We gather around in a circle. I recognize most of the women from our first meeting last month: I see Rita, a strong-willed Portuguese lady who spent her early years in Africa; I see Ouyang, the girl who said that she joined this project to step outside of herself, to conquer the fear inside; I see Nadege, a French woman who thought she would never do theater again after one of her castmates in Beijing boarded the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, and never came home. I see myself, reflected back in the mirror that occupies an entire wall. We are the women.
We warm up. Our director, Anne-Sophie, tells us to breath as if we are breathing through the earth. When I follow her instructions I can feel my body connect deeper to the ground with every inhale, every exhale. Then, we are told to walk around the large room together. Whenever a woman starts to walk differently—walking backward, or swinging their arms wildly, or skipping like a child—we must all mimic her. This is where we start to show ourselves. Our bodies are on display to one another, and we are each watching ourselves to see what we can do with our bodies, and we are each watching each other to see who will lead, who will follow. I flounce around like a small pony, rearing up my legs into little jumps. When else would I ever have the chance to move my body this way, in public, with other people forced to follow me? I am enjoying myself, perhaps a little too much.
We read lines. The playwright, Genevieve, tells me to walk to the center of the room as if I am royal before reading my short monologue. I push my shoulders back and raise my head slightly, as if I am looking out over my kingdom. I read my monologue: I am a dying empress who poisoned a rival before suffering the same fate. My voice is filled with kindness and distance and warmth; that is how I think a queen sounds. But I am American, and America has no royalty, so I can only guess how a queen would sound.
As I am speaking, I hear murmurs of approval from the other women watching me, and they give me a little applause when I’m finished. Finally I sit down, and I think to myself, I want to walk like that all the time. I want to talk like that all the time. Then I think, Maybe I already do.
This is what the 99 Women project does for us—the actresses, the directors, the playwright, the organizers. We get to try out new ways of being, and we get to try on different skins. We get to try to be with each other, and to know each other, and to be women, and to be ourselves.