After the flood
It has been more than five years since New Orleans’ levees ruptured during Hurricane Katrina, ushering in the inundation of the Gulf Coast city. The stories of 16 Louisiana women who lived through those harrowing days are the focus of Swimming Upstream, a play directed by Eve Ensler, who is widely known for The Vagina Monologues.
The theater piece mixes dramatic storytelling, whip-smart humor, poetry, testimonies and gospel musical pieces. Based on original stories of survival contributed by cast members, the play was workshopped over 18 months in sessions led by Carol Bebelle of the Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans and Ensler. The women whose stories are featured include a teenage filmmaker, a former Vegas showgirl, a gospel singer, and a Mardi Gras Indian matriarch. The collaboration was conceived as part of V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls.
Swimming Upstream debuted in April 2008 at the Louisiana Superdome. Since then, it has been performed at New York’s Apollo Theater and in Atlanta. The current touring production which stops in Santa Fe includes members of the original New Orleans cast and two singers.
The piece includes many raw moments from the women’s lives. In an interview on Democracy Now!, actress Karen-kaia Livers said that some of her neighbors “ended up dead and mummified by the mud. They were not found for four months, because they were elderly and foreign without close family.” In that same interview, Kerry Washington recounts how in the days after the flood, people wandered through supermarkets avoiding the pet aisle, “because you might collapse and puke right there in the store for the horror of what your pet is living through, lived through, if alive at all.”
Swimming Upstream shows at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 18, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 W. San Francisco St.). After the play, Ensler hosts a talk with the cast. Tickets, $25, $15 for students, are available from www.ticketssantafe.org and by calling 988-1234.
— Casey Sanchez
Singing out for New Orleans: the cast of Swimming Upstream