Two Critically Acclaimed Playwrights Collaborate to Tell the Stories of Women Re-Creating Themselves

Photo Credit: Rick King, RIK Photography

Thanks to a Metro Arts Creation Grant, Actors Bridge Ensemble has commissioned Artistic Director Vali Forrister and well-known local playwright Cynthia Harris to create a new play based on oral histories of women who have come to Nashville to reinvent themselves. The two are currently recruiting women interested in being interviewed as part of the project.

In-person oral history interviews will last approximately 90 minutes and will be conducted between January and May, 2015. Interviews can be de-identified for those who wish to remain anonymous.

The script that is created from these interviews will receive its world premiere production as part of Actors Bridge Ensemble’s 20th Anniversary Season in 2016.

Through the generous support of  Nashville Public Library, the oral histories collected through this project will be preserved in NPL’s Special Collections Center.

Community partners in this project include Casa Azafrán, Conexión Américas and the Nashville Public Library.

 For more information about the project please visit our page!



Sideshow Fringe Festival presents Why Won’t She Leave Aug. 3rd

We are excited to announce that Healing Waters Productions will participate in this year’s  Sideshow Fringe Festival, an annual event celebrating progressive performing artists in Nashville, TN.

On Sunday, August 3rd at 4:30 pm, Healing Waters presents “Why Won’t She Leave?”  – a salon style evening of participatory theater and dialogue.  The audience members choose roles as we collectively tell the story of a young woman navigating the complexities of an intimate relationship. The performance contains some adult language and references to gender based violence.

Follow the links below to learn more about Healing Waters Productions or “Why Won’t She Leave?

Sideshow Fringe Festival presents Why Won’t She Leave?
Sunday, August 3, 2014
4:30 pm
Tickets $15.
Purchase tickets here ( http://www.eventbrite.com/e/sideshow-fringe-festival-2014-tickets-12202844035).

Sideshow Fringe Festival July 31 - August 3rd, Nashville, TN
  Sideshow Fringe Festival
July 31 – August 3rd, Nashville, TN

Healing Waters Founder, Cynthia Harris, Featured in Tennessean


The space inside Actors Bridge studio is immediately intimate. Cushioned benches line the walls, blankets are strewn about, pillows make each corner cozy, and hand-painted blue-purple walls complement a golden fabric ceiling.

Community educator and local playwright Cynthia Harris sits nestled among a group of girls ages 12-18. They lean on one another as Harris delves into some of her past hardships and tells the girls, “Ask for the help you need when you need it. You don’t get extra points for doing it the hard way.”

Photo: John Partipilo / The Tennessean
Photo: John Partipilo / The Tennessean

Harris was a guest speaker for local program Act Like a GRRRL, which aims to provide a safe space and community for girls to form their own voice and learn how to navigate being a woman through friendship, mentorship and the art of writing.

“I think anywhere women gather, there is storytelling and healing going on,” Harris said. Her mother was a hairdresser, and she spent much of her childhood sitting in the beauty parlor and listening to women share their stories.

Act Like a GRRRL provides a similar environment to girls who are existing in a world where cyber-bullying and Queen B culture are the norm. Over the course of June, they create an original performance, including monologues, dances and a co-written song. This year marks the program’s 10th anniversary. Guest artists like Harris are brought in over the course of the program to show the girls that women can accomplish amazing things.

“These young girls, and girls in general, are a precious resource. It is true that you can judge the health of a community and a nation by the health of the women and girls. I am just as educated and blessed by them as I hope that they can be by participating in this process.”

Reach Journalist Paige Pfleger at ppleger@gannett.com| 615-259-8072 | Twitter @PaigePfleger.

Photo: John Partipilo / The Tennessean


Go to a GRRRL show

What: A performance that combines original, student-created theater, music and dance through the Act Like a GRRRL program.

When: 7:30 p.m. June 26 and 27

Where: Belmont University’s Black Box Theater (1575 Compton Ave., Nashville)

Cost: $15 adults, $10 students

Info: To learn more, volunteer for the program or make a donation, visit  http://actlikeagrrrl.org


The Weary Traveler

She has been called into transition after a major emotional event, something powerful enough to knock her off her feet and take her breath away.  She has been pushed beyond all limits, finding herself at the edge of familiar territory.  She knows that crossing the line at her feet may make her unknowable to her clan, to herself.  Yet she walks forward anyhow, with no knowledge of the rules governing this new land.  The next choices, while clear to her soul, break every rule, requiring new covenants with herself, more gradient in the measure, a louder voice, a decisive severing action.

