As an aspiring playwright and actress arriving in N.Y.C. with stars in her eyes, Donna Kaz immediately experienced the industry sexism keeping women’s stories and meaningful roles off the stage. While working as a waitress, she met Bill Hurt, a successful stage and film actor. They began a seemingly fairytale romance, but it soon turned abusive. At this point, the memoir shifts to its real focus – Kaz’s involvement with the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous, renegade feminist group that formed to protest sexism in the arts in 1985.
The tale of Kaz’s life as a feminist activist becomes interwoven with her tale of being in an abusive long-term relationship – her political enlightenment happens as she opens her eyes to the realities of her damaging home life. Her story is a compelling page-turner, packed with inspiring stories about the Guerrilla Girls’ plans and protests. But it’s also an inside look at a woman who allows herself to be trapped in a violent partnership. Kaz’s journey to find herself, both as an artist and as a woman, is an inspiring and enthralling one that also gives necessary credit and attention to the Guerrilla Girls. – Adrienne Urbanski BUST magazine March/April 2017
Donna Kaz la survivante, Aphra Behn l’activiste
TV5monde 11 FÉV 2017 par Margot Cherrid
Alice Neel, Alma Thomas, Hanna Hoch, German Dada, Hannah Hoch, ou encore Aphra Behn. En empruntant le nom d’artistes décédées, injustement méconnues du grand public et sous leurs masques de gorille, elles combattent pour libérer le monde artistique de son caractère patriarcal. Les Guerrilla Girls, ces « badass en minijupes et talons hauts » d’après Donna Kaz, font des émules à travers le monde par leur militantisme féministe, décalé et plein d’humour. Leur actualité rebondit avec un livre et une exposition.
Les femmes et les toiles exposées : 5% de peintres, 85% des nus
C’est en 1985, en réaction à l’exposition « An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture » (Vue générale internationale de peinture et sculpture) au « Metropolitan Museum of Art de New York » que les Guerrilla Girls organisent leurs premières actions. Sur 169 artistes exposés, seules 13 sont des femmes. Partout dans la ville, elles collent des slogans et affiches pour dénoncer la sous-représentation des femmes artistes. Quatre années plus tard, elles relèvent le même problème en analysant la collection permanente du musée newyorkais et décident de créer leur plus célèbre poster, avec cette phrase : « Est-ce que les femmes ont besoin de se déshabiller pour rentrer au musée du Met ? », remarquant que moins de 5% des artistes dans la section « art moderne » étaient des femmes, alors qu’elles étaient représentées sur 85% des nus.
Dans la vidéo, ci dessous (en anglais), on les voit intervenir dans le Late Show de Stephen Colbert (janvier 2016), témoignant de leur popularité
Depuis, les Guerrilla Girls, ces militantes féministes américaines dont le nombre exact de membres reste mystérieux, se sont fait connaître dans les sphères féministes et artistiques par leur mode d’action. Elles ont choisi d’intervenir dans l’espace public pour dénoncer le sexisme dans l’art avec des autocollants, des affiches, des prospectus, des manifestations. Elles décorent également de leurs œuvres les toilettes de musées ou de théâtres proposant une programmation trop masculine. Le groupe cultive plusieurs originalités liées à l’anonymat. Elles agissent sous un masque de gorille et un pseudonyme. N’est pas Guerrilla Girl qui veut. Il faut, pour faire partie du groupe, y avoir été invitée par une membre qui sera chargée de la formation de la nouvelle recrue.
En 2001, le groupe se divise en trois branches : les « Guerrilla Girls Inc. » qui combattent les discriminations dans le monde de l’art visuel, les « Guerrilla Girls Broadband » qui agissent sur Internet et les « Guerrilla Girls on Tour ! » concentrées sur le monde du théâtre et dont Donna Kaz est l’une des fondatrices.
Donna Kaz la survivante, Aphra Behn l’activiste
Publié le 1er novembre 2016, le livre UN/MASKED : Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl on tour (dé-masquée, mémoires d’une guerilla girl on tour) dévoile « L’histoire d’une femme devenue survivante puis féministe radicale, qui a décidé d’enlever son masque, et qui en fusionnant ses deux identités, révèle tout », selon les propres mots de l’autrice, Donna Kaz.
