Featuring Kate Lynch, Carly Street, Jordan Pettle, Kristen Thompson. Presented by Cara Pifko, Avia Armour-Ostroff. Mar 3, 8pm. Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst. PWYC. 416-504-9971.

Featuring Ellen-Ray Hennessy, Dinah Watts, Erika Hennebury, Charlotte Gowdy, Erin Thompson. Presented by Maev Beaty, Vanessa Shaver. Mar 3, 8pm. PWYC. Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas W. 416-588-4536.

Featuring Renee Hackett, Heidi Weeks-Brown, Heather Braaten. Mar 3, 8pm. Victory Cafe, 581 Markham St. 416-539-0076

In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, women from opposing states unite to stop a war using their only available leverage: they withhold sex from their husbands. More than 2,400 years later, as the US prepares for a seemingly inevitable war against Iraq, the ancient comedy is inspiration for an unprecedented international display of
theatrical dissent.

On March 3, actors around the world, including five groups in Toronto, will stage readings of Lysistrata to protest the coming war. “When Aristophenes wrote it, the idea of women stopping a war was ludicrous,” says Carly Street, who reads the lead role at the Factory Theatre performance. She sees a wry parallel with the thespian protest. “Women in 500 B.C. had about as much pull as the artists’ community does now.” But in the end both have an effect on the cultural fabric.

“It’s possible to reach people through entertainment.”

That idea has captured the global theatre community, just six weeks after it was hatched by New York actors Kathryn Blume and Sharron Bower. They decided a reading of the play might ease their frustration with the Bush administration’s unyielding push towards war. They established a website, emailed friends, and as of Feb. 25, 766 groups in 43 countries were planning Lysistrata events.

Maev Beaty, an organizer of the Babes Not Bombs event at the Lula Lounge, discovered the project through an email. “I saw the site and freaked out. I loved the project so much that I instantly wanted to find out if someone was doing one in town and make sure that one happened… we started organizing and it’s become this incredible thing. This incredible anti-war horse.”

Babes Not Bombs’ reading of the play will be followed by presentations from “peace-loving” groups such as Physicians for Global Survival and Canadian Voice of Women for Peace.

Beaty is awed by the global scope of the project, “It’s pretty fuckin’ heavy,” she says. “The fact that there are so many companies doing this around the world, that there are women doing this in their living rooms in Iraq and Palestine. People are holding readings in some of the most voice-quelling places. I feel like it’s our duty over here where we’re free to add to the great volume.”

Despite the gravity of the global effort and war’s mood-killing tendencies as a subject of conversation, Beaty says the nature of the play will ensure the events are fun. “It’s so beautiful to me that [the Lysistrata project] is using this play that was written more than 2,000 years ago,” she says. “It’s hilarious and sexy and bawdy, and these are the things that we’re trying to preserve and that we can’t preserve if we blow each other up.” Cara Pifko, an organizer of the Factory event, promises laughter and “a good spread of food and drink.” She says people will leave in a good mood.

Proceeds from both the Lula Lounge and Factory Theatre events will go to Physicians for Global Survival, an Ottawa-based anti-war group working to abolish nuclear weapons. As well as funds, Street hopes the project will raise the volume of public discourse about the looming war. “The thing that scares me most right now is silence.”

Originally published in Eye Weekly on February 27, 2003.