Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater has announced that Molly Smith’s final directorial venture before she steps down as Artistic Director—My Body No Choice—is going national.
Twenty theaters and universities from across the United States, from Michigan to Montana, and from Hawaiʻi to New York, will stage their own readings of the eight, female-authored monologues around bodily autonomy and choice commissioned by the storied Washington, DC, theater. Several local theater luminaries comprising the cast and creative team for the Arena Stage production have also been announced.
My Body No Choice is Smith’s response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in July 2022. “I knew I had to make a theater piece in response to this horrifying decision,” said Smith. “It’s my final production as Arena’s Artistic Director, and setting it in a consciousness-raising space like women had in living rooms in the ’70s felt like the absolute right action to take. We all need to raise our consciousness together.
“I hope that by experiencing the artists bringing these powerful monologues around choice to full fruition, the audience will be empowered to talk about their own difficult choices. These include the choice to have (or not have) an abortion, the right to choose one’s body size, and the right to make a decision around when to end one’s life. Far too often, these are the stories women are afraid and ashamed to share, and with the Supreme Court’s recent decision, it’s time for women to lose that fear.
“As we worked on the production, I kept wondering what more we could do to help women tell their stories,” continued Smith. “So with the support of the writers, we started reaching out to theaters and universities across America, asking if they’d like to host their own readings of the play between October 21 and November 6. I was thrilled when the writers generously agreed to forgo their royalties during this time so that the production is as accessible as possible.”
A list of current participants in the nationwide readings of My Body No Choice is below, as is the full cast and creative team for the Arena Stage production.
As an important part of this production, Arena Stage also invites all women, trans, and nonbinary individuals from all over the United States to share their stories about choices and their bodies, in videos of up to 2 minutes in length. Up to 18 videos will be showcased on Arena Stage’s digital media properties, extending the experience of My Body No Choice long after the lights have come down and the run has ended. Learn more and submit your story at arenastage.org/mybody.
The short stories are both fiction and nonfiction written by Lee Cataluna (Home of the Brave, Heart Strings), Fatima Dyfan (Woolly Mammoth Theatre New Work Fellow, Georgetown University’s for colored girls…), Lisa Loomer (Roe, Living Out), Dael Orlandersmith (Yellowman, Stoop Stories), Sarah Ruhl (Passion Play; In the Next Room, or the vibrator play), Mary Hall Surface (Perseus Bayou, The 51st State), V (formerly Eve Ensler) (The Vagina Monologues, In the Body of the World), and “Anonymous.”
Returning to Arena Stage are cast members Shanara Gabrielle (Ken Ludwig’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise; Junk), Joy Jones (August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, Jubilee), and Jennifer Mendenhall (Legacy of Light, Pygmalion).
Joining the cast in their Arena Stage debuts are Tony Award nominee Felicia P. Fields (Broadway’s The Color Purple), Tori Gomez (NextStop Theatre Company’s Little Women), Toni Rae Salmi (Hub Theatre’s American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables), Deidre Staples (Studio Theatre’s John Proctor Is the Villain), and Dani Stoller (Olney Theatre’s The Joy That Carries You).
The creative team for My Body No Choice also includes Lighting Designer Catherine Girardi, Sound Designer Megumi Katayama, Casting Director Joseph Pinzon, Rehearsal Stage Manager Karen Currie, and Stage Manager Rachael Danielle Albert.
My Body No Choice will run in the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street SW, Washington, DC, from October 20 through November 6, 2022 (the run-up to the mid-term elections). All tickets are priced at $18, and seating is general admission. Tickets may be purchased online, by phone at 202-488-3300 (Tuesday – Sunday, 12:00-8:00 p.m.), or in person at the Sales Office at 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC (only on performance days, and only starting 90 minutes prior until curtain).
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday at 7 p.m. (no performance on October 25)
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Full Calendar: arenastage.org/tickets/calendar
The program for My Body No Choice is online here.