Le livre relate deux périodes de la vie de l’écrivaine, presque deux identités. La première est celle de Donna Kaz, jeune femme pleine d’ambition qui rêve de devenir actrice. A 23 ans, en 1977, elle quitte Long Island pour s’installer à New York, où les troupes de théâtre pullulent. Peinant à se faire une place dans le monde artistique, elle accepte un travail de serveuse dans un café proche du « Lincoln center for the performing arts » (centre culturel autour des « performances » artistiques). Elle y rencontre Bill, star de cinéma (William Hurt, qu’elle désigne nommément et que l’on retrouve par exemple dans Into the wild, de Sean Penn – 2007) avec qui elle entame une relation qui tourne rapidement au cauchemar. Pendant trois années, elle subira les coups de son compagnon.
Survivante de violences domestiques, elle intègre les « Guerrilla Girls » bien plus tard, à 43 ans. Aujourd’hui, elle occupe le poste de directrice artistique des « Guerrilla Girls On Tour ! », troupe avec laquelle elle a tourné dans plus de 17 pays, délivrant des performances dans les théâtres, les lycées, les galeries d’arts, les cafés ou les manifestations. Elle a également reçu plusieurs distinctions dont le « prix du courage pour les arts Yoko Ono », remis par la chanteuse veuve de John Lennon pour récompenser « les artistes qui à travers leur travail font preuve de courage, d’ingéniosité et risquent leurs carrières pour défendre l’intérêt local ou national malgré la pression commerciale et politique. »
Bien que l’anonymat représente l’une des règles d’or du groupe, Donna Kaz a accepté de nous rencontrer, au café de la Wallace Collection de Manchester Square, à Londres. La soixantaine, souriante, drôle, naturelle, elle lève le masque sur son passé, son expérience au sein des « Guerrilla Girls » et décrypte avec nous l’actualité féministe.
Il n’y a pas de bon ou mauvais moyen de faire du féminisme
Quand avez-vous pris conscience que vous étiez féministe ?
Aphra Behn : En deuxième année d’études supérieures. Je venais de commencer à prendre la pilule et mon corps réagissait très mal. Pour trouver des alternatives et comprendre ce qu’il m’arrivait, j’ai lu « Our Bodies, Ourselves » (Notre corps, nous-mêmes) du Boston Women’s Health Book Collective http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/. C’est la première fois que j’ouvrais un livre écrit par, pour et à propos des femmes. Je me suis alors recentrée sur ma condition de femme et j’ai analysé les événements de ma vie à travers le prisme féministe.
Quel est le problème dans le monde de l’art ?
Aphra Behn : Le monde de l’art est sexiste et dominé par les hommes blancs. En 1997, seulement 17% des pièces produites aux Etats-Unis étaient écrites par des femmes. Vingt ans plus tard, ce chiffre n’atteint pas plus de 20%. Les institutions sont responsables, mais les spectateurs aussi.
Pourtant, les pièces de théâtre écrites par des femmes ne manquent pas. Si Shakespeare est sur toutes les lèvres, on a oublié le nom de grandes auteures comme Hrotsvita de Gandersheim. Cette nonne allemande fut la première femme auteure de pièces de théâtre. Beaucoup de femmes artistes n’ont pas l’opportunité de développer leur travail. C’est également dommage pour le public parce qu’elles ont une plume différente de celle des hommes. Les rôles féminins ne sont par exemple pas les mêmes, ils sont revalorisés.
Le choix de l’anonymat nous permet de concentrer l’attention sur les problèmes et non sur les militantes
Comment s’est passée votre première rencontre avec les Guerrilla Girls ?
Aphra Behn : Tout à fait par hasard. J’étais en Californie et je discutais avec une artiste du sexisme dans le monde de l’art. Elle m’a prêté un livre, le premier des Guerrilla Girls : « Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls ». Je l’ai lu, encore et encore, pour finalement me dire que c’était exactement ce dont le théâtre avait besoin. Mon amie m’a ensuite révélé être une Guerrilla Girl et a accepté de parler de moi au groupe. Un an après, j’ai reçu un appel pour les rejoindre.
Pourquoi décider d’agir sous un pseudonyme et pourquoi avoir choisi Aphra Behn ?
Aphra Behn : J’ai choisi mon surnom en référence à une auteure de pièces de théâtre et poète du 17eme siècle ayant eu une vie très riche. Aphra Behn a même été espionne pour Charles II, je trouvais ça très Guerrilla Girlish.
Le choix de l’anonymat nous permettait de concentrer l’attention sur les problèmes et non sur les militantes. Notre double identité était également nécessaire en raison de notre profession. Nous ne voulions ni être accusées de vouloir booster nos carrières personnelles, ni risquer d’être blacklistées par les compagnies de théâtre.
Seuls ma famille et quelques amis connaissaient ma double identité.
Quel est le mode opératoire des Guerrilla Girls ?
