Have you ever walked down the sidewalk and felt someone watching you as you pass? Have you ever been in a grocery store and noticed that someone just happens to be going down the same aisle as you over and over again? Have you ever been in a park and had someone shout something sexually inappropriate at you?
Think Before You Holla is a devised play that explores the multifaceted impact street harassment (or catcalling, as it’s also called) can have on people who are harassed. I started building the foundation for the play in 2014 when I saw an art series called “Stop Telling Women to Smile” by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, which is various sketches of women’s faces in a naturally resting position with phrases like “Women are not outside for your entertainment” underneath. I was so moved by the simplicity and directness of the message that I became much more aware of the street harassment that was happening to me, to my friends, and to multiple women (and men!) as they simply went about their days. I started collecting stories from anyone who would talk with me and realized that anytime I brought up street harassment, more and more people would join in on the conversation with different views, stories, and experiences. It didn’t take long before I became very popular at parties. Apparently, people were looking for a space to share their experiences; I decided I could create it.
Part of my daily morning routine is to say my affirmations. They typically have something to do with believing good things are coming my way, telling myself I’m a good person, the usual positive things one may expect. But one I’ve been doing steadily for nearly 3 years is to stare myself down in the mirror, take hold of a body part, and claim it by saying, “This is my [insert body part].” I think by now I must have claimed everything from my right eye to my third rib bone on my right side. I do this because when I walk outside, everyone seems to be trying to claim my body. People on street corners want me to smile, people in the government want to control what I can and can’t do with my reproductive rights, my friends want me to uncross my arms so I don’t look so angry. It’s in these moments I remember the act of claiming my body and I know that even though people can say what they want, my body belongs to me.
Think Before You Holla focuses on street harassment and the different ways it effects people, but I like to think it’s more about making space. Making space for conversation about respect. Making space for people who’ve been harassed to open up. Making space for people to take up space. We’re telling the stories of women who’ve experienced harassment in all sorts of settings through text and movement and hopefully making space for people to see their own experiences onstage even if they aren’t directly represented by any of the actors. In a climate where it sometimes feels like divisiveness will rule us all, this play is about bringing people together to be heard and hear what others have to say.
In the past, people have asked what I hope an audience will get from the experience and for a while, I didn’t know. This isn’t exactly a show where you can leave afterwards and say, “Well that was fun. What’s for dinner?” It sits with you. There are many questions presented and few (if any) answers. But that’s probably for the best, right? I mean, ending street harassment isn’t just a 3-easy-steps process. What we do provide (hopefully) are ways to intervene in safe situations and encouragement for people to share their own stories in order to start a dialogue in their friend group and with their families. Change starts small and it’s up to all of us to make it happen.
Taylor Reynolds is a New York-based theatre artist from Chicago and a Producing Artistic Leader at The Movement Theatre Company, a Harlem-based company dedicated to developing and producing new works by artists of color. She has worked as a director, assistant, and collaborator with companies including The Atlantic Acting School, Single Carrot Theatre, NY Madness, JAG Productions, The United Solo Festival, The 24 Hour Plays, and Harlem Arts Festival. Recent directing credits: Kids on Bikes by Nicole Daniels, Things I Don’t Want to Talk About by Gina Femia, An Informal Presentation…(Or, BURN) by Pascale Smith, FOOD by Rhonda Marie Khan, Accidental Burlesque by Gina Femia (developed through the Audrey Residency at New Georges), People Will Talk About You Sometimes by Sarah Matusek. She is a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab and New Georges affiliated artist. BFA in Directing from Carnegie Mellon University. iamtaylorreynolds.com