COVID Safety: Arena Stage requires that patrons, staff, and volunteers wear facial masks inside the Mead Center, unless actively eating or drinking, regardless of vaccination status. These conditions are subject to change, and Arena continues to consult with medical professionals, monitor government best practice recommendations, and engage in industry trainings to ensure the health and safety of our patrons, artists, and staff. For up-to-date information, visit arenastage.org/safety.
FOR PLAYWRIGHT BIOS, SEE:
‘My Body No Choice’ to be Molly Smith’s last show as artistic director at Arena (news story, September 8, 2022)
CAST BIOGRAPHIES (in alphabetical order)
Felicia P. Fields (Dael Orlandersmith’s Monologue) is an acclaimed actress, singer, performer, and creator whose career spans a plethora of credits from theaters around the globe, including the Goodman Theatre’s Crowns, Blues in the Night, Intimate Apparel, The Rose Tattoo, The Amen Corner, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, as well as A Christmas Carol at the first African American female to play The Ghost of Christmas Present. She has performed in Hairspray and the first cycle of the tour of Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Other credits include Nunsense, Sunset Boulevard, Swinging on a Star, Some Like It Hot, Richard II, It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, Low Down Dirty Blues, A Civil War Christmas, Hot Mikado, Show Boat, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Dreamgirls, Little Shop of Horrors, Seven Guitars and Hello, Dolly!. Ms. Fields earned a Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of Sofia in The Color Purple on Broadway and the first national tour. Her performance also earned her a 2006 Theatre World Award, a Clarence Derwent Award, two Broadway.com awards, an NAACP nomination, and a Denver Post Ovation Award. She has received a Black Theatre Alliance Award and nominations, many Jeff Award nominations, and the Jeff Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in Sophisticated Ladies.
Shanara Gabrielle (Mary Hall Surface’s Monologue) is happy to be back working on this project that falls at the heart of her passion for art and activism. At Arena Stage, she has served as Artistic Associate, Associate Director on Enlightenment and Dear Jack, Dear Louise, and has appeared on stage in Junk, and numerous workshops. In DC, Shanara’s worked as an actor and director at Signature Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Olney Theatre, Imagination Stage, Solas Nua, Taffety Punk, and more, as well as produced Working In DC with AFL-CIO on BLM Plaza. Across the country, Shanara appeared at Guthrie Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, St. Louis Rep, and many more. Webster Conservatory B.F.A., proud recipient of Princess Grace Foundation Award, and union member of AEA, SDC, SAG-AFTRA. Instagram: @shanaragabrielle www.shanaragabrielle.com
Tori Gomez (Lisa Loomer’s Monologue) is excited to be making her Arena Stage debut in My Body No Choice! She is a junior musical theatre major at The Catholic University of America. Most recent credits include Amy in Little Women (NextStop Theatre Company), Eve in Children of Eden (Catholic University), and Laertes in Hamlet (Catholic University). Tori would like to thank her friends, family, and teachers for all the love and support they’ve shown her in her life and career. She is honored to be a part of such an important project, and hopes you enjoy the show! Instagram: @tori.gom
Joy Jones (“Anonymous” Monologue) has previously been seen in Arena Stage’s Seven Guitars, Jubilee, A Raisin in the Sun, and Mary T & Lizzy K. Other DC-area credits include The Upstairs Department (Signature Theatre) and The Hard Problem, Cloud 9, Belleville, and Invisible Man (Studio Theatre). Off-Broadway, she appeared in workshops at The Public and Playwrights Horizons. Her selected regional credits include Disgraced (Virginia Stage), Invisible Man (Huntington Theatre), Ruined and Tantalus (Denver Center), The Champion (TheatreSquared), and Pericles (PlayMakers Repertory). Her recent TV appearances are We Own This City, Blue Bloods, and Monsterland. Joy has an Acting MFA from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Ensemble for Invisible Man (Studio Theatre). Her film Dream Flight is in pre-production. Instagram: @joyjonesig thejoyjones.com
Jennifer Mendenhall (Sarah Ruhl’s Monologue) is a long-time DC theater artist and a Woolly Mammoth company member since 1987. She has appeared at Round House Theatre, Mosaic Theater, Scena Theatre, Forum Theatre, Theater J, Studio Theatre, Theater Alliance, Kennedy Center, Shakespeare Theatre, Arena Stage, Humana Festival, Florida Stage, among others. #poolparty, her play about the history of discrimination in swimming pools, and a family denied membership at a community pool, was produced by Ally Theatre in 2018. As audio book narrator Kate Reading, she has recorded hundreds of books of all genres. Her awards include Helen Hayes, Theatre Lobby, Audie, Earphone, Publishers Weekly, American Library Association. www.katereadingaudiobooks.com