Aphra Behn : Concernant la branche du théâtre, nous nous réunissions pour discuter des nouveaux posters à éditer et du plan d’action à mettre en place. Le projet était ensuite présenté devant le groupe des Guerrilla Girls au complet pour statuer sur l’initiative par consensus.
On appliquait la technique de la « recherche de 5 minutes » qui consistait à ouvrir un journal et relever la programmation des théâtres. Pour les affiches, le but était d’utiliser des « punchlines » marrantes pour ne pas correspondre à l’image que certaines personnes avaient – et ont toujours – des féministes, à savoir celle de garces grincheuses et hystériques. En utilisant l’humour, on était accrocheuses, les gens voulaient savoir qui on était. Ca a vraiment marché.
Photo 3 ou 4 : affiches des Guerrilla Girls : « Oh, les joies d’être une femme auteure de pièces de théâtre » ou « Il se joue une tragédie à Broadway et ce n’est pas Electra » crédits : Guerrilla Girls on Tour !
Que pensez-vous des féministes comme les FEMEN qui exposent leurs corps pour faire passer leurs messages ?
Aphra Behn : Je ne pense pas qu’il y ait de bon ou mauvais moyen de faire du féminisme. Tout le monde a une approche féministe différente, le plus important c’est de se soutenir. Pour moi, on est féministe si on est en accord avec la définition de Roxane Gay : l’égalité pour les femmes et les filles. A partir de là, fais le féministe que tu souhaites tant que ça ne stoppe pas le mouvement.
Après l’élection de Trump, j’ai pleuré deux semaines, et un jour je me suis levée
Il y a quelques mois, les Américains élisaient Donald Trump comme président. Il était soutenu par 43% des électrices. Une réaction ?
Aphra Behn : On peut blâmer les femmes, les medias et qui on veut, mais on ne reviendra pas en arrière. J’ai pleuré deux semaines, et un jour je me suis levée en me disant que je devais être positive et dire la vérité en face de quelqu’un qui ment 99% du temps.
J’ai été choquée par les réactions après les accusations de harcèlement sexuel formulées contre Trump. Parler de ce que l’on a enduré lorsque l’on a été victime d’agression est très difficile. Cela prend du temps. On est dans le déni, on se répète que ça n’a pas de gravité… Dans tous les cas, il faut soutenir les victimes et les croire. Dans le cas de Trump, elles ont mis trente ans à trouver le courage de parler et on les accuse maintenant de vouloir se faire connaitre en portant ces affaires au grand jour. Je peux vous garantir qu’aucune femme n’apprécie une renommée due à un viol ou une agression.
Comment avez-vous réagi en apprenant le viol de Maria Schneider dans le “Dernier tango à Paris” ?
Aphra Behn : Ça m’a fait mal à l’estomac. C’est une terrible histoire. Nous devons éduquer nos enfants pour lutter contre la culture du viol. Aujourd’hui, l’école ne veut pas parler de sexe. C’est pourtant nécessaire. Au début des années 1970, à New York, personne ne parlait de harcèlement sexuel parce que presque personne ne parlait de sexe… C’est la même chose !
Le combat n’est pas fini, l’élection de Trump en est la preuve, les gens ne doivent plus être complaisants : l’homophobie, le sexisme, le racisme, les agressions sexuelles sont bien présents. Tout ca doit s’arrêter. Maintenant.
November 29, 2016
A rare look from inside the famous feminist activist group.
By Donna Kaz[Editor’s Note:]
When Donna Kaz moved to New York City in 1977 as an actress seeking “smart female roles,” she was greeted with nothing but stock roles—and the only plays being produced were written by men. In response, she was an early and tireless advocate for better female representation in the New York theater industry. She became a playwright (as well as a waitress, to support herself in an industry still hostile to female entrepreneurs). But her battle was an uphill one.
In her new book, Un/Masked, Kaz shares a glimpse of the mysterious feminist activist Guerrilla Girl group she joined. The group was famous for donning gorilla masks and causing a stir with posters and vigilante acts of rebellion against their white-male-dominated art worlds. But Kaz’s recollections of her experience reveals the shocking depth of the misogyny specific to the New York theater and Los Angeles film industries—as well as the complexity of the Guerrilla Girls’ cause, from intersectional feminism to the best methods to call out sexism.
The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book UN/MASKED: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl on Tour by Donna Kaz (November 2016). Published with permission of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.[Excerpt:]
I ignore the sad statistics about New York City theatre and dutifully submit my scripts to theatres for development. I quickly find myself a New York City playwright stuck in development hell. My plays are read and revised, read and revised, read and revised over and over, again and again.