Travelers hit the road when they can’t stay home, when standing still means drowning.  Travelers make extreme choices when there are no reasonable, pretty, quiet options available.  Travelers yell when silence serves their oppression.  The Traveler knows her happiness and sanity are more important than external opinions.  She has been attacked and offended and has no choice but to come out swinging.  She can no longer be pleasing.  She knows she risks being labeled unlovable. She knows the dangers,  raised on stories of unforgivable women, but the winds blow and the road calls.

The weary traveler may arrive angry, worn, and starving.  While she will be best served by rest, she is not sure yet if more battles will arise.  It takes so much energy to ready herself for battle; if she takes off her armor at the first resting post, will she be able to steady herself in time to meet the next blows? How does the weary traveler choose her resting place? She looks for her true kin.  More often than not, she will avoid family or at least parents, unless absolutely necessary.  Blood kin and the spaces they conduct are not hospitable, overflowing with need for the traveler to contain herself and quietly serve. The traveler is in a state of heightened awareness and sensitivity.  She only has room for her current vision, for the current version of herself, her now perspective.  It’s too distracting to interact with people who clearly expect her to act, behave, think, be, or feel a certain way.  It’s not just the expectation but the requirement of a certain interaction.  The weary traveler is exhausted and fleeing those kinds of toxic obligations.


I am no one’s secret treasure, nor property, nor honey pot of good fortune.  I am not toy nor play thing, nor source of amusement.  

I want flexibility and consideration.  I want the freedom to come and go as I please.  I want autonomy and support.  

I am no caretaker here to feed dangerously inflated egos.

She cannot tolerate hard boundaries and inflexibility.  She is in need of a soft place to land.  She is in need of “of course” and “my pleasure”, not “you shoulda”, “i told you”, and “well did you try…” The weary traveler knows that she will run as long as necessary.  She will run as long as her legs will carry her. She will run towards freedom, towards something sweeter, and she will crumble in the process if necessary.


A little bit of lightness snuck out, almost a giggle in its expanse – only registers as half a smile.  

I am grateful for being able to see, think, speak, move and act as I choose.  

I gladly sacrifice familiarity for freedom every time.

The weary traveler is in need of warmth when greeted.  She needs to meet the eyes of someone who has traveled once herself.  She needs space to think, a very simple routine and food prepared with love. She is tired of having to explain the obvious, tired of having to soothe other people’s feelings about her current emotional, physical and financial state.  She is tired of other adults  devaluing her choices.  The weary traveler has already put herself through an inquisition and still has many questions of her own. She knows that sometimes things are impossible and walking off is necessary, at least for a while.  Sometimes tornadoes blow through and you have no choice but to follow the clearest path to the next safe place,  as unknowable and unnameable as that next space may be.


How can you not understand?  How can you know all the facts and still question the choices?

How can you ask “why?”

Why can’t it just be accepted that if a woman hits the road and arrives weary, she had good reason.  Help is needed not ridicule.

It is the arrogance of the questioner, the should-be kin, that is so painful – the stance taken, as though they have never faced the ego crushing that follows heartache, loss, transition and grief. The traveler is better served by affirming or at least respecting the choices made that send the traveler to the road. The questioner sits in their safe hiding place and let many choices and exit points pass them by, but judge the traveler for taking her leap into the unknown.    The questioner’s judgment is unfair and dangerous.


Work hard, be sweet, be likable and give them cues that you can be trusted.  Be ladylike and do everything to be chosen.  Do anything and everything to overcome the assumptions attached to your blackness, regional identity, level of education, southern speech pattern and dialect.

The traveler needs to be free from assaulting eyes and questions so she can gather herself and restore balance. Being on the road too long makes her forget civility, like a soldier too long at war searching for home.  A soldier so accustomed to fighting for survival, to hyper-vigilance that she forgets to nourish herself and take deep rest.  She will wander until its worth resting, until the terrain has signs of life and livability, until community appears. It can be confusing to the witness, looking upon the traveler they say ” I could never…”  The appearance of extremity of the wanderer’s choice allows the witness to believe “those kinds of choices aren’t required if…

…If you are a good girl, if you go to school, if you are chosen by the right man, if you are smart, if you are pretty, if you get a good job, if you worship the right god the right way.”

The weary traveler knows that it is but an illusion that any layers of identity might protect us from the uncertainties of life.  The weary traveler fears the uncertainties far less than the certainties.  She is fully aware of her status as unprotected human, vulnerable to any number of commonly accepted attacks on her body and mind.  The witness knows what seeds, animals and people need to grow and thrive, but pretends that poor or brown women and children don’t need food, shelter, love, human interaction, information as those humans who get to avoid the extreme decisions and choices ascribed to the weary traveler.

