visit I was interviewed by Dr. Panning and Dr. LeSavoy for the Writers Forum archives which date back to 1968 and include interviews with major authors including (Guerrilla Girl) Anne Sexton. I had lunch and got to chat with some amazing Women’s Studies students. I fielded smart, funny questions from an English creative writing class (who had all ready my book). And I had the chance to make a trip back to the Lift Bridge Bookstore – the site of my feminist awakening. (See UN/MASKED and the story of finding a copy of “Our Bodies Ourselves” there circa 1974.)  Of course it was kismet that they had a used copy of Our Bodies Ourselves which I snapped up for a giveaway at my reading that night.

With the winner of "Our Bodies, Ourselves"
What can I say about the Brockport audience that won’t sound mushy except to report that they sure knew how to welcome me home. As I walked onto the stage they held hand made gorilla masks to their faces and laughed. What a welcome. Even the awesome Brockport President, Dr. Heidi Macpherson, was there. I signed many books and left with my heart full of a tremendous feeling of gratitude at how far my journey has come.  Thank you, Brockport.
Decorated Gorilla Masks 
The crowd at Brocport 
Onwards to kick off Women’s History Month at another town full of memories - Scranton Pa – the city which hosted the world premiere of my play, JOAN, in 1999 (which won a Jason Miller Prize from the Scranton Times for best production).  In Scranton, I was artistic director of the now defunct TNT theatre for two years.

At U of Scranton 
I am in Scranton at the invitation of the University of Scranton (and Dr. Jamie Trnka) which is the home of many super savvy feminist students. 17 of them participated in my poster making workshop the evening I arrived, creating 4 provocative posters (which now grace the walls of the women’s center).

U of Scranton Workshop Artists! 

The following evening I presented “PUSH/PUSHBACK, 9 steps to make a difference withart and activism” that night as part of U of Scranton’s Schemel Forum. A mix of students and Scrantonites filled the audience, mostly the back rows.  One audience member explained it this way, “We’re catholic. We like to sit in the back!”

The U of Scranton Audience 
With Peggy Lee of local Chanel 16
The local news showed up and so did the campus paper.  While the Jesuits were a more subdued crowd then Brockport they nonetheless offered crisp attention, spurts of laughter and many nods of support for the feminist issues I raised. And of course they had some of the smartest questions I have ever received during the ending Q and A.

U of Scranton POSTER by Workshop Participants 
It was pouring rain as I left both Brockport and Scranton.  But my spirits were as high as they have ever been. As I drive home from Scranton, I recall the strong poster on racism a group of students created during the poster workshop - expressions of pain rain down on women of color. I have shared some of my own pain as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence and it feels right. I have shared some of the tactics of the Girls with the hopes that that others may now utilize them to push against our predator president and patriarchy. These past few days remind me how lucky and grateful I am to have had the opportunity to go back and meet new people from the places where I have so much herstory.

With much love,

Full Circle - Back at the Lift Bridge Book Store where a Book inspired me to be a feminist. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"IF YOU CAN STAND THE HEAT" returns to New Jersey

GuerrillaGirls On Tour performed "If You Can Stand the Heat: The History of Womenand Food" at Monmouth University on Monday, February 5, 2018. Here are reactions from Ada Lovelace, Anne Sexton and Audre Lorde.

Guerrilla Girls On Tour: Audre, Ada and Anne 
February 2018

Dear Diary,

It was almost like a dream to be honest. I found myself exhausted on our way up to the university so I slept in the car and missed the majority of the trip to the school. However, when I finally woke up and took the time to look around I felt like we were in “The Notebook”. The wind was strong, like it was welcoming us into it and the grass was incredibly green and there were geese roaming on the front lawn! This beautiful sight set the tone for the rest of the day for me. 