MALE PRODUCER: Loved your script. Let’s do a reading of it!
ME: I learned so much from that reading. Here’s my second draft.
MALE PRODUCER: Great! Let’s do a reading of it.
This cycle repeats, month after month, until I’m ready to climb out the window of the 15-story building.
It begins to sink in. I am not the right gender.
What to do? Return to LA? Become a man? Tackle sexism in theatre? I discard the easiest choice, the hardest choice, and lunge for the most righteous. People just do not realize what is happening, I think. When everyone is hip to how sexist Broadway and off-Broadway are, they will not buy tickets. If people do not buy tickets, the theatre will collapse. Producers will have no choice but to produce plays by women. There is a tragedy on Broadway and it isn’t Electra, and, by golly, I am going to make sure people know about it!
Around this time the Dramatists Guild, a national advocacy organization, announces a panel discussion for women playwrights. Perhaps I can start my campaign for women playwrights there. I enthusiastically show up.
“Oh, just ignore all those producers and produce your own plays yourself! Stop whining and waiting for someone else to put your play on. It’s that simple!”
The woman on the Dramatists Guild panel is flipping her heels up and down on the carpet under the table, practically kicking in glee, proud of her gumption and ability to coax a shitload of cash donations from family and friends to self-produce her plays. I raise my hand.
“There is nothing wrong with producing your own plays,” I say, “but why is self-production the only alternative? Why aren’t plays by women produced?”
I hear faint mumbles of agreement come from several other women in the room. Then another playwright stands up and asks if perhaps the problem is discrimination.
The woman on the panel gulps. “Did you just say dis-crim-in-a-tion!? Why it’s the 90s, for gosh sake!”
I rip my copy of the New York Times out of my bag and open it to the theatre listings. “Look at the listings. There is just one play by a woman in the entire lot. If that’s not discrimination, what is it?”
“Good point,” a woman playwright to my right whispers.
“Things will never change until we find out why plays by women are not produced,” says another.
A few of us linger when the meeting is over. One of them, playwright Anne Harris, proposes that we continue the discussion. The director of special events at the Guild agrees and puts us on the calendar. The following month we facilitate a meeting at the Guild called “Producing Plays by Women,” which begins as a quiet sharing of statistics and quickly dissolves into a strident bitch fest. It is not just about own work being ignored, it is about the fact that there are no women’s voices in mainstream theatre and those voices should be heard. The lack of equality affects everything from world hunger to war. For 90 minutes women playwrights stand up and share their stories of being kept out of the white boys’ club that is theatre, culminating in a collective cry: Where are the women? Without the vision of women and artists of color the theatre is like a play without a second act!
In 1995, I am awarded the Quidel Corporation fellowship residency at the artist’s colony Djerassi in Woodside, California. Back on the West Coast, I spend the month of August working on a brand-new play in a private studio overlooking acres of secluded land next to Neil Young’s cattle ranch along with two other writers, two performance artists, a composer, and a visual artist.
At the first communal dinner, I sit across from the visual artist, a woman from New York City. Between forkfuls of rice pilaf and sips of red wine we discuss our work and the current state of women in the arts. As we compare notes, we agree that both the theatre and the art world are blatantly sexist. Sensing my smoldering rage as I recite the lack of women being produced on Broadway and beyond, she reaches into her bag and pulls out the newly published Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls.
“Read this,” she commands.
“What is it?”
“Just read it. I will talk to you about it when you’re done.”
That night I pace the floor of my studio and devour every page of Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls. I get it. I so get it. I hear the message as if a hot mouth screams it dangerously close to my ear—sexism is alive and well and living in the art world, shout the Guerrilla Girls.
The gorilla-mask-wearing, miniskirted, high-heeled, and totally badass Guerrilla Girls: a group of women artists who funnel their outrage at discrimination in museums and galleries into the creation of deft black-and-white posters that humorously state the sorry statistics surrounding women artists: Over 80 percent of the nudes in the paintings in the Met Museum are of women, but only 3 percent were painted by women. The Guerrilla Girls conclude by asking if, in order to get into the Met, women have to be naked.
