Governors State Artists Celebrate Women's History Month with Storytelling
March is Women’s History Month and Governors State University (GSU) artists are celebrating the contributions and impact of the female gender - particularly in the area of storytelling – on the iconic Center for Performing Arts (CPA) Stage.
"Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories” is the 2023 theme of Women’s History Month, recognizing "women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, news, and social media,’’ according to the National Women's History Alliance.
The GSU Newsroom talked with four artists who tell or help promote rich and diverse stories at the CPA and elsewhere. Jane Cox, Sylvia Ewing, Megan Lindsay, and Svetlana “Lana” Rogachevskaya each offered unique perspectives on the role women play in GSU’s robust storytelling to promote thought, self-expression, and most of all action.
Writer/Director Jane Cox, who also serves as Cultural Marketing Director for the CPA, cast a Black woman in the title role of a GSU Theatre and Performance Studies’ (TAPS) upcoming production. In Othello, a Shakespearean tragedy, she re-tells the story of lethal passion between lovers through a lens of race and gender.
In Cox’s interpretation, Othello is a Black Muslim with epilepsy who has achieved success and the military rank of general, much to the chagrin of Iago, her comrade. In an act of jealousy Iago, convinces Othello that her wife, Desdemona, is unfaithful.
Cox says themes of jealousy and insecurity are as present in this 2023 adaption as they were in the original 17th century story and play out in ways the audience will certainly recognize.
“By framing Desdemona as a young, white, bisexual woman and Othello as a Black lesbian, Iago has additional weapons of bi-phobic rhetoric and internalized homophobia added to his arsenal; further preying on Othello’s insecurities and doubts,’’ she said.
It is essential that women tell stories of authenticity and kindness, said Master Storyteller and Strategist Sylvia Ewing, also member of the Board of Advisors for the Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University.
“I enjoy high-concept events using a specific theme to bring people together,’’ said Ewing, who often appears on PBS as a pledge host, producer, poet, and nonprofit executive. Ewing produced and hosted “Lift Every Voice Chicago, a Celebration of 250 Years of African American Poetry and Song” for the Chicago Public Library; her poetry has appeared in Newcity Magazine and the Chicago Reader.
Before she joined the Advisory Board, Ewing hosted and produced the “Blues Hip Hop Collective” with Billy Branch, poet Jose Olivarez and her son Matthew at the GSU CPA.
Last fall, Ewing worked with Director JR Sullivan and musician Shawn Wallace on “Gardens of Light and Shadow” with Illinois Humanities and the Poetry Foundation, combining her COVID-era poetry with Wallace’s music.
Ewing called poetry a “beautiful platform” but brings her complete portfolio and interests in all communication channels to her work.
“I also love collaborating on conversations on stage, such as “Let's Talk with Sylvia Ewing,” at Steppenwolf or leading community conversations for partners.” One of her recent signature projects is “Climate Changemaker” podcasts for the nonprofit Elevate to highlighting artists addressing the climate crisis in their work.
Authenticity is the thread that runs through Ewing’s work.
"You will attract like-minded people and feel better about yourself when you can be yourself," says Ewing, who has been inducted into the HistoryMakers African American archives for her award-winning radio and television journalism and received the 2020 Illinois Humanities Award which she shares with daughter sociologist, poet and Marvel writer Eve L. Ewing.
For Megan Lindsay, Artistic Director of the GSU Dance Company, dance is an empowering and liberating way to tell stories.
“Dance provides the ability to express our shared humanity in ways that other arts cannot. Watching dance engages most of the senses. Audience members have an opportunity to witness a dance that may provoke a visceral, immediate, and often powerful experience felt in the body. The experience involves feeling the story through one’s own body responses, seeing the movement- the visual component- and hearing the music or sound. A dance can captivate and engage you- it can move you,’’ she said.
Engaging audiences to take action of the issues of the day is what inspires Lana Rogachevskaya, who has reigned as CPA Executive Director for a decade. Under her leadership the CPA has become a cultural destination and an important voice for issues that center on race, gender and equity across the region.
As she closes out her last season at GSU, Rogachevskaya said she is proudest of, among other campaigns, the pandemic-forced pivot to celebrate the 25th Anniversary season.
COVID shut down all live performances and inspired a virtual season launched with a 95-minute virtual party and included a full line up of radio-plays, digitally curated newsletters, discussions, a two-week virtual camp, The Take Five Fest, academic, arts-in-educational, and music offerings. Her team also produced the award winning Sweet Home Chicago Blues: 50 Years of Alligator Records. Working with collaborative spirit and empathy, CPA staff, board, and the artistic community brought programs that connected and inspired.
Rogachevskaya said she hopes her successors will continue the work she’s begun with series such as Creating Compassionate Communities Series, launched in 2019 to focus on works that promote empathy, gender expression and social justice.
“My dream is that the seeds of social justice and connection planted here will be watered and continue to blossom into expanded partnerships across the globe.”