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Roadwork reflects on its herstory to plan its future

Social justice coalition makes room for the next generation of artist activists



In 1978, amid the second wave of feminism in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, Roadwork – a multiracial coalition – put women’s art, particularly that of women of color, on the road. Building the roads where they didn’t already exist, Roadwork created an intersection of opportunity and social change, wherein artists from diverse backgrounds shared their voices while advancing an array of social justice movements.

Forty-five years later, the coalition remains firm in its vision to support artists while connecting them to women’s cultural contributions that are absent from white feminist history. However, today, the organization is reflecting on women’s history more than ever to gauge how Roadwork will best support women and queer artists in the future.

“The beautiful thing about movements over time is that we keep growing and learning,” Roadwork co-founder Amy Horowitz said. “[For] Roadwork, it’s like a dream come true that younger artists activists are envisioning a new way forward.”

Horowitz and Bernice Johnson Reagon founded Roadwork when the very word “woman” was radicalized, Horowitz said. As activists in their 20s and early 30s, Horowitz and Reagon developed the organization as they went along, producing shows while supporting civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights movements in Washington, D.C.

In addressing how racist or misogynistic ideologies exist not only systemically but also within individuals and women’s movements, Roadwork created events where activists could focus on building coalitions across differences to take a congregational approach to fight regressive social forces like racism, sexism, and homophobia.

One manifestation of this vision was the Sisterfire Festival. Started in 1982 as a one-day fundraising festival to amplify the work of grassroots artists in response to arts funding cuts, the event welcomed all genders, races, and sexualities to support women’s voices. The festival then evolved into an annual celebration that required year-round booking, production, and coalition building.

“Sisterfire does not exist in a vacuum, it is in the voice of the song, it is in the pictures we draw, it is in the leap of the dance, and it is in the shout of the poem that we send forth, beyond the battle, our vision of the way the world should be,” a host of the first Sisterfire Festival said on stage.

The Sisterfire Festival ran until 1989, two years after two white lesbian separatists refused to let two gay Black Sisterfire volunteers into their booth during the festival.

“The festival went on for a few years after that, but we, at that point, couldn’t recover from that attack that we received from the radical lesbian separatist movement,” Horowitz said.

But the end of the Sisterfire Festival didn’t overshadow Roadwork’s vision. Horowitz founded the Jerusalem Project in 1991 with the help of the Smithsonian Institution for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, strengthening what is now a longstanding relationship between Roadwork and the Smithsonian Institute.

Roadwork even collaborated with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage in 2018 for the coalition’s 40th-anniversary celebration – a Sisterfire reunion festival.

After packing an audience into the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, the Kennedy Center invited Roadwork back for a Sisterfire showcase every year since the reunion.

“It just really seemed like an awesome thing to do, to localize that, kind of, official space and grassrootsify it,” Horowitz said. “They support us doing what we want to do.”

As Roadwork prepared for this year’s annual Sisterfire showcase on March 4, the coalition takes time to reflect on where they’ve been to find direction in where to move forward, according to Roadwork Interim Director Lehuanani DeFranco.

During Sisterfire’s hiatus, Roadwork prioritized gathering archival information. After a storage facility sold and emptied one of Roadwork’s storage units that held archives, the challenge to recover the past came with a time limit.

“In this day and age where people are getting older and the stories are sort of getting lost, it’s really important to be able to collect any of that information, whether from the different types of programs or letters that would come in, to videos and archival footage that we’d be taking from interviews with people,” DeFranco said.

Collecting the oral and documented histories of Roadwork holds the coalition accountable as community builders reacting to change, DeFranco added. Aside from looking back to see how Roadwork previously dealt with challenges or considering how the coalition needs to evolve, collecting archives may also enable Roadwork to share these diverse historical perspectives with museums and universities for the next generation.

Beyond connecting the next generation of artists activists to this history, the coalition is entrusting the next generation of Roadwork leaders with finding the communities and organizations that need support in their fight for social change.

“I’m really wanting to hand over the reins, in a way, of the type of artists that we are putting on stage and the type of artists that others think should be elevated in their community,” DeFranco said.

Supporting artists also means granting them the freedom and trust to share their art in the way they want. While Roadwork offers its resources and connections to advance other projects, its fiscal sponsorship doesn’t change the vision of the project and instead operates as more of a “big sister relationship,” DeFranco explained.

Roadwork currently is involved in nine projects, including three educational initiatives, three documentary projects and three sponsored projects supporting archival work, artist housing, and Indigenous music curation aimed at reimagining Western music genres.