The Guerrilla Girls wheat-paste their posters all over SoHo in the dead of the night, slapping up posters on construction fences, postboxes, and lampposts. They call themselves Eva Hesse, Rosalba Carriera, Djuna Barnes, Lyubov Popova, and other names that are not their own but those of dead women artists who have struggled and created before them. They do this to avoid being accused of carrying out their actions to promote and float their own careers as artists. Their posters are funny and poignant and force you to rethink what you know about women artists and sexism. Soon everyone wants to know who they really are. I was told that for their first press conference a member was sent out to buy Guerrilla disguises to cover their faces. This particular Guerrilla Girl was a very bad speller and came back with gorilla masks instead. The mistake turned out to be the perfect look. With black rubber gorilla masks over their heads, the Guerrilla Girls instantly turned themselves into modern masked avengers in the tradition of the Lone Ranger, Zorro, and Catwoman.
Well into the night I read and reread Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls. I envision an attack on sexism in the theatre world lurking in the text for every poster about sexism in the art world. What a coup it would be to name the theatres that do not produce women playwrights or plays by writers of color. How cool to prove bus companies are more inclusive in their hiring practices than theatres are. Finally, the word would be out and theatres would no longer discriminate against women and minority artists.
On the last page of the book are instructions: How to be a Guerrilla Girl. Yes! Wait. No.
Alas, one cannot just up and join the Girls. But there are further instructions. Readers should steal the Girls’ ideas, make posters, and form their own groups. Already there are Guerrilla Girls groups from Pennsylvania to Paris. My spirit lifts and I am buoyant with the hope I might have stumbled on a way to end sexism in the American theatre.
The next morning on the way to breakfast I ambush my new visual artist friend at Djerassi. I explain to her the Guerrilla Girls are exactly the kind of activist intervention the theatre world needs. I open Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls and blabber on and on about how the tactics of the Girls might be used to attack the theatre world. Then I ask her if she happens to know any Guerrilla Girls.
She lowers her eyes and looks around.
“What? Do you know who they are? You must put me in touch with them!”
“Shhhhhh. Not so loud!”
My new artist friend pulls me off the path and scans the barbed-wire fence for anyone who might be close enough to eavesdrop on our conversation. We are surrounded by nothing but cows. Convinced the coast is clear, she leans her face in to mine and with a minty exhale whispers:
“Yes, I do. You’re looking at one.”
Lyubov Popova is the Guerrilla Girl I meet at Djerassi. Lyubov Popova promises to call me as soon as the Guerrilla Girls are accepting new members but warns it might take a while. Lyubov Popova explains that some of the Girls, like her, are burned out and want to retire, but not before they make sure new and energetic members are added to the group who can bounce the Girls into a future where when people talk about art they also talk about gender parity. But, she admonishes, the Guerrilla Girls are a collective of women artists with strong opinions and various different goals. Not all Guerrilla Girls are alike.
Renewed by the residency and ebullient with images of myself as a future-feminist masked avenger, I return to New York City and throw myself into my work. I begin to understand what I am trying to say as an artist. I weave together distinctive experiences with the erudition I have gathered in the course of my life as a woman. I feel a heightened connection to the human race, as if it is impossible to disengage with other human beings. This humanness is what makes me an artist. I begin to believe that being an artist means taking responsibility for the world I saunter, breathe, and create in. Is there a difference, then, between being an artist and being an activist? I ask myself. It is often a sense of oppression that prompts me to create. As an artist/activist I want to change the narrow, male-centered focus of the current theatre because I believe it is for the greater good.
This has been an adapted excerpt from the new book UN/MASKED: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl on Tour by Donna Kaz (November 2016). Published with permission of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
Donna Kaz is a playwright, a performer, a producer, and the author of the book UN/MASKED: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl on Tour (Skyhorse Publishing), in which she reveals her alter ego Aphra Behn, member of the feminist activist Guerrilla Girls. donnakaz.com ggontour.com @donnakaz @GuerrillaGsOT
November 30, 2016 by Marina Delvecchio
Donna Kaz’s Un/Masked: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl on Tour chronicles the birth of a feminist.
Through a narrative spanning abuse, activism and her urgent struggle to solidify her place in theater, Kaz provides her readers with a dynamic storyline that keeps us turning the pages in search of empowerment—hers and ours.
Applying humor, candor, and in some places, the form that playwrights use when constructing scenes and dialogue, we see how the artistic mind finds solace and empowerment while navigating the trenches of love and abuse.
Kaz is in her early twenties when she meets Bill. Much older than her, and much more experienced in the nuances of relationships, in Bill we encounter a narcissist entrenched in his own self-worth. For the next three years, Kaz becomes the target of his unfettered rage when he feels insecure with his acting or his work.
Eventually, we’re propelled forward twenty years—the late 90’s—during which she becomes involved with the Guerrilla Girls, an activist group of feminists who wear gorilla masks and protest the male-dominated arena of the arts. Along with the gorilla masks, the women’s anonymity is further established when they each assume the moniker of a dead artist in a poetic attempt to represent and give voice to artists, poets, musicians and writers the male industry of the arts renders invisible. Kaz assumes the name of Aphra Behn, the first English female known to have made her living as a writer during the 1600’s.