The weary traveler knows the truth, that this journey is sacred.  She knows that the truth is most important, even if there are no ears and hearts courageous enough to hear it but hers.  The traveler knows that how things look on the outside reflect her current feelings and experience, but are no indication of who she is or of how she will feel or what she will see and know to be true next.

The weary traveler’s journey is not hers alone.  The traveler electrifies those that witness her action,  those sparked by even a moment in her presence. It is inspiring to see a woman casting at the speed of light, calling a path to appear even in darkness.  She sparks desire and unasked questions. She gives the itch to wander, terrifying the witness.  Her electricity pulls, calling out to the brave wanderer within, inching us to that line we know if crossed, will offer up the chance to shake up and discard every piece of us that makes us feel safe and protected from the trials of the weary traveler’s path.


House Party Discussion Questions

1. What examples of physical, verbal, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological violence did you notice in the play?

2. How did the reading make you feel?

3. What insight has this reading of “Why Won’t She Leave” given you about intimate partner violence?

4. In your opinion, why won’t she leave?

5. Often victims, rather than the perpetrators,  lose their jobs, homes, churches, families, friends, routines, and activities as a result of violence or in an attempt to find safety.  In your opinion, what kind of support should be provided by friends, family, community, employers, churches etc. to make it safe for Woman in White to remain in her home and community?

6. What steps can you take as an individual or as part of a collective to prevent intimate violence in your community?


Black Women and Visibility pt 2

Black women socialized in the American South are having a very specific experience; one rooted in the fusion of traditional Victorian morals with the ravages of chattel slavery, forging a survival strategy of intentional invisibility.  The American South is often referred to as the “Bible Belt”, a reference to the conservative religious interpretations,  which have an impact on Black women socially, how we organize, and advocate for ourselves.

In considering this intentional invisibility as a method of coping with the dangerous positions in which our Black (appropriate for overuse) female (service, ever-giving) bodies (tool for release and other-pleasure) place us; Black femaleness becomes a required performance passed from one generation of Black women to the next.

Audre Lorde writes in  Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger “… survival is the greatest gift of love.  Sometimes, for Black mothers, it is the only gift possible, and the tenderness gets lost.”  She explains the survival training further.  “Black women give our children forth into a hatred that seared our own young days with bewilderment, hoping we have taught them something they can use to fashion their own new and less costly pathways to survival.” 

Invisibility as a survival strategy, was and is a way to negotiate the fact that rape and domestic violence were and are very real threats on the livelihood of Black women.  Black women mastered the seen and unseen, to have to separate selves.  A self for her own, and a self to be consumed daily by the intersecting oppressions that demand her labor, creativity, and spirit. 

Historically, if Black women were to thrive economically, and by thriving, having the means to attain food, shelter and clothing for themselves, they had to work for or in some way interact with whites.  Domestic work for Black women in white homes was a primary source of income.  Therefore, Black women developed safety strategies for themselves and had to develop a method of translating these survival methods to their daughters. 

Historian Darlene Clark Hine explains this adaptation to life in the U.S. post-slavery in her essay “Culture of Dissemblance” included in her book Hine Sight: Black Women and the re-construction of American history.  Selected quotes are below. 

“One of the most remarked upon but least analyzed themes in the history of southern black women deals with the vulnerability and powerlessness as victims of rape and domestic violence.”

“I suggest that rape and the threat of rape influenced the development of a culture of dissemblance among southern black women.  By dissemblance I mean the behavior and attitudes of black women that created the appearance of openness and disclosure but actually shielded the truth of their inner lives and selves from their oppressors…While dissemblance may very well be an integral feature of general southern women’s culture, it exists in an even more complex fashion among black women who endured the combination of race, gender, and class oppression.” p. 37

“The combined influence of rape (or threat of rape), domestic violence, and a desire to escape economic oppression born of racism and sexism is the key to understanding the hidden motivations of major social protest and migratory movements in African-American history.” p.38

“Because of the interplay of racial animosity, class tensions, gender role differentiation, and regional economic variations, black women as a rule developed a politics of silence, and adhered to a cult of secrecy, a culture of dissemblance, to protect the sanctity of the inner aspects of their lives.  The dynamics of dissemblance involved creating the appearance of disclosure, or openness about themselves and their feelings, while actually remaining enigmatic.  Only with secrecy, thus achieving a self-imposed invisibility, could ordinary black women acquire the psychic space and gather the resources needed to hold their own in their often one-sided and mismatched struggle to resist oppression.”  p.41

