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Goethe Institut Mainstage, 812 7th St. NW
Tuesday July 13, 8 p.m. Saturday July 17, 1 p.m. Saturday July 24, 2 p.m.
They say: A 1950’s I Love Lucy-era housewife who morphed into a national ERA activist. Like many women during the 1970’s she tried to make a difference. Along the way she found herself.”
Sophia’s Take: Ellouise Schoettler takes the stage wearing mostly white. The theatrical set-up for ‘Pushing Boundaries’ is as simple as they come: one woman with a microphone speaking for an hour about her journey from wet-behind-the-ears North Carolina girl to Equal Rights Amendment Campaign Director. So, this single artistic choice is significant. With it, Schoettler is connecting herself and this performance to the women who marched on the mall in Washington in 1978 to demand an extension of the ERA ratification deadline. The ’78 marchers wore white to connect themselves to the women who had marched for suffrage decades before.
Schoettler’s storytelling of today is infused with the same sense of purpose that must have motivated her efforts years ago, and she clearly sees it as a continuation of that work. The details of time and place she includes help transport her audience to that era, and her candor and humor are infectious.
Yet what makes Schoettler most compelling is her ability to inhabit the voice of previous versions of herself; to present the thoughts and feelings not of the woman she is today, but of the woman she was at the time. In one anecdote, she’s at a women’s art conference, watching slide after slide of womens’ art. The monitor finally says “the time is up” only to provoke an outburst from an old lady who insists that no one can leave until her slides are shown. This woman turned out to be none other than celebrated painter Alice Neel, but Schoettler’s private thoughts on her outburst are even more interesting. She admits to thinking, “Who is she! Doesn’t she know she’s being rude?”
Schoettler does not censor the reality that one huge boundary she had to break was her own thoughts and ingrained assumptions about how a woman should act. On occasion she is judgmental of other women, or scared of them, or scared to pursue the very goal to which she has committed her life and work. Yet this is a story about a process, a slow ongoing progression, both personal and political, towards rethinking those judgments, and facing those fears. No such tale is complete without the ability to admit where things started. To her credit and to our great benefit, Schoettler has the courage and the humility to allow that personal truth to remain a part of her tale.
See it If: You don’t know much (or do know a whole lot) about the campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and think personal narratives can make for thought-provoking theatre.
Skip It If: Tales of lobbying, political jockeying, the ethics of leadership, and fundraising with movie stars bores you.