Concealed behind the gorilla mask and Aphra Behn’s name, Kaz finds a voice that refutes the secondary and silenced inferiority meant for female artists in an industry that produces plays, music, art and theater only created by men and only honoring men. The Guerrilla Girls spent their free time advocating for their rights to be artists, to produce their own work, to share with the world creative outlets that rest on female power and volition and to open doors for the next generation of female artists entering this very patriarchal and male-run platform of the arts.
Being a Guerrilla Girl and advocating for other women inevitably guarantees Kaz the courage she needed to also express the abuse she suffered at the hands of her intimate partner twenty years earlier. She not only named the abuse, but she also, finally, named her abuser, which cut him off entirely from her life, allowing her to move on, fall in love and marry and pursue her:
“I steep myself in feminism, which I believe will eradicate any traces of low self-esteem, rid me forever of longing to go backward in time, and show my batterer I would make it in this world without him…Yes, feminism will be the antidote to all my problems.”
Most importantly, however, this articulation of abuse gives Donna Kaz permission to assert herself as a writer, a playwright and an actor. These identities that position her in the face of power, independence, and confidence over her work, evaded her while she lived with the secret of her abuse—for he was the actor, the artist, not her. At the heart of this narrative, we find a woman who locates in her art and her feminism the authority to finally see herself as an artist.
In her memoir, Kaz unmasks not only herself but also the way women are silenced in the arts and in intimate relationships that function to subordinate both women and their potential simultaneously. At a pivotal time when young women are finding their voice–as writers and artists as well as individuals–we see how abuse can counter this budding promise. It isn’t until Kaz is in her forties that she does find her voice as an artist and as a woman, refusing to be silenced by an abusive man who believed that his career as an actor was more important than hers.
In the end, Donna Kaz’s memoir reinforces the need for more female artists to put their voices out there through their writing, singing, acting, creating, producing and composing, for it’s our time to let the world know that our voices, our art, matters. No one has the right to silence us, and our art gives us the courage to take back our power.
As Donna Kaz so aptly puts it:
“Only when women’s narratives are equally heard can solutions rise to some of the injustices that plague us all. Without the voice and the vision of women and artists of color, the theatre is a play without a second act.”
Marina DelVecchio teaches writing, American Literature and Women’s Studies courses at Durham Technical Community College in North Carolina. Her writing has appeared the Huffington Post, Her Circle Ezine, The New Agenda, BlogHer and She Writes. She is also a contributing women’s literature reviewer for Her Circle Ezine and assistant editor of poetry and non-fiction for the QU Literary Magazine.
JANUARY 2017 BITCH MEDIA
CHAOS ISSUE Winter 17 | issue no. 73
UN/MASKED: MEMOIRS OF A GUERRILLA GIRL ON TOUR by Donna Kaz
As a freshman in college, I saw a performance of the Guerrilla Girls on campus. I remember the charge in the air among women’s studies undergrads sitting toe-to-toe in the amphitheater as we listened to the impassioned language of these women—in an effort to preserve anonymity, they all wore furry gorilla masks and used pseudonyms drawn from female artists such as Eva Hesse, Frida Kahlo, and Hannah Höch — speaking on discrimination in the art world and their efforts to combat the lack of representation through direct action.