Toni Rae Salmi (Lee Cataluna’s Monologue) is making her Arena Stage debut. DC credits include American Spies and Other Homegrown Fables (Hub Theatre), Perfect Arrangement (Source Theatre Festival), The Spitfire Grill (Theater Alliance), The Tempest (Taffety Punk Theatre Company), and Junie B. Jones and A Little Monkey Business (Imagination Stage, Helen Hayes Award nomination). Directing credits include David Henry Hwang’s Bondage and Use All Available Doors by Tristan Willis (Pinky Swear Productions), and Measure for Measure (Cincinnati Shakespeare Company). Toni Rae has also worked with The Kennedy Center, Baltimore Center Stage, and Avant Bard Theatre. For Marci who chose to give me life, and Nora who chose to give me love.
Deidre Staples (Fatima Dyfan’s Monologue) is excited to make her Arena Stage debut. She last appeared as Nell Shaw in John Proctor is the Villain at Studio Theatre. Selected acting credits include: Daphne’s Dive at Signature Theatre (understudy); The Skin of Our Teeth at Everyman Theatre; Twelfth Night, The Crucible, and Around the World in 80 Days with the National Players, Tour 70; and The Wolves at Studio Theatre (understudy). She wrote and performed White-ish at the Atlas Intersections Festival, Nu Sass Productions, and the Aurora Theatre in Atlanta, GA. BFA, Howard University. deidrestaples.com
Dani Stoller (V’s Monologue) is a Brooklyn-born playwright and actor. My Body No Choice is her Arena Stage debut. Her previous DC acting credits include shows at the Folger Theatre, Studio Theatre, Olney Theatre Center, Keegan Theatre, Signature Theatre, 1st Stage, and The Kennedy Center. Her play Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes received its world premiere at Signature Theatre in 2019 and The Joy That Carries You, which Dani co-wrote with Awa Sal Secka, had its world premiere at the Olney Theatre Center in 2022. Her play Girlhood will be premiering this fall at Round House Theatre as part of its TPC Commission. Her play Just Great (an adaptation of The Great Gatsby) was recently published and is available through Playscripts.
Molly Smith (Conceiver and Director) has served as Arena Stage’s Artistic Director since 1998. Her 40 directing credits at Arena Stage include large-scale musicals, like Catch Me If You Can, Anything Goes, Disney’s Newsies, Carousel, Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, The Music Man, Cabaret, South Pacific; new plays, like Celia and Fidel, Sovereignty, The Originalist, Camp David, Legacy of Light, The Women of Brewster Place, How I Learned to Drive; and classics like Mother Courage and Her Children, A Moon for the Misbegotten, The Great White Hope, and All My Sons. Her directorial work has also been seen Off-Broadway at 59E59 in New York, Portland Center Stage, Canada’s Shaw Festival, The Court Theatre, The Old Globe, Asolo Repertory, Berkeley Repertory, Trinity Repertory, Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, Montreal’s Centaur Theatre and Perseverance Theater in Juneau, Alaska, which she founded and ran from 1979-1998. Molly has been a leader in new play development for over 40 years. She is a great believer in first, second and third productions of new work and has championed projects, including Dear Evan Hansen; Next to Normal; Passion Play, a cycle; and How I Learned to Drive. She led the re-invention of Arena Stage, focusing on the architecture and creation of the Mead Center for American Theater and positioning Arena Stage as a national center for American artists through its artistic programming. During her time with the company, Arena Stage has workshopped more than 100 productions, produced 39 world premieres, staged numerous second and third productions, and been an important part of nurturing nine projects that went on to have a life on Broadway. In 2014, Molly made her Broadway debut directing The Velocity of Autumn, following its critically acclaimed run at Arena Stage. She was awarded honorary doctorates from American University and Towson University. In 2018, she was honored as Person of the Year by the National Theatre Conference and inducted into the Washington DC Hall of Fame. In 2020, she was awarded the Director of Distinction in Cairo, Egypt, from the Academy of Arts. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she developed the concept for two online films, May 22, 2020 and The 51st State, overseeing the production direction as well as directing pieces within the films. She also spearheaded a variety of other new online content, including a weekly talk show Molly’s Salon, during the live performance hiatus.
