Jewschool.com: Anatomy of an Activist

Originally published on Jewschool.com. A slightly revised version was later published in the anthology Living Jewishly: A Snapshot of a Generation.

It took a long time for me to be comfortable calling myself an activist. Although I have been in positions of leadership of some sort or another ever since the fateful night towards the end of the fifth grade when I forgot about Kadima elections and got voted in as the Religious Education Vice President in absentio (when I found out I sobbed), I’ve always seen a difference between “leadership” and “activism.”

When I look back, I can now trace the origin of my career as an activist to one moment, on Shabbat Shuva of 1997. The fall of 1997 began my sophomore year of college. True to form, I had found my way into several leadership positions on campus: I was director of a musical, co-chair of Hillel’s Shabbat committee, and one of four gabbaim (organizers) of the Conservative minyan.

A year earlier, I had kicked off my time in college by coming out to my parents. I had set a deadline with myself that I wanted to be out of the closet by the time I started college, and since I’m bad with deadlines, I told them as they were getting back into the car after unloading everything I owned into my dorm room. I imagined that once I told my parents, I would be “out” and it would cease to be a big deal in my life. Of course, that’s not how it works, and when a half-hour later I found myself in a room full of 40 other new freshmen, I couldn’t figure out how to share this newly open piece of my identity, so I kept quiet about it.
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Adams House Pool Theater: Revisionist History

Revisionist History premiered April 30, 1998, at the Adams House Pool Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, as part of the ARTS First Theatre Festival. This production was directed by the author and ran five performances. The original cast consisted of Pippa Brashear as Gaby, Janel Moore as Rachel, Michelle Capasso as Sue, and Maya Bourdeau as the professor. 

THE TIME:  The present.

Gaby's bedroom

Gaby’s bedroom

THE PLACE: A dormitory room; a large single.  The back wall is covered with three gigantic windows overlooking the streets of an average college town.  A bed with its head resting against the SR wall cuts the room into upstage and downstage halves.  Upstage of the bed, on the floor, is a half-completed art project, a collage of sorts.  On the SL wall, opposite the bed, is a bookcase and bureau.  The bookcase is being used more as a de facto display case, with picture books open to various pages, knick knacks, and jewelry scattered over the shelves.  These item s are not neatly ordered.  The walls are covered with charcoal drawings of disturbing faces, athletic female bodies (dancers, rowers, runners, etc.), and the occasional landscape.  Interspersed with these are a few photographs of GABY’s family members.  A CD player rests downstage right, on the floor, near enough to the bed so that it can be operated without rising.  A phone sits in a similar position on the floor next to the other side of the bed.

The only entrance to the room is from the audience.  However, actors should be able to enter undetected during blackouts.

THE WOMEN:

GABY:  A young woman in her second try at a freshman year of college.  She is an athlete, running track and rowing crew. She is tall and slim, and she’s always dressed in layers of mismatched, worn out athletic clothes.  Around her neck she always wears a funky modern crucifix-necklace.  While she could easily pass as white, occasionally she chooses to drop subtle hints that her father is black.  She has specific sets of actions and emotions that she uses, depending on with whom she is interacting.  How she acts when she is alone is the mystery left to the actor.

RACHEL:  One of GABY’s best friends at college.  She is also a first year student.  RACHEL is short, sarcastic, and occasionally sexy.  She comes from a relatively rural area, but is anxious to become a city native.  When she gets stressed or upset, she occasionally purges in the dorm bathroom.

SUE:  GABY’s best friend on the crew team, also a freshman.  SUE is a tall, muscular, self-assured young woman.  Although SUE has a very masculine build, her gorgeous hair and winning smile remind her friends that she is a cuddly amazon.  She is romantically involved in a very serious, long distance relationship with Deanna, a high school senior from her hometown.

THE PROFESSOR:  THE PROFESSOR exists in her own time and space, in a tidy office, or perhaps a lecture hall, somewhere in the theatre – on the stage, in one of the boxes, the exact location is not important as long as it does not impose upon GABY’s space.  She is a professor of History.  She is also an occasional observer to the action of the other characters.  Her watching is at times clinical, at times voyeuristic, and at times paranoid.

THE PLAY:  Continue reading