UN/MASKED: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour brought me back to the excitement and sense of possibility created that night, all through writer Donna Kaz’s vivid, unsparing recollections of her years (1995–2012) with the feminist activist and artist collective. Kaz applies in 1995 and learns the Guerrilla Girls are seeking “new and energetic members… who can bounce the Girls into a future where when people talk about art they also talk about gender parity for playwrights.” As a playwright in New York City, Kaz had learned about the group when a friend shared a copy of the book Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls. After several enthusiastic re-readings, Kaz imagines a new direction for the group that has taken the art world by storm with their statistics on the absurdly low representation of women and people of color in the Museum of Modern Art: “I envision an attack on sexism in the theatre world….What a coup it would be to name the theatres that do not produce women playwrights or plays by writers of color. How cool to prove bus companies are more inclusive in their hiring practices than theatres are.”But not all elements of Kaz’s personal life intersected with her passionate feminist politics. During the early 1980s, she’d endured an abusive relationship with Bill, a charismatic actor who promised trips to Paris and instead delivered verbal blows. Her reflections on the dynamics of their emotionally volatile relationship are painful, but Kaz’s writing always brings her experiences back to the realm of feminist theory with probing subtext on issues of sexual consent and the warning signs of abuse. If you’ve ever been curious about group organizing, Kaz provides plenty of details on the structure of meetings and how activists can discuss differences of identity and perspective while still striving to meet collective goals. Un/Masked exposes in thoughtful nuance what it’s like to be an artist, a feminist, and a person recovering from abuse—and where artists today can expand on the work of the activists who came before. —Allison McCarthy
Book Review: Un/Masked: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl on Tour
Posted By Sarah Downs on Jan 10, 2017
BY Sarah Downs
BOOK REVIEW – Un/Masked: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl on Tour, by Donna Kaz (a/k/a Aphra Behn)
New York City, 1977. Emerging from its lowest point, New York City is quiet. Its streets are grubby, parks empty, subways operating on a wing and a prayer. Enter Donna Kaz, aspiring actress, playwright in the making, future feminist activist. Eager to join the world of theater, she embraces a busy schedule of classes, auditions and more classes, with the actress’s classic day job — waiting on tables. Just as she is gaining some traction in her career, in walks a handsome stranger and out go her dreams.
So begins Ms. Kaz’s autobiography. In a fresh, easy style she leads us on her journey of discovery, loss and redemption. With humor and a distinct lack of self-pity, she retells the history of a life on the verge, a career derailed, and ultimately one of success. She is no weak sister. Alternating scenes from her recent life as a writer with the story of her early years and her time in Hollywood, Kaz evokes the past and present at once, meeting herself in the middle. We meet her as she is today – successful playwright and Guerrilla Girl, but also as she was as a naïve young woman searching for her unique identity. When she turns from her own career to follow her man to Hollywood, Kaz loses herself, overshadowed by her glamorous, imposing lover with his outsize ego and outsize capacity for violence. She sacrifices her own career as she is drawn into a life of domestic abuse, with its revolving door of beatings and passionate rapprochements. It is only after she ‘escapes’ the prison of this destructive love affair that she rediscovers her love of writing and so reclaims her life.
Kaz returns to New York City where she rediscovers her talent for writing, becoming an award-winning playwright. A naturally outspoken woman (horror!), when she discovers the Guerrilla Girls she finds a sweet spot. These feminist crusaders protest against the sexism rife in the arts and theater, honoring the past by adopting the names of dead female artists as pseudonyms. Emboldened by the anonymity of the gorilla mask, they blanket the city with leaflets and stage various public events in an effort to heighten awareness of the paucity of opportunities for women artists, to unmask the unspoken presumption that works by and about women are by definition minor; uninteresting and unworthy. It echoes the denigration of women everywhere, in a form of artistic ‘abuse’ imposed by a prevailing culture that wants to shut women down. It’s always a turf war. Theater is mine; this woman is mine. Adopting Aphra Behn*, as her ‘nom de Guerrilla,’ Kaz joins in the serious fun, creating “Guerrilla Girls on Tour!” which uses theater and humor to highlight the disparity between opportunities for men and for women in the arts.
Throughout this memoir, Kaz collapses the various layers of her life – thwarted actress, budding writer, latent activist, undiscovered feminist – to step out from behind the mask of her personal history. She declares: I’m still here and I like it. And I’m not going away.
* Aphra Behn, 17th century British playwright, poet, translator and author.
JOAN production history:
Northeast Theatre Ensemble – 1999
Edinburgh Festival Fringe – 2000
Coffeeville Community College – 2004
Caxton Youth Theatre/UK – 2006
Regis College – 2008
Fortis Academy – 2010
Dramaworks/Hungary – 2016
Lake Taupo School/New Zealand – 2017
READ a REVIEW: The Stage – August 16, 2001
The Sunday Times, Scranton, PA February 13, 2000
Their 9/11 stories speak for themselves — no need for actors or re-enactments.
August 25, 2011 by MARIA ALVAREZ. Special to Newsday
“We are the real people and the audience can get a personal connection to the 9/11 story and what happens afterwards,” said Jerry Bogacz, who escaped from the 82nd floor in the north tower, but lost three friends in the attacks.
He is one of five people appearing in “Performing Tribute 9/11,” a play in which those involved are on stage to describe what happened to them nearly 10 years ago. Bogacz, who has no acting experience, said telling his story allows him to reckon with the life-changing day and “acknowledge that many people didn’t make it.”
“I think people need to keep in mind that there were a range of experiences, and that it’s not just about the towers collapsing,” he said.
