In a converted rectangular warehouse, with black curtains draped across the ends, the tiled expanse between shimmering under fluorescent lights, 7 chairs were arranged in a shallow half circle centered on a tall wooden stool/podium. An old-fashioned dial-face black telephone sat atop.

Next time we met at the library, with seven chairs and the phone on the tall stool. Tonight we meet in yet another space but I know the seven chairs and the phone will be there.

Eight women, seven readers and one director, fill each of these spaces with energy, humor, dedication and color. We are bringing our diverse skills, experience and passions to a rehearsal process. For all our differences we have at least one thing in common along with our gender. We are honored to be a physical manifestation of words that have been collected into a script.

SEVEN is a powerful reader’s theatre docu-play. It was initiated in 2006 by Vital Voices Global Partnership and had been performed in many languages throughout the world. I am a reader in the upcoming April production in Prescott, AZ .

There are times in my life when I am blessed to participate in something that is profoundly personally meaningful to me as well as being something that I know will be the same to all those who participate. Inherent in its shape and form, Seven provides a both a cradle and a crucible by which we are nurtured and challenged to step into our power.

Seven remarkable women from around the world, each of whom through personal experience blended with a driving sense of service and justice, shared their stories with seven successful, skilled and passionate female playwrights. The form is something as simple as 7 women of all ages and cultural, ethnic backgrounds, moving around an almost empty stage holding black folders with pages of words.

The phone is the only prop. It was the lifeline and connector for many of the women on their journeys and the means by which they could/can reach so many others.

The outcome is a deep sharing between real, living, powerhouse women, playwrights, actresses and audiences. It is an experience that shocks, infuriates, inspires and empowers all who participate from whatever place in their lives they arrive, and however it is they are there.

I look at the seven women with whom I am playing and working (it is both) and I am in awe and joy. I don’t know each of their stories and still have their personal  names muddled with their character names, but this is what I know as a scatter of images.

We are mothers,grandmothers and grand-daughters and range in age from young woman to elder. We are impeccably dressed in tailored pantsuits and we wear short skirts and boots. We bring in scarves and jackets for each other to try for our costumes. We wear glasses, enlarge the writing in the scripts, share mints, slurp coffee and swig water.

We have husbands and sweethearts who are waiting for us at home or working overseas – each of them lending support for the show we are striving to prepare. We have family coming from as far away as Afghanistan, Puerto Rico and Australia to see the play. Our small children come and play quietly and patiently in the place where we are rehearsing.

We struggle with blocking and we look to our director for her solutions, and she asks us for ours. We slip in and out of dialects as we either learn and layer them in as accurately as possible for our character, or work to overcome a natural accented English that can undermine the words from the page that we are committed to share.

Over many years I have been involved in similar work, bringing the real experiences of people who have overcome great odds to find grace and integrity, to the live stage. I believe absolutely in the power of live theatre as a medium touching back to the days of the Shaman and ritual, to heal and build community. In the months ahead I will be bringing some of that work, Performing Wellness, to the stage again and beginning work with new writers whose stories will make it to the stage, in the hands, voices and bodies of actors.

Warmly welcomed by this group, to which I arrived after they were underway, I am encouraged, nurtured and humbled. Some of us have years of experience in theatre, others bring a rawness and innocence that I have long since lost. Together we create something that is truly exhilarating. It is not just the stories from the seven remarkable women we will be sharing, there are the personal unspoken stories within each of us who tell them. I want to collect those stories.

Just this week there has been the ruling on hate speech/free speech, regarding the rights of anti-gay protesters at the funerals of veterans. For some reason I made a connection. It takes courage and disciplined responsibility to know when/how to speak and when/how to be quiet. Sadly and shockingly, there are too many people who operate from fear and anger, without the courage it takes to see the Other as human too. We can only have true human rights if we proceed with respect, dignity and true compassion.

The women whose stories we are sharing in Seven have this in spades. Each of them, within their country and specific area of concern, work to bring women’s issues and basic human rights to their culture, community and the world. They did/do it without invading the rights of others and with empathy and compassion. They do their work with strength, courage, humor, love, determination and absolute dedication.

We will only succeed in bringing about real change when we come to it with personal integrity and compassion for all. The work we do within, nurturing and empowering ourselves through body, mind and spirit, enables us to do our best out in the world.

The work for each of us bringing the play Seven to our community, requires that we also bring our most complete and healthy selves to the stage in order to fully bring the women we read to life. We must balance ourselves in the world beyond this play. There is much we can learn from the women that we read and hear each time we get together.

As I move along my path in the immediate and years ahead, this experience with the seven women from the play Seven will inspire me. As much, and perhaps even more so, the seven women with whom I am sharing this production also nurtures and encourages. I will put my work in the world. I will endeavor to be kind, courageous, graceful and truthful.

So, thank you to the Vital Voices Global Partnership who made this play possible in the first place and continue to promote and inspire incredible work in the world. Thank you to the playwrights who brought their immense experience and passion to the project. Thank you to the seven remarkable women who gave their voices to the world in so many ways and still do

Thank you to Gail, Peggy, Pat, Reynessa, Rexanne, Nancy and Maria in whose company I get to play, create, learn and bask over the next month or so. You are all shining lights.