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By Patti Smith
There were three reasons why I created HERsay: I wanted more judgment-free performance opportunities for people; I loathe hearing people say women aren’t funny; and women’s voices need to be heard.
I’ve done public speaking my entire adult life, and it is never not scary. But stories need to be told and there are never enough places for public telling. Our local storytellers’ guild does an outstanding job of providing safe spaces for storytelling, and opportunities arise now and again, but I wanted something for all types of artists — visual artists, musicians, poets, actors, improvisers. There must be a way, I thought.
Too many times in life, I have heard it said that women aren’t funny. I do not think that society would tolerate anyone saying that any other group is inherently not funny; but when it’s women? Eh, people either agree or ignore it. I’m funny, I thought. My friends are funny. There must be a way.
Women are marginalized, interrupted, ignored, unheard. We have stories to tell, songs to sing, information to share. There must be a way.
The plan came together in three stages: the idea, the venue, the acts.
Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” In the summer of 2016, I realized that this applied to women’s performance art — we must do it ourselves.
I knew Tori Tomalia through Twitter. When I joined the mug club for Pointless Brewery & Theatre, I got this t-shirt that I wore constantly. And whenever I wore it, at least one person would ask me what Pointless was or if I worked there. I started to share these adventures on Twitter, and Tori and I got a friendly banter going.
When the idea for HERsay started to formulate, I knew we’d need a venue. The first person I contacted was Tori. I think my original email said something like, “You don’t really know me, but can I use your theater to stage a show?”
I didn’t expect the enthusiastic reply that I got. Not only did Tori welcome the idea, but she jumped on board to help plan it. We set a date: November 10, 2016, two days after the presidential election.
I put up a post on Facebook, asking friends to recommend women artists of all types. To my surprise, my post got shared and commented on, and suddenly I had total strangers telling me that they wanted to volunteer to be in the show. Comedians, visual artists, musicians, performance artists, sketch artists — all women with something to say!
We had a show!
Our sold-out first show took place two nights after the 2016 presidential election. Needless to say, I had to rewrite my entire opening bit. I also wondered if the show even made sense at that time, if we should postpone it. I mentioned this to my friend and professional photographer, Anne Savage. About ten minutes before the show began, she found me backstage and said, “Not only should this show go on, it needs to go on. We need this.”
Her words proved to be true. For the next three hours, over a dozen women shared stories, told jokes, displayed art, made us laugh and cry. From ticket sales and from literally passing a hat, we made over $700 to donate to Planned Parenthood.
One of our performers, Callie McKee, offered to help with future shows, and together we put together HERsay II. This show also sold out and raised close to $800 for Planned Parenthood. HERsay III played to a sold-out house, introduced new women to the stage, and raised money for Ozone House. HERsay IV packed Pointless Brewery & Theatre on a Wednesday in late August — a feat I never would have dreamed of when we started this!
One of the wonderful and unintended side effects of HERsay is the connections made between women. Sarah saw Jeannie sing a song and decided to take voice lessons from her voice teacher. Halla saw Jeannie sing a song and decided to do a duet with her. Someone saw our female improv group perform and decided to take improv classes at Pointless. A storyteller was inspired to work on her own showcase of stories. We have made friends and become sisters.
The Idea Remains the Same
HERsay exists to get women on stage. One of the goals is to have first-time performers at every show — telling their story, playing their music, sharing their jokes. Performers have a supportive, nonjudgmental audience and the freedom to try new things.
Ultimately, we’d love to see this event grow to new cities, new women. Callie and I have talked about HERsee (visual art), HERstory (storytelling with an emphasis on women’s history), outdoor events, workshops — the sky’s the limit. There is a place on the stage for all women. Please join us!