PHOTOS: DCGFFL 25th Anniversary Party

Gay flag football league marks milestone at Penn Social



The D.C. Gay Flag Football league held a party celebrating their 25th season at Penn Social on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL) held a 25th season anniversary party at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. Proceeds from the event benefited the LGBTQ youth services organization SMYAL as well as the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more



(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

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Rupert Murdoch’s powers on full display in ‘Ink’

Media baron helped pave the way for Brexit, Prime Minister Thatcher



Cody Nickell (Larry Lamb) and Andrew Rein (Rupert Murdoch) in ‘Ink’ at Round House Theatre. (Photo by Margot Schulman Photography)

Through Sept. 24
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814

Yes, Rupert Murdoch’s loathsome traits are many, but his skills to succeed are undeniably numerous. 

In the first scenes of John Graham’s West End and Broadway hit drama “Ink,” an exciting year-long detail from the life of a burgeoning media baron, Murdoch’s powers of persuasion are on full display.

It’s 1969 London. Over dinner with editor Larry Lamb, a young Murdoch shares his plan to buy the Sun and rebrand the dying broadsheet, replacing the Daily Mirror as Britain’s best-selling tabloid. What’s more, he wants to do it in just one year with Lamb at the helm. 

Initially reluctant, Lamb becomes seduced by the idea of running a paper, something that’s always eluded him throughout his career, and something Murdoch, the outsider Australian, understands. Murdoch taunts him, “Not you. Not Larry Lamb, the Yorkshire-born son of a blacksmith, not the guy who didn’t get a degree from Oxford or Cambridge, who didn’t get a degree from anywhere. Not you.”

Still, Lamb, played convincingly by Cody Nickell in Round House Theatre’s stellar season-opener, a co-production with Olney Theatre Center, remains unsure. But Murdoch (a delightfully brash Andrew Rein) is undeterred, and seals the deal with a generous salary. 

Superbly staged by director Jason Loweth, “Ink” is riveting. Its exchanges between Lamb and Murdoch are a strikingly intimate glimpse into ambition involving an ostensibly average editor and a striving money man who doesn’t like people.  

Once on board, Lamb is trolling Fleet Street in search of his launch team, played marvelously by some mostly familiar actors. He makes his most important hire — news editor Brian McConnell (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) — in a steam bath. The remainder of the Sun’s new masthead falls handily into place: Joyce Hopkirk (Kate Eastwood Norris) the women’s page editor whose forward thinking is marred by her casual racism; Zion Jang plays Beverley Goodway, an awkwardly amusing young photographer; persnickety deputy editor Bernard Shrimsley (Michael Glenn) who learns to love ugly things; and an old school sports editor who proves surprisingly versatile, played by Ryan Rillette, Round House’s artistic director. 

At Lamb’s suggestion, the team brainstorms about what interests Sun readers. They decide on celebrities, pets, sports, free stuff, and —rather revolutionarily for the time —TV.  Murdoch is happy to let readers’ taste dictate content and the “Why” of the sacred “five Ws” of journalism is out the window. 

Murdoch is portrayed as a not wholly unlikable misanthrope. He dislikes his editors and pressman alike. He particularly hates unions. His advice to Lamb is not to get too chummy with his subordinates. Regarding the competition, Murdoch doesn’t just want to outperform them, he wants to grind them to dust. 

Loewith leads an inspired design team. Scenic designer Tony Cisek’s imposing, inky grey edifice made from modular walls is ideally suited for Mike Tutaj’s projections of headlines, printed pages, and Rein’s outsized face as Murdoch. Sound designer and composer Matthew M. Nielson ably supplies bar noises and the nonstop, pre-digital newspaper clatter of presses, linotypes, and typewriters.

From a convenient second tiered balcony, the Daily Mirror’s establishment power trio Hugh Cudlipp (Craig Wallace), Chris Lee Howard (Chris Geneback) and Sir Percy (Walter Riddle) overlook all that lies below, discussing new tactics and (mostly failed) strategies to remain on top.   

Increasingly comfortable in the role of ruthless, sleazy editor, Lamb is unstoppable.

Obsessed with overtaking the Daily Mirror’s circulation, he opts for some sketchy reportage surrounding the kidnapping and presumed murder of Muriel McKay, the wife of Murdoch’s deputy Sir Alick (Todd Scofield). The kidnappers mistook Muriel for Murdoch’s then-wife Anna (Sophia Early). Next, in a move beyond the pale, Lamb introduces “Page 3,” a feature spotlighting a topless female model. Awesta Zarif plays Stephanie, a smart young model. She asks Lamb if he would run a semi-nude pic of his similarly aged daughter? His reaction is uncomfortable but undaunted. 

For Murdoch’s purposes, history proves he chose well in Lamb. By year’s end, the Sun is Britain’s most widely read tabloid. Together they give the people what they didn’t know they wanted, proving the pro-Labour Daily Mirror’s hold on the working class is baseless and paving the way for things like Brexit and a Prime Minister Thatcher. 

“Ink” at Round House closes soon. See it if you can.

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