We were told we would be performing for students and I immediately got nervous. What if they were being forced to come see us? What if they are "too cool" to participate in the audience participation!?! WHAT IF THEY ARE ON THEIR PHONESTHE WHOLE TIME!!! I started to panic a bit and had to decide whether or not to share my worries with my fellow Guerrilla Girls On Tour. Just when I was about to share, Anne turned to me excited. She said she loved performing for younger people because she felt like it was more of a challenge. She liked to see the reluctance fall from their face as we made sure they were enjoying themselves. My Goddess, she might be a genius. She was absolutely right. I think Ada might have been having similar thoughts as I was because we both perked up after Anne shared her view on the matter. The three of us silently agreed to MAKE these children love us no matter what it took. 

Turns out it didn't take much! The audience was dispersed pretty far back in the theatre which I thought made it all the more fun! We really got to yell at them and for them to join us with full energy and excitement. We even managed to get two audience members to come up on stage to help knead bread with Julia Child - a young man named Michael was just so excited he came running right on stage even though one young woman had already volunteered! I can say with certainty that performing at Monmouth University (especially portraying the magnificent Edna Lewis) is in my top 5 favorite performances. The crew was incredibly gentle and kind; the audience was engaged; we were snacking on DELICIOUS food; and our view was to die for. I hope to be invited back soon, if only to catch another glimpse of their gorgeous geese greeting us in the morning. 

Until next time, 

Laura Keene, our fearless SM! 
Dearest Diary,

Today I went to Monmouth university. My first impressions were: Wow, this is the middle of nowhere. (Which was nice for this city gorilla to be able to get out and stretch her legs in some fresh air). Also, there were geese. Gaggles and gaggles of them! I wanted to get out of the van and play but Anne Sexton said that was probably not the best idea. Oh well, one day I shall live my dream of frolicking with the wild life!

We set up our show in a timely manner. Until our equipment restarted and we had to redo every last sound cue over again in record time. We hold the Guerrilla World Record in theatre tech time. GO US! Everyone there was so nice, and very helpful! Someone had the bright idea to use the cold outside as a place to store the cool whip. Genius. Pure Genius.

The students at Monmouth were very quiet and they liked to sit way in the back! I was worried that they aren’t getting enough to eat because their food diaries (forms they all filled out of what they ate and drank that day) were like “Chocolate, coffee, water.” That’s it! It hurt my heart. FEED YOURSELVES MONMOUTH!!!!!! I had TWO volunteers for my bread kneading demonstration! One of them just popped right up on stage! Delightful! MFK Fisher’s dough was extra sticky so Anne Sexton had clumps of dough falling off her hands all through the show. Of course, we had a good laugh about it later (over dinner, naturally).

T’was another fond GGOT adventure! Now on to THE NEXT!

Peaches and Cream,
Ada Lovelace

Rehearsing at Monmouth

Dearest Diary,

Hey, hey, whaddya say?  Monmouth University, you’re OK!  On Monday, the other GGOTs and myself took off to Long Branch, NJ.  We crossed the NJ state line on a mission to teach some young adults the history of women and food.  (And fling some bread dough along the way.) The staff on campus and in the Pollack theatre were such dolls - I thoroughly enjoyed getting the show teched and wondering what the delightful stage manager's initials "MJ" stood for.  (I later decided it must be Magic Journeyman).

There is an abundance of audience participation in our show, and when all the students wrote down everything they had eaten that day, it was quite shocking. You couldn't even form a haiku with such a limited list.  Coffee and water are NOT calories, people!  We must remember to nourish our bodies as well as our minds, dear ones.  

Speaking of quite shocking - a high point in the show for me was making bread with the saucy Julia Child. My dough was a utter sticky mess, and it was stuck between my fingers and under my fingernails as I flung it about with wild abandon. If you haven't tried throwing dough around, I highly recommend it as a stress relieving technique.

All in all, the Monmouth Hawks and Hawkettes were a splendid audience. Throughout history, women of every age and ethnic background have helped shape history through food - be it the civil rights movement, women's suffrage (my character MFK Fisher had a struggle to even dine alone in a nice restaurant as a woman in the 1930's, image that!) and chefs and food personalities such as Julia Child that had to cut into the fabric of the norm to make a name for themselves in the male-dominated chef biz.  I hope that we inspired the young women and men from Monmouth University to host a food drive or get cookin' with some activism of their own!  Anything is possible!

Thank you again, Monmouth.  See you soon.


Anne Sexton