Actress Sonia Jackson was in the midst of producing “The Vagina Monologues” for her church when she was struck by the way women felt about their breasts.
“Monologues,” Jackson said, was such a powerful play, but the thing that seemed to be missing for her were conversations women have about their bodies.
“I thought a play about the breast could be just as powerful and healing,” she said. “There are so many issues women have around the breast and their bodies in general. Everyone talks about breasts. There isn’t a show on TV that doesn’t have an episode about them.”
And so in 2004, Jackson sat down to write about what everyone was talking about — boobs. But it wasn’t enough just to write about the conversations — some negative, others endearing — women were having about their breasts.
As an actress, she needed to play with those conversations; to somehow examine on stage a woman’s relationship with her breasts.
“I thought it would be a great idea for a performance piece,” Jackson said.
Months later in 2005, Jackson brought "Conversations 'Bout the Girls" to a stage in her hometown of Los Angeles. It probes conversations about, among other things, "my first bra," "the lump" and "the ladies room."
It was then that she realized how powerful “Conversations,” which opens here May 9 at the First Existentialist Congregation of Atlanta, could be for both men and women.
Not only were they realizing things about themselves but things about their friends and family.
“It became important when I knew it could help heal our wounds,” Jackson said.
For instance, before seeing the play, a minister friend commented she never talked about her breasts or her body.
“But afterward, she felt more comfortable in her own skin,” Jackson said.
Although “Conversations” doesn’t talk about men per se, they do come up in experiences women share about being teased.
“I had a guy who told me, ‘I was that little boy, that teenage guy who teased girls and snapped their bra straps,’” she said.
Other women shared stories about helping friends face losing their breasts to cancer.
“Being able to sit in the dark and experience what you’ve walked through and know that someone else has also been there and come out on the other side has a healing effect on one’s spirit,” Jackson said.
In advance of the Mother’s Day weekend premiere in Atlanta, she took five questions about “Conversations.”
Q: I read somewhere that there are some 46 nicknames for breasts. I had no idea. Besides “the girls” and “boobs,” what else is there?
A: The women I interviewed came up with 46 different names. Since my original interviews, the list I've collected has grown to over 400 different names. I would venture to say there are more. A lot more. There are even a couple of people on the Internet collecting them.
Q: OK, but why do we need to talk about them?
A: Let me ask you this: Have you ever been called a name that wasn't the name given to you by your parents? And if it wasn't a nice name, how did it make you feel? How did it make you feel about yourself? It's important to feel good about ourselves. It's important to talk about the names to help release any negative power we think they may have over us. When we don't talk about things that bother us, those things fester, create dis-ease within us. It helps us laugh at ourselves.
Q: What message are you hoping women, and men, will take away from the play?
A: For women to truly honor themselves and who they are, to honor our sisterhood, for men and women to honor and respect each other and the way we communicate. To teach our children to do the same. We can do this and still have fun. I also hope that women, through these stories, will be reminded how elegant and powerful we are.
Q: You’re making a $500 donation to Susan G. Komen of Greater Atlanta. Why?
A: I like to support organizations that support women. Susan G. Komen is a wonderful organization whose local affiliates support many local organizations. I believe in giving back to our communities.
Q: Where will you be showing after Atlanta?
A: We don't currently have another production scheduled but have been contacted by several sources in other cities that are interested. We're open to all possibilities. We're also looking for sponsors that may be willing to support our endeavors to get the word out that we can help each other heal.
“Conversations ‘Bout the Girls”
8 p.m. May 9-10, 7:30 p.m. May 11. $15. First Existentialist Congregation of Atlanta, 470 Candler Park Terrace N.E., Atlanta. http://tinyurl.com/BouttheGirls-Atl.
About the Author
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com