Catherine Girardi (Lighting Designer) is a local DC designer, a proud former Lighting Fellow at Arena Stage, and has previously designed Our War, as well as assisting on many productions. Area credits include: Assassins and Eurydice (NextStop Theatre Company), Seussical (Imagination Stage), The Burn and Failure: A Love Story (The Hub Theatre), Smoky Mirrors and A Circus Carol (Sweet Spot Aerial Productions). Regional credits include The North Pool and The Complete History of Comedy abridged (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), A Christmas Carol, Tommy, Ain’t Misbehavin’ (The Clarence Brown Theatre), Of Gravity and Light (Ballet Des Moines), Rex Wheeler’s Symphonic Dances and Tom Mattingly’s Figure in the Distance and Jahreszeiten (Richmond Ballet). Catherine holds an MFA from The University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Member of USA 829.
Megumi Katayama (Sound Designer) is making her Arena Stage debut! Her New York credits include Nosebleed (LCT 3), For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow Is Enuf (The Public), The Life (City Center Encores!), Our Brother’s Son (Signature), Generation Rise (Ping Chong and Company/New Victory). Regional credits include 72 Miles to Go… (Alley Theatre), Sister Act (Geva Theatre Center), Dinner and Cake, The Skin of Our Teeth, An Almost Holy Picture (Everyman Theatre), Pride and Prejudice (Long Wharf), El Huracán (Yale Rep/The Sol Project), Pass Over (Studio Theatre), Rooted (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), Mary’s Wedding (Kansas City Rep), Chautauqua Theater Company, Skylight Music Theatre, Virginia Stage Company, Dorset Theatre Festival, and more. MFA Yale School of Drama. Member of IATSE USA 829.
Joseph Pinzon (Casting Director) is the founder and creative producer of the contemporary circus company Short Round Productions and its award-winning show Filament. With over 25 years of performing experience, he has worked internationally with renowned companies such as Cirque Éloize, Compagnia Finzi Pasca, Cirque du Soleil, and The 7 Fingers. He holds an MS in Arts Leadership from USC, a BA in Psychology from UCLA, and graduated from the National Circus School in Montreal with a specialization in aerial techniques. He was the casting and resident director for Chamäleon Productions (Berlin) and Constellation Immersive (CAA’s experiential affiliate). He is also a member of the Creative & Independent Producer Alliance and a founding board member of the American Circus Alliance. You can see him causing chaos on season 6 of Nailed It! on Netflix, where (spoiler alert) he is a part of the series’ first three-way tie.
Karen Currie (Rehearsal Stage Manager) is thrilled to be making her Arena Stage debut. Other area credits include The Joy That Carries You, A.D. 16, Mary Stuart, Once, and In the Heights at Olney Theatre Center; Digging Up Dessa, OLIVERio, Mockingbird, and Orphie and the Book of Heroes at The Kennedy Center; Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes, Heisenberg, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Fix, Cabaret, Saturday Night, Sycamore Trees, and The Happy Time at Signature Theatre; As You Like It at Folger Theatre; and over 20 at Theater J including Trayf, The Christians, Another Way Home, G-d’s Honest Truth, Yentl, Freud’s Last Session, After the Revolution, The Whipping Man, and The Religion Thing. Her NYC credits include The Last Session with Spellbound Theatreworks. Karen holds an M.A. from American University.