“The inclination of the larger society to ignore them as elements considered ‘marginal’ actually enabled subordinate black women to fashion the veil of secrecy, or ‘invisibility,’ but paradoxically contributed to their failure to realize equal opportunity or to receive respect in the larger society.  There would be no room on the pedestal for the southern black lady, nor could she join her white sisters in the prison of ‘true womanhood.’  In other words, stereotypes, negative images, and debilitating assumptions filled the space left empty due to inadequate and erroneous information about the true contributions, capabilities, and identities of black women.” p.42

“I would argue that a secret, undisclosed persona allowed the individual black woman to function, to work effectively as a domestic in white households, to bear and rear children, endure the domestic violence of frequently under- or unemployed mates, to support churches, found institutions, and engage in patriarchal, middle-class America.”  p. 43

“To counter negative stereotypes many black women felt compelled to downplay, even deny, sexual expression.  The twin obsessions with naming and combating sexual exploitation tinted and shaped black women’s support even of the suffrage movement.” p.45

“As the institutional infrastructure of black women’s clubs, sororities, church-based women’s groups, and charity organizations sank roots into black communities, it encouraged its members to embrace those values, behaviors, and attitudes traditionally associated with the middle-classes.” p. 45

Culture of Dissemblance
Hine, Darlene Clark
Hine Sight: Black Women and the Re-Construction of American History
Carlson Publishing Brooklyn, New York, 1994

Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger
An abbreviated version of this essay was published in Essence, vol 14, no. 6(October 1983)
Audre Lorde
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
Crossing Press, 1984, 2007

Events, Uncategorized

UPDATE: This Far By Faith 2011

Please join master facilitators Cynthia C. Harris and Dia S. Hodnett at the annual conference of the Black Church and Domestic Violence Institute (BCDVI).

“Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray: Gender Based Violence, Stress-Related Health Complications and our Sacred Paths.”

February 18 – 20, 2011 in Atlanta, GA

“The 2011 Institute – “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray:  Gender Based Violence, Stress-Related Health Complications and Our Sacred Paths”,  marks the thirteenth year of offering culturally specific training, stimulating dialogue and organizational development for faith based advocates and others concerned about the lack of response of faith communities.  “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray” provides innovative, interactive training!   This annual institute is committed to an appropriate response to violence against women of faith within their denominations, congregations and wider community. In our second decade as a national educational ministry, BCDVI affirms survivors’ experiences,authentic voices and reality as an essential aspect of defining response strategies.”

Track IV: “Oh, Happy Day” – Arts-Based Violence Prevention Theatrical and Dialogue Tools
The workshop brings together two very important education and advocacy texts; “Girl We Need to Talk” and “Why Won’t She Leave?” for the first time. The creators and master facilitators, Dia S. Hodnett and Cynthia C. Harris offer instruction on the use of these theatrical and dialogue tools to highlight the importance of black women’s social and spiritual networks in the prevention of domestic violence (DV). Through this experiential learning process, participants will be able to use these tools to: increase awareness about DV services, introduce appropriate social support and safety planning techniques, and present age appropriate programming.

Visit BCDVI’s website for more information about the conference.


Black Women and Unearned Leisure

“Safe homes allow women and girls to experience rest and pleasure.” – Is Your Family Safe for Women and Girls? pt V

Many of us are working beyond exhaustion in all of our intimate relationships, be they work, political, religious, familial, social, or romantic in nature.  It seems that over-extended Black women are the norm, regardless of class.  In fact class mobility seems to give us perhaps a more thorough to do list, one that layers in guilt for anything that could be considered “extra.”   Not only are our time and material resources expected to serve the general “us/other”- all of our connections to identity groups,  but even our health and joy are required for sacrifice.

The concepts of rest and Black women are hardly related to each other in our culture.  If we take a moment to imagine a Black woman resting, or rather not engaged in a service oriented activity, what thoughts or feelings arise?   The image of a resting Black woman usually prompts some variation of the question “what did she do to earn that rest?”  If she has not “earned” that rest, then we label her as lazy or assign some other attribute with negative implications.  The notion of earning rest also assumes that in our collective imagination Black women can indeed “earn” rest.  Yet in reality our shared belief is that if a Black woman has time or space to rest, naturally she should be assigned more work.

Rest is absolutely necessary for optimal health.  So if in our culture Black women are not deserving of rest, then too in our culture Black women do not deserve optimal health.


Is Your Family Safe for Women and Girls? pt V

Making families safe for women and girls is the necessary work of every human on this planet.

Safe homes allow women and girls to experience  rest and pleasure.

Safe homes allow women and girls to be exquisite caretakers of themselves.

Safe homes allow women and girls to be the center of their own lives.

Safe homes are spaces where women and girls can explore the thoughts, feelings and experiences that bring them deep satisfaction and pleasure.