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Commentary by Jan Maher

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Commentary by Jan Maher
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Joined: 31 Dec 1969
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Why Most Dangerous Women Keeps Going and Keeps Us Going

In January of 1990 Sylvia Lundt, a long-time member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in Seattle, asked Nikki Nojima Louis to put together “a little something” to celebrate WILPF’s upcoming 75th Anniversary. Nikki invited me to work with her on the project. Nine months later, with the help of many others, including our first music director Joan Szymko, Most Dangerous Women was born. It was planned as a single-performance benefit, but that was not to be. The enthusiasm generated by that performance led to another in Bryn Mawr, PA, then another in Athens, WV, and so on through the years. At home in Seattle, and across the country, each performance begat another, and so we now find ourselves in the 17th year of Most Dangerous Women.

Researching the first production in 1990 was both inspiring and unsettling. When you review headlines through the decades, you see patterns emerging. Before major wars, there are escalating threats, insults, and incursions as nations posture, position, prepare for war. In September 1990 those same sorts of headlines were again appearing, and by the second performance of Most Dangerous Women in June 1991, we were looking back on what some now call The First Gulf War.

The tension between that which inspires and that which threatens despair continues. Through the news of war and violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Israel, Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Rwanda, and countless smaller, less publicized conflicts, we are sustained by bursts of hope, of what Emily Greene Balch – a founder of WILPF – called “evidence of sheer human goodness.” After 28 years in prison, Nelson Mandela is freed and becomes the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Voices of resistance cannot be silenced: Aung San Suu Kyi smuggles a tape from Burma where she is under house arrest to a massive gathering of women from around the world that meets in China. In the face of unspeakable sorrow, families of 911 victims form Peaceful Tomorrows, devoting themselves to working for a world that prefers compassion to vengeance. The Internet makes a global village of us all, astonishes pundits by turning “conventional wisdom” on its ear. Upwards of 50,000 demonstrators, largely organized online, converge on Seattle to protest the WTO. As grief-stricken mothers, sisters, daughters and friends turned their energies to founding WILP in an effort to put an end to war at the beginning of the 20th century, Cindy Sheehan transforms her grief over her son's death into a campaign that revitalizes the anti-war movement in the 21st century.

The poet Carl Sandburg, in his great poem The People Yes, described it: “In the darkness with a great bundle of grief the people march.”

There may never be an end to the story of struggle for peace and justice on planet Earth, but as long as the struggle continues there is hope. Hope is a song, and we are, in Holly Near’s wonderful words comprising the finale of Most Dangerous Women, “singing for our lives.”

The play Most Dangerous Women is the heart of the larger work Most Dangerous Women: Bringing History to Life through Readers' Theater. For many years, audience members would ask me how they could get a copy of the script to use in their classroom or community. The task of collecting scores of permissions from dozens of rights holders for a print version of the play was an arduous one, and took several years. Happily, that task was completed in early 2006, so now the script, along with contextualizing chapters on how to work with the play in various settings, how to learn more about the women in the play and peace organizations in general, and how to create other original readers' theater plays to educate and inspire, is finally available. The next scheduled production will bring a new generation of Dangerous Women to the stage, as 7th and 8th graders from Seattle Girls' School join the singing duo Rebel Voices to present a one-act version of the play on March 14 at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

Jan Maher
March 2007
Wed Mar 07, 2007 3:51 pm View user's profile Send private message
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