The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.
The H.E.A.T. Collective recently held two events: A potluck reading of Terrible Virtue, a play about the history of reproductive rights in the U.S. and Structural Compositions, a playwriting workshop where writers created pieces about resistance named after the structures where they took place. In this joint blog entry, participants Brooke Shilling and Rebecca-Anne Whittaker reflect on their journeys.
Potluck and a Play
I learned last week that every play is meant to be read around a table with wine and cheese. At The H.E.A.T. Collective’s Terrible Virtue Potluck, I sat around a large table with six other women and shared a story about topics we all connected to very deeply. Things are hot and cooking in the kitchen. But by the time they reach the table, they have set; they’re ready to go and people are ready for it. That’s how I felt with this play reading. We were all ready, ready to nosh, ready to read, ready to drink, and ready to play.
Tables are such a symbol of community. I know in my home growing up, our table was a special place. Every night, we stopped everything to have dinner together around our table. There was no question about it, it was a given in our home. It was a sacred space. It was our community. Even in college and when I’ve lived in other cities and countries, the table is where we built community. What better place is there to read and discuss one of the most community- building pieces of anthropology and humanity: a story.
This story happened to be about a topic that is not as happy as wine and cheese around a big table might lend it to be. Reproductive rights. A topic that echoes in my brain as a young woman living in America in 2018, as a woman whose major maternal figure no longer can act as a guide for such womanly choices. Jessica Litwak’s Terrible Virtue is filled with choices and negotiations, and navigating the world we live in now and that was built for us by women like Margaret Sanger and Angela Davis. A couple glasses of wine, some cheese, and I was ready to hold the hands of these strangers as we discussed all of these topics so true and personal. I may not see these women again. Hell, I don’t remember all of their names. But that table, for a night, became my community. Lesson learned: Read your next play around a table with wine and cheese.
In The H.E.A.T. Collective Presents: Structural Compositions, writers created short pieces about resistance named after the structures where they took place. Ultimately, Structural Compositions was more than a playwriting workshop. It was a healing circle. It was a tight knit community. It was a safe space to collect our reactions to events that shaped us and pour them onto the page. Participating in the workshop was a powerful process for me. Not only was I equipped with the tools to hone my craft, I was rooted in a community of artists who share the same goal of making a difference with our words. In this way I was encouraged to grow, and for me that meant stepping into my power as both a theatermaker and a human being. As all the participants sat around a table we found our power and we unapologetically wrote.
Facilitators Jessica Litwak and Catherine Filloux led us through a series of exercises to get our creative juices flowing. We reached deep into our imaginations and wrote about what we heard, saw, smelled, tasted. Jessica and Catherine had different approaches that complimented each other and joined together to form a beautiful whole. They led the workshop with a quiet power, and opened up the floor so that all of our voices could be heard. Before we knew it, we had created a range of pieces about walls, statues, bridges, school desks. We had raised our voices.
Workshop participants were granted the opportunity to perform our pieces at a H.E.A.T. Collective event the following evening. I was honored to both share my story and hear the stories of others. For me, performing my piece was healing. As I read my words aloud to our community, I felt that I was able to reclaim my space and find my voice. I felt empowered as I read aloud the words that the younger version of myself had yearned to hear. As I reflect on both the workshop and the performance, a part of the process that I will continue to hold close to my heart was the encouragement to be unapologetically ourselves. In a time where the voices of artists are needed now more than ever, that too is an act of resistance.
Brooke Shilling is a born and raised New Yorker with a passion for devising socially relevant pieces of theatre and for using theatre as a vehicle for change. She is a graduate of Ithaca College with a BFA in Acting. She has worked with groups including One Year Lease Theatre Company, Civic Ensemble, The Martin E. Segal Center, A Laboratory for Actor Training, The Joust Theatre Company and more. She also began to develop her solo show Ladies of the Land with the Drama League's Fourth Friday Art+Party Residency. She is humbled to be a part of the H.E.A.T. Collective community.
Rebecca-Anne Whittaker recently received her B.A. in Drama from Vassar College. In 2016 she undertook the Midsummer in Oxford course at the British American Drama Academy. As a recipient of the Miranda Family Fund, Rebecca-Anne studied at the O’Neill’s National Theater Institute in 2017. She is an actor and writer who hopes to use her voice to ignite change.