Playwright Donna Kaz said the “intimacy” of a theater setting brings a life-size reality to the 9/11 experiences of the performers, who are all volunteer docents at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. They give Ground Zero tours, recounting their personal experiences.
Kaz, who also is a volunteer, said when she “heard the incredible and empowering stories” of docents like Bogacz, she began to tape-record them.
“I wove their stories together — telling what they were experiencing at the time and 10 years later,” she said.
The performers include an FDNY widow, a first responder, an evacuated neighborhood resident and people who escaped the burning towers.
The stage setting has five performers each sitting in a chair alongside a piece of steel from the World Trade Center.
Kaz said the performers “alternate telling their stories. It’s a cathartic experience,” she said, adding the play heals its performers who realize their stories will not be forgotten.
“People went through a tremendous amount of stress and grief — but silence is not the way to go with it. Sharing the experience is,” she said.
“It’s important to tell my story because it is the truth,” said Anne Van Hine, 57, who lost firefighter husband Bruce Van Hine, 47, in the south tower. He was with Squad 41 Company in the Bronx.
After the play, the audience asks the performers questions — an illuminating moment, said Van Hine. “I think it’s because they have never heard a firefighter’s widow before,” said Van Hine, 57, whose two daughters where 14 and 17 when their father died.
Being in the play has given Van Hine a new perspective. At first, “I was looking at the rebuilding of Ground Zero from an FDNY widow’s point of view. But this experience has taught me that there are other stories that I didn’t hear.”
The play is being performed Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Theater at St. Clement’s on 46th Street; on Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at All Souls Church on Lexington Avenue; and Sept. 17th at 7 p.m. at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church on 74th Street. Admission is free. For more information visit www.performingtribute.com
The New York Times, City Room, Blogging from the Five Boroughs,
October 21, 2008, 10:28 am
By David W. Dunlap
The troupe of “Performing Tribute,” presented by the Tribute W.T.C. Visitor Center, after performing for the first time on Monday. From left, Bridget Damiano, Donna Kaz, Gerry Bogacz, Katherine M. Richardson, Ann Van Hine, Gail Langsner and Paul McFadden. (Photo: David W. Dunlap/The New York Times)
“They found a piece of Joe’s elbow first.”
Bridget Damiano speaks the line without dramatic inflection. These are words that scarcely call for embroidery. But her voice is not without affect. Rather, she speaks with the plain, compelling voice of experience. She is, after all, describing a cousin who died at the World Trade Center.
Ms. Damiano and five other volunteer tour guides from the Tribute W.T.C. Visitor Center opposite ground zero told their stories to a seated audience on Monday night, in a production titled “Performing Tribute.” (Limited seats are still available for a second presentation on Tuesday evening; details are below.)
Under the direction of Donna Kaz, the troupe takes turns describing the era before 9/11, then the day of the attacks and then the aftermath, through interwoven, personal narratives.
The point of “Performing Tribute” is to expose wider audiences to these stories. And to raise money for the center. The power of the accounts comes from their understated detail.
Gerry Bogacz, who was in the trade center that morning, described the building jumping back and forth more than three feet and recalled an almost tangible sense of panic forming on the fire stairs, spreading from one person to another before it abated.
Ms. Damiano talked of volunteering to work for the Salvation Army after 9/11 and being asked what she could do. Stumped for a moment, she said she suddenly realized: “I’m a wife. I’m a mother. I’m Italian. I can cook.” And so she did.
Gail Langsner, who was tending pet birds in her nearby home, remembered escaping with bird carriers hung on a yokelike broomstick over her shoulders — “like every picture of fleeing refugees you’ve ever seen” — and trying to brush pinhole-sized burns off her shirt from the shower of particulate debris.
Paul McFadden, formerly of the Fire Department’s Rescue 2 unit Brooklyn, spoke of his confidence when arriving on the scene that Chief Raymond M. Downey would already have the situation well in hand — until he ran into one of the chief’s sons, a firefighter, who told him, “My father’s under this rubble.”
Katherine M. Richardson, whose husband, Robert McPadden, was in Engine Company 23, said she knew when she learned that more than 300 firefighters had perished that Bob would not be coming home. She recalled telling the medical examiner’s office to stop notifying her every time one of his remains was found and she remarked on the phenomenon of receiving 10 death certificates.
Ann Van Hine, who was married to Firefighter Richard Bruce Van Hine of Squad 41, noticed something else about the death certificates. The cause was listed as, “Homicide.”
For this reporter, who has probably spent more time at ground zero in recent years than any of his colleagues, “Performing Tribute” was a quiet reminder that the construction going on now is more than redevelopment. It is recovery.