Rachael Danielle Albert (Stage Manager) is excited to be stage managing Molly Smith’s final endeavor as Artistic Director at Arena Stage. Favorite credits include: American Prophet, Change Agent, Ken Ludwig’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise, Junk, Native Gardens, among others. Selected regional credits include: Hi, Are You Single, Fairview, Describe the Night, and Botticelli in the Fire (Woolly Mammoth); The Wolves (Studio Theatre); Seize the King, Up Here, and Ether Dome (La Jolla Playhouse); The Odd Couple, Sylvia, and Souvenir (New London Barn Playhouse); and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Stage 773). During quarantine, Rachael entered the brave new world of digital theatre, as the livestream stage manager for Amir Nizar Zuabi’s new play This Is Who I Am, produced by Woolly Mammoth and PlayCo, in partnership with The Guthrie, A.R.T., and OSF. Showcaller: ArchiteX. Founding member: Oakland Theater Project. MFA: University of California, San Diego. BFA: University of Michigan. Proud AEA member.
For full company biographies, please visit arenastage.org/mybody.
UNIVERSITIES/THEATERS PARTICIPATING IN MY BODY NO CHOICE NATIONWIDE READINGS
Bowling Green State University (Bowling Green, OH)
Central Michigan University (Mount Pleasant, MI)
Coastal Carolina University (Conway, SC)
The Departments of Theatre, Music, and Women’s and Gender Studies at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, have chosen to collaborate on the production of My Body No Choice in order to share this new work in our community and lift up the voices of women everywhere.
Frostburg State University (Frostburg, MD)
Montana State University (Livingston, MT)
Emily Rasmuss and Tessa Welsch will present My Body No Choice in Bozeman, Montana at Montana State University (MSU) because the stories tell the truth about what women experience, and the truth is our best defense against misinformed, religious-based assaults on our rights, our families, and our bodies.
SUNY Geneseo (Geneseo, NY)
University of Hawai‘i at Manoa (Manoa, HI): Saturday, October 22, at 3 p.m.
The Department of Theatre and Dance of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, in cooperation with the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, will present a free reading of My Body No Choice with a cast of all current theatre students and alumnae. The co-directors of the piece, Drs. Sammie Choy and Lurana Donnels O’Malley, were invited to participate by playwright Lee Cataluna. The event will be held in the Art Auditorium of the UHM Campus. UHM, on the mokupuni (island) of O‘ahu, is an indigenous space where the descendants of the original people are today identified as Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian). The contemporary quest for indigenous sovereignty is paralleled by women’s struggles against the oppression of their body autonomy. Indigenous voices and women’s voices must be heard right now.
Ballyhoo Theatre (Edmonds, WA): Tuesday, October 25, at 7:30 p.m.
We are Ballyhoo Theatre, in partnership with The Black Box at Edmonds College, in Edmonds, Washington. We are honored to tell these My Body My Choice stories that give us powerful insight into body autonomy, reproductive justice, the right to choose, and how to define and design ourselves in ways that empower us.
The Bridge Initiative and Ronin Theatre Company (Phoenix, AZ)
Eight theatre companies in the Phoenix, Arizona region, led by The Bridge Initiative and Ronin Theatre Company, are each taking one monologue for the event. It is imperative to talk about this issue—as of Sept 23rd abortion is illegal in this state—and being a women-led theatre company, it could not” be more mission central for The Bridge Initiative to host this empathy gymnasium.
Cactus Woman Productions (Nevada City, CA)
Cactus Woman and Paul Emery Live is happy to produce My Body No Choice in Nevada City CA at The historic Nevada Theater, the oldest continuously operating theater in California. We chose to do this work because many young lives hanging by a thread depend on the outcome of this election.
