Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Planet Connections Interview - Yvette Heyliger of "White House Wives: Operation Lysistrata!"

By Byrne Harrison

Name: Yvette Heyliger
Play: White House Wives: Operation Lysistrata!
Relationship to production: Writer/Director
Website: Planet Connections

How did you first get involved in theatre?

My mother took my sisters and me to the theatre, museums, and to the ballet as children. A performing arts high school opened up in Washington, DC and the three of us auditioned. I went into the theatre department.

Who are your biggest influences?

Athol Fugard for his play Master Harold and the Boys (I saw it on Broadway with Danny Glover and Zakes Mokai) and Mahatma Ghandi as portrayed in the movie, Ghandi, starring Ben Kingsley. These were early artistic influences.

What is your show about?

White House Wives: Operation Lysistrata! is an anti-war comedy inspired by Aristophanes' Lysistrata. This "what if..." play is set in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House and stars the wives of the architects of the impending war in Iraq (yes, that's Laura Bush, Lynne Cheney, Alma Powell, Cherie Blair and friends!). It takes place in 2002 before Congress votes on Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution. White House: Operation Lysistrata! captures Aristophanes' strong anti-war message laced in the bawdy sexual humor so enjoyed by ancient, as well as present day audiences.

Tag Line: In this anti-war comedy, First Lady Laura Bush tries to enlist wives of the architects of the impending war in Iraq in a preemptive sex strike, but will she succeed?

What inspired you to write it?

Mother’s Day is the most commercially successful holiday in the United States. But in 1870 Julia Ward Howe had a much more noble intention. Moved by the blood bath that was the Civil War, she proposed, a "Mother’s Day of Peace," and wrote a proclamation for it which appears in my play. This Mother's Day Proclamation calls women to action against war and heralds Howe’s feminist belief that "women, as bearers of future generations, have the responsibility to shape their societies at the political level.” Her proclamation became my muse. I decided I wanted to write a play about the war in Iraq, but didn’t know what shape the story should take or how I should approach it. Luckily, I had been selected for a residency at women’s writers’ colony in Washington State, Hedgebrook. When the time came I boarded the plane, but with no idea how I would tackle the subject matter (of which I knew little to nothing!) during the residency. I began to read Aristophanes’ Lysistrata on the plane and it came to me that I should adapt the play for modern audiences. Instead of the war between Sparta and Athens, it would be the war against terrorism with First Lady Laura Bush as my “Lysistrata” and Second Lady Lynne Cheney as my “Kalonike.” White House Wives: Operation Lysistrata! was conceived in flight!

Why was it important to you to be part of an eco-friendly theatre festival?

I write plays that are socially conscious, plays that educate, entertain and serve humanity. When I learned about the “Festivity” it felt like a good fit for me not just as a playwright but also for my company Twinbiz, especially when I learned that producer, Glory Kadigan, founded the festival as a way to combine her background in social work with her love of theatre into this one “planet connecting” event. Another draw was that “green” theatre is a fairly new concept for Twinbiz and my twin sister and partner Yvonne Farrow and I, felt we could learn something new as producers bringing greener projects to the stage. For example, we have a Greek phallus being made for our show out of recyclable materials.

Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity. What charity has your production chosen and why?

I have been a pen-pal to a soldier in Afghanistan since January of this year through the AdoptaPlatoon Soldier Support Effort®, a volunteer based nonprofit 501C-3 dedicated to serving deployed United States Service Men and Women. When I heard that part of the Festivity’s mission is that each show take on a charity, I decided to seize the opportunity to deepen my commitment to AdoptaPlatoon by enlisting in their TO IRAQ WITH LOVE campaign. Audience members can participate by bringing selected care package items, as well troop mail—cards and letters from home to encourage and uplift our troops, ensuring that they are not forgotten by a grateful Nation. For a complete list of care package items to bring to the theatre drop-off box, you can visit our show page at Planet Connections.

What's next for you after Planet Connections?

Yvonne and I have been selected to receive the inaugural National Black Theatre Festival Emerging Producer Award in North Carolina in August 2011. We are proud to be honored for our producing work at this prestigious festival which showcases the best of Black Theatre from around the nation.

And finally, if you could get any person, living or dead, to see this show who would you choose and why?

I wrote a play entitled Hillary and Monica: The Winter of Her Discontent which, as you may guess from the title is another “what if…” play starring another (former) First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and the infamous intern, Monica Lewinsky. The play imagines a meeting between the two in the China Room of the White House before the scandal broke, however, make no mistake; the play is bigger than the Clinton scandal which serves only us as a jumping off point for larger issues regarding women, politics, and the evolution of the role of the First Lady in American History. Throughout the development of the play, I invited both Hillary and Monica to see the show. I never received a response to my invitations—although one time a bunch of “suits” showed up to see a very early draft the play that was taking place in a theatre festival on the Lower East Side. The men clearly were not theatre-goers. They seemed very out of place, never once cracking a smile. In fact, they seemed very disapproving and unapproachable, giving me sideways glances in the lobby. I wondered whose camp these sore-thumbs were from, Hillary’s or Monica’s? I did continue with invitations when opportunities arose, especially to Hillary, as I thought she would be proud of the strong women’s piece that the play was becoming. Inspired by the then president-elect Barak Obama’s suggestion to the American people, in 2008 Twinbiz donated a portion of it’s ticket sales to help pay down Hillary’s campaign debt.

The shorter answer to your questions is that with my new play, I would hope that Laura Bush, Lynne Cheney, Alma Powell, Joyce Rumsfeld, Stephanie Tenet, Condoleeza Rice and Cherie Blair (none of whom will recognize themselves in my show!) would all buy a ticket to see my play and come with husbands in tow! Women in the political arena have to walk a tight rope between toughness and humanity that men do not and it can be a difficult balancing act, but in this “what if…” play humanity wins. I feel that somewhere, Julia Ward Howe is smiling.

White House Wives: Operation Lysistrata!
Tuesday, June 07 at 8:15PM
Thursday, June 09 at 6:30PM
Friday, June 10 at 4:30PM
Sunday, June 12 at 1:30PM
Monday, June 13 at 4:00PM
Thursday, June 16 at 6:00PM
Saturday, June 18 at 6:10PM

The Robert Moss Theatre
440 Lafayette Street


Anonymous said...

CONGRATULATION Yvette....Continue to create & produce. Can't wait to see this play, you have an awesome cast. Be Blessed....Johnnie Mae.....

suzanne thornton said...

Congratulations to all of you....Yvette...How exciting! Yvonne...You have always been a star and Professor Farrow..Piano Man....and just my favorite Larry...The best! Love to you all...Suzanne