Oh, What a Lovely War Protest!
How the Lysistrata Project became a global phenomenon, from one woman who lived it
Last year, Kathryn Blume made theatre history. With the Lysistrata Project, she and her co-founder, former Austinite Sharron Bower, launched the largest theatre event ever: 1,029 simultaneous readings of the anti-war comedy Lysistrata in 59 countries and all 50 states. The project gave thousands an outlet for protesting the Bush administration's call for war with Iraq and raised thousands of dollars for human-rights organizations worldwide. But when it was over, Blume was still a struggling actress, and the U.S. went to war. So what did she do? The answer lies in The Accidental Activist, a solo show that Blume created from her experiences and is bringing to Austin this week. She spoke with the Chronicle about her brush with history.
Austin Chronicle: What surprised you the most about the project?
Kathryn Blume: The fact that it took on a life of its own. We knew it was a good idea, but we didn't realize we tapped such an enormous vein of discontent, fear, frustration over people's voices not being heard. The administration had done such a good job of conflating Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein that people kept saying to us, "Have you forgotten September 11th?" There was this idea that it was unpatriotic not to support the idea of a war in Iraq. So a lot of people felt that there wasn't any room for them to speak out. Lysistrata Project provided an enormous megaphone for that. And I had no idea how many people needed that so badly.
AC: At what point did you feel a change in yourself?
KB: It didn't happen right away. I had some pretty severe postpartum depression. It felt like after it was over I was right back to where I'd been in December. We hadn't stopped the war. I hadn't improved my own life or career at all. And I had no idea what to do next. Certainly a great sense of accomplishment, but on a personal level, I was adrift. But I heard about this performance opportunity and decided to revisit a one-woman show that I had written a couple of years before, and that became The Accidental Activist. I felt I had just had this amazing thing happen, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity to tell the story and not even the story of the project per se, but the story of my ability not only to activate these hundreds of thousands of people but to activate myself. And to take responsibility for my own life, which is ultimately what I feel the piece is about.
AC: Can you describe the journey of this past year?
KB: It's been a journey of expanding my horizons. My life pursuing a theatre career in New York had gotten a bit myopic. When you're there, it's easy to feel like New York is the center of the universe, and nothing else exists outside it. To be able to travel around the country and meet really fantastic people artists, activists of all stripes, educators in the trenches, doing the work every day in their own communities, is both inspiring and humbling, and it provides tremendous perspective.
I just got an e-mail from a Hungarian teenager who was in a contest where people gave speeches, and her speech was about Lysistrata Project, and she won the silver medal. We still hear from people who just found out about us and say, "Oh my God, we're doing a reading! Count us in!" There are a number of books that have come out that mention it. It continues to have an incredibly visceral resonance with people.
AC: And now with the Web, nothing ever dies.
KB: I tell you, I give such great Google now.
The Accidental Activist runs April 22-24, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm, at the Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd. For more information, call 478-LAVA.