Clocktower Players (Irvington, NY)
Fountain Theatre (Los Angeles, CA)
Gateway Regional Arts Center (Mt. Sterling, KY)
Kentucky is one of the states at the center of the battle for women’s bodily autonomy. Because we are a “red” state, we believe the unheard voices of Appalachian women are as important as ever—the region is historically marginalized in terms of health access – and recent decisions make that access even more scarce—so it is time these stories are heard. There is more diversity of thought than one might consider at first glance, and this is the perfect opportunity to have conversations as a community on potentially divisive issues. An outright statewide constitutional ban on abortion is on the ballot this November in Kentucky, so these conversations are not just useful… they are critical. We will be hosting this event as a part of the Creative & Courageous Community Conversations Series. This offers audience members the chance to converse on topical questions after the performance.
Open Theater Project (Boston, MA)
The New Mexico Actors Lab (Santa Fe, NM): Saturday, October 22, at 2 p.m.
The New Mexico Actors Lab in Santa Fe, New Mexico, will be offering My Body No Choice as a free reading event. Our theater is committed to producing material with an emphasis on social justice and can think of no issue of greater concern that the stripping away of a woman’s right to choose and the other personal rights that may be threatened by an activist right-wing Supreme Court.
Radial Theater Project (Seattle, WA): Monday, October 24, at 7:30 p.m.
Radial Theater Project is a nomadic theater company in Seattle, WA. We’re presenting this reading of My Body No Choice to give voice to both the playwrights who’ve written the work and to the many actors and directors in our community who are impacted by the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Stewart Mann Woman Productions (Atlanta, GA) Saturday, October 22, at 3 p.m.
We are screen & stage actors/activists in Atlanta, as diverse as the writers & womyn in this piece, producing this premiere in the heart of our city, as a grassroots community event with the Red Light Cafe to support the We are screen & stage actors/activists in Atlanta, as diverse as the writers & womyn in this piece, producing this premiere in the heart of our city, as a grassroots community event with the Red Light Cafe to support the Atlanta’s Feminist Women’s Health Center, to create a call to action with the importance of this election, to stop the attack on women’s health & freedom, & to reclaim reproductive justice!
Upstairs at Midnight Theatre Project (Lexington, KY)
UP Theater Company (New York, NY): Saturday, November 5, at 7 p.m.
We are UP Theater Company, and we have been developing new work and serving Upper Manhattan for over a decade. We are honored to participate in this initiative because we believe that theater should confront the issues of the times, and there is no greater issue of our time than bodily autonomy. We also believe in the communal power of theater, both in a sense that we create communities and also that we are part of one. We are humbled to be sharing this experience with fellow theaters across the country.
My Body No Choice
Monologues by Lee Cataluna, Fatima Dyfan, Lisa Loomer, Dael Orlandersmith, Sarah Ruhl, Mary Hall Surface, V (formerly Eve Ensler), and “Anonymous”
Conceived and Directed by Molly Smith
In the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle I October 20 – November 6, 2022
In June 2022, reproductive rights took a giant leap backwards when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In the United States, we can drive when we turn 16, and vote when we turn 18. But we no longer have the bodily autonomy to make the choices that will impact us the most. In a nod to the symbolism of the number 18, tickets are priced at just $18, and there will be only 18 performances; a reminder to vote when you turn 18.
In My Body No Choice, Molly Smith’s final directorial venture for Arena Stage, eight of America’s most exciting female playwrights share what choice means to them, through the telling of fiction and nonfiction stories rooted in personal experience; theirs or a friend’s. Because this is a time when women need to tell their stories.
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Producer Edgar Dobie, is a national center dedicated to American voices and artists. Arena Stage produces plays of all that is passionate, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit, and presents diverse and ground-breaking work from some of the best artists around the country. Arena Stage is committed to commissioning and developing new plays and impacting the lives of over 10,000 students annually through its work in community engagement. Now in its eighth decade, Arena Stage serves a diverse annual audience of more than 300,000. arenastage.org
For complete 2022/23 Season details, visit arenastage.org/season.