American activist Naomi Ackerman’s mission is to utilise theatre as a tool to promote social justice for women. She is in the city for her play, Flowers Aren’t Enough, which is part of the ‘Youth Unite Campaign’ by the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC).
CHENNAI: As a social activist, mediator, conflict-resolution specialist, theatre personality and founder of the Advot Project, a non-profit, Naomi Ackerman is a wearer of many hats. For the uninitiated, Naomi is one of the founding members of View Points, an Arab-Jewish theatre group that promotes tolerance and dialogue. She was raised in Israel where she created the children’s clown school for the Jerusalem municipality. She was also part of the first groups of clowns in Israel to engage in medical clowning.
Naomi wrote, directed, and performed the acclaimed one-woman show Flowers Aren’t Enough, which has been performed over 1,200 times globally. She chats with CE about the play and also the many ideals she holds dear...excerpts follow
Where did it all start?
I was born in the US and raised in Israel. With political activist parents, I grew up believing in equality for women and in their capacity to do anything. I wanted that for all women. Along with a women’s theatre group, I created a play of all the things women should not buy. I was in a fancy wedding dress but with a black eye, scars and a cast on my hand. It was taking this sacred white bride and showing women that they should not marry a person who does not treat them well. That visual of the battered bride was strong and got attention. The Israeli Ministry of Welfare approached me to write this piece for a conference four years later. That’s how my work on domestic violence (DV) as well as my journey with Flowers Aren’t Enough began.
What has happened since the first time you performed the play?
It was supposed to be a one-time performance. It was a 20-minute piece in Hebrew, the stories of four women in Jerusalem. I was apprehensive of translating it to English because I thought I knew nothing of western battered women, but with my partner’s encouragement I did it only to realise that domestic violence was true to all places and the stories are similar. Since the first English performance, I have performed in Serbia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, all over the USA, England and India. Even after 20 years, the play is relevant because it touches the heart of the DV issue that is control and power. In all these years, Flowers Aren’t Enough has changed, evolved, gotten longer (it’s 60 minutes now), but the core issue is just the same.
Can you tell us about your time in India?
The first time I performed Flowers Aren’t Enough in India was in 2003. I was six months pregnant with my first daughter. I remember so well how I fell in love with the women of this country — giving me water and taking care of me and touching my belly and sharing clothes and jewellery. They are just brilliant. It was the beginning of grassroots organisations for women in villages. A lot of work to enable women to stand up for their rights and say no to DV was happening. I found then, and always find fascinating, this strength and power Indian women have and their ability to balance tradition along with adapting to modernism. It taught me that you don’t get the new by throwing out the old. You have to make the old change into the new.
Tell us about your non-profit — The Advot Project and the Relationships 101 workshop.
The Advot Project uses art, mainly theatre to instill new behaviours and give young people the tools to communicate because that is the key to healthy relationships. The aim is to teach them to take control of their lives by saying things with conviction and not give it up to others, which is the essence of DV. Earlier, we saw DV between adults in a marriages, but now teenagers are in unhealthy relationships. Thats why I started Advot (means ripples in Hebrew) — to bring about a change among young girls who are dating and in relationships are without power.
So what is the play to you?
Flowers Aren’t Enough is a project of love. It is my calling and privilege to be the voice of all these women whose stories I’ve collected. Of course the play is a hard sell — it’s intense and I cry and we can’t pretend it’s anything else. But 20 years later I’m still doing it, people are coming, and men are filling up the auditorium knowing they have a platform and a voice too. Everyone gets something out of the play, so come watch it.
The play will be staged this weekend at Goethe Institute, Nungambakkam from 7 pm.
For details, call: 28331314
(The writer is a columnist with The New Indian Express)