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Women are Centre Stage for Bermuda Festival

In the wake of #MeToo, women are finally being portrayed as what they always have been — pillars of strength. It is fitting therefore that next year’s Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts should include a number of shows with strong female leads. Lifestyle spoke with singer-songwriter Heather Nova and actresses Rebecca Faulkenberry and Harriett D. Foy.

Q: The #MeToo movement, are you a part of it? How?

Harriett D. Foy: Yes, I have been a part of the movement! I was saddened by the fact that so many women, including myself, have been put in uncomfortable situations and felt helpless, vulnerable, in speaking out. I am grateful that so many of us have been empowered by the solidarity in joining forces to speak against these injustices. There is no shame here … only strength and power!

Heather Nova: The #MeToo movement, in the broader sense, is really about women speaking up and being heard and validated, rather than being about naming and shaming. So in that sense, I guess I was “part of it” 25 years ago, before it was a hashtag. It was songwriting that gave me the strength to find my voice and tell my truth. I was able to sing about it before being able to speak about it. It was a leap of faith to write with such raw vulnerability, but it was amazing to feel that connection with other people through telling my story. It gave me the courage and inspiration to always be real in my writing. Being open allows others to open up about their own experiences. There is a beautiful knock-on effect, which is healing and liberating.

Rebecca Faulkenberry: I think the empowerment of women, as with so many other groups in our society, is vital to achieve equality. Trying to bring our very biased culture into a time when everyone is given equal opportunity, regardless of gender or ethnicity, will only make us better. Thankfully there have been great improvements over the years but there’s still a long way to go. Hopefully bringing attention to it with different female empowerment movements such as #MeToo, helps that cause.

Q: How does your Festival performance pay tribute to women and their strength?

HDF: It is an honour for me to step into [Nina Simone’s] shoes. I feel like she chose me to portray her during this particular part in her life where she was making the shift to artist/activist. She was from North Carolina, like myself, and grew up in a household that was challenged financially but still managed to eke out a living. When I was first asked to play Dr Simone for Arena Stage in Washington, DC, I was hesitant because I was like, ‘Who am I to play this icon?’ But, once I read Dr Simone’s autobiography, watched the documentary about her life and did some thorough research, I realised we had so many things in common — like wanting to be the best artist possible, thinking that looks and skin colour were somehow holding us back, not being able to do the art that you want to do and get paid what you are worth because of your skin colour, finding a partner who is supportive of the artist’s lifestyle and how difficult it is to navigate this artist’s journey as a black woman. I hope through our performance and the words written by Christina Ham, that all women will indeed feel the strength, the sisterhood and power of owning who you are and the gifts that God has given you. Live your best life always!

HN: I wanted to focus my festival performance around songwriting. So I’ll be singing my own songs, but will also be honouring other women songwriters from over the years. In addition, I wanted to run a competition to encourage young Bermudian women to write their own songs. So many young girls aspire to be singers, singing other people’s songs. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I want to encourage them not to forget about songwriting. It’s empowering to write and sing your truth, and to tell your story. It doesn’t have to be about something negative or harrowing! A song can also be a celebration, a story, a beautiful message or simply a feeling. It’s being authentic that matters.

RF: My festival performance focuses on women having the freedom to choose their future. If you google 1950s female advertisements, they read something like this: “Men are better than women! Indoors, women are useful — even pleasant. On a mountain they are somewhat of a drag.” That’s a real advertisement for Drummond Sweaters. That was printed in a magazine! The title of my show, which is borrowed from the famous quote “Well behaved women rarely make history” by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, is in direct opposition to this advertisement. So, if you thought Well Behaved Women Rarely Make it on Broadway was going to be a show of naughty stories, I hate to disappoint; it will be a show about women forcing their way out of the box society constructed in the 1950s and gaining freedom to choose the life they want.

Q: Excited about your Bermuda performance? Why?

HDF: Bermuda is now my favourite place to visit. I travelled there for the first time with my director/bestie Marcus Gardley for my birthday in August and had a blast! I had no idea that Bermuda was so close, so beautiful and so peaceful. I did not hesitate to say “yes” when T.J. Armand, [the executive director of the Festival], asked me to bring the show there. What a wonderful opportunity to showcase this lovely play directed by Marcus with music written by Christina Ham [and] music directed by Darius Smith. The sun, the beach, the fabulous Fairmont Southampton hotel … sounds like a wonderful working vacation to me! I am so looking forward to sharing this moving piece with the lovely people of Bermuda

HN: Playing in Bermuda is always very meaningful to me. And incorporating this outreach to young Bermudian women makes it even more so. I will also be including a couple of established Bermudian guest artists in my set. And the songwriting competition winner will perform her song on stage with me. I think it will be an intimate but dynamic evening of songs and voices. I very much look forward to it!

RF: Am I excited to perform in Bermuda? A million times yes! Bermuda is the very first place in the world I performed in front of an audience. The fact that I get to come home and share songs and lessons about where I’ve been since performing at age 7 at City Hall is a big full-circle moment. There’s something very special and personal about a solo show because you tailor it to exactly what you want to share with an audience. Whatever the plans are, you can go off script as much as you want. I’ve learnt from the solo shows I’ve done before that I like this freedom, following my impulses and going rogue — which I guess is a direct reflection of what my show is about!

• Nina Simone — Four Women runs January 29, 30 and 31 at 7.30pm at St Paul AME Church; Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make it on Broadway runs February 18 and 19 at 7.30pm at Earl Cameron Theatre; Heather Nova: A Celebration of Women Songwriters — Past, Present & Future runs February 22 and 23 at 7.30pm, also at Earl Cameron Theatre. As part of her show, she will introduce the winner of the young songwriter competition within the Festival’s annual Onstage Competition. Tickets are available at ptix.bermudafestival.org