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October’s Red Tent Movie Screenings Facilitate Connections Across Distance, Gender, and Circumstance

by Jayleigh Lewis

Between September 28, 2014, and October 26, 2014, Dr. Isadora, filmmaker of the Red Tent Movie: Things We Don’t Talk About, attended eight screenings in five states spanning four different time zones. It was certainly a packed month (which, coinciding with Mercury retrograde as it did, contained its share of travel difficulties and communication problems—Dr. Isadora ended up arriving late at three of the screenings, an extremely rare occurrence!). It also contained some beautiful moments of support and co-creation (many provided by men), as well as inspiration for new Red Tent activities.

The first screening, held in Hudson, Massachusetts, on September 28th, took place in the Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson and was hosted by the Hudson Red Tent community. It was an intimate gathering of women co-facilitated by Dr. Isadora, Nancy (leader of the Red Tent community), and Reverend Alice (minister of the church).

Nancy had recently had a hysterectomy; beforehand, she had been acutely aware of the finality of her last menstrual cycle. In order to celebrate the holiness of her last blood and to preserve its power, her friend Mary Cote-Diaz (of Drumblebee), a drum maker and Red Tent leader from Grafton, MA, had worked with her to create a custom drum made from goat skin. The drum had been decorated with Nancy’s last menstrual blood, which was then covered over with paint. This deeply meaningful gift was presented to Nancy for the first time in the Red Tent that day, in the presence of her community.

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This Red Tent gathering featured activities that allowed the women present to interact and get to know each other in creative ways. As each woman arrived, she wrote a question she wanted an answer to on a piece of paper (the questions could be about anything, from a personal situation to an existential pondering). The anonymous questions were mixed and read aloud at the end, so that anyone present in the room could answer them. Questions included “What is humility?” and “How can you be resilient in times of suffering?” Collective wisdom provided much fuller answers than any one person could have provided alone.

A second activity was led by Reverend Alice and was based on a Unitarian Universalist tradition. She had written down a list of experiences that might be encountered during a lifetime as a woman (for example: being a daughter, being a mother, having lost a child, feeling not good enough, being proud to be a woman), which she read out loud, one by one. As each experience was named, those in the room who had had that experience stepped into the middle of the circle to be seen by their sisters. Dr. Isadora was so impressed by the silent yet palpable solidarity and bonding created by this activity that she decided to bring it to all subsequent Red Tents she facilitated at screenings this month!

October arrived, and Dr. Isadora traveled to Pennsylvania for two back-to-back screenings. The first was in Reading on October 3rd, in a former warehouse turned community arts space called the T.E.A. Factory. It was organized by the Reading Spiral Sisters LLC, a women’s group led by a young woman named Kelsey. Many of the members of this group are also regular attendees of the yearly women’s festival Where Womyn Gather, where the Red Tent has been a presence for many years.

Photo courtesy of Lore Stephan-Zora's Garden

Photo courtesy of Lore Stephan-Zora’s Garden

These women were inspired to create a Red Tent for their own community; they applied for and received a grant, planned and built an elaborate semi-permanent Red Tent at the T.E.A. Factory, which would be open to the public on designated days during October and November 2014, and set dates for screenings of the Red Tent movie to kick the whole thing off. What they did not know was that Dr. Isadora was already planning to be in the area at the time of the screenings! When they found out, they quickly worked together to partner and co-host the screening together. Dr. Isadora enjoyed meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends from Where Womyn Gather while relaxing in the Red Tent, which had been installed in the former bank safe of the old warehouse, a soundproof room which she described as the “womb of the building.”

Photo courtesy of Lore Stephan-Zora's Garden

Photo courtesy of Lore Stephan-Zora’s Garden

The next day, she was off to York, PA, for a screening hosted by a new Red Tent community led by a woman named Susan. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York (UUCY) provided the space. Susan’s partner, a contractor, helped put up the Red Tent; he was the first of many men who would provide such support over the next few weeks. The community, although only months old, is strong, and the screening was well-attended. During the Red Tent, women participated in the veil dance (the ritual Dr. Isadora first learned in California in February and has been bringing to Red Tents ever since) and in the “stepping into the circle” activity from September’s Hudson, MA, Red Tent.

Traversing time zones, Dr. Isadora landed next in Elgin, Illinois (about an hour away from Chicago), on October 10th. The screening she attended was held in the Elgin Artspace Gallery and Lofts; it was the centerpiece of a week-long women’s event called Rise and Shine: Awakening Heart to Heart. Kathy, the organizer, had planned something special for every night, including a women’s art show in the gallery space.

This Red Tent (somewhat unusually, though not, apparently, for this month!) was put up and taken down completely by men; one was a construction worker who had previously helped to build LAX and O’Hare airports. They were happy to help create sacred space for the 70-80 women who arrived for the gathering—so many women, in fact, that the Red Tent portion of the evening could not actually be held in the Red Tent, since there wasn’t enough room. Instead, the main gallery space was used.

Dr. Isadora led the group in the “stepping into the circle” activity and in an activity she calls the “proud circle,” which she learned at a women’s festival in California in June 2013. In the latter activity, women form small groups of four to five, and each woman in turn takes one minute to speak to her group all of the things about herself and her life that she is proud of. Afterward, as the gathering was coming to a close, the men who were taking down the Red Tent brought in the parachute that had formed its roof—and, just like at the screenings in Vermont and Massachusetts this summer, the women began playing with it. Perhaps this too will become a Red Tent ritual!

Serendipity played a big role in the next screening Dr. Isadora traveled to attend. Initially, she had four screenings booked in Oregon for mid-October, but, one by one, all except a screening planned for Portland were cancelled or rescheduled. Since she had already bought her ticket, she decided to head that way anyway and take some time to visit her godmother, Tamara, and goddaughter, Esme, who live in southern OR. She also put a call out on Facebook to see if anyone in the area might want to organize a last-minute screening.

One woman, Claire, who had participated in September’s Red Tent TV online launch party, responded to the call—and she happened to live in Grants Pass, OR, very close to where Dr. Isadora was already staying! She needed a venue, however. This was serendipitously provided when Tamara, who works as an OB/GYN, offered the conference room in her office. Thus, on October 17th, The Women’s Center, a building dedicated to women’s health, hosted a screening of the Red Tent movie. It was a very fitting extension of the Center’s mission to support the well-being of women.

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The screening in Portland, OR, on October 18th was also a success. Susan, the organizer, is in the process of establishing a business called Moondays, which she hopes will eventually be the host of a permanent Red Tent space. She is currently running a crowdfunding campaign; the screening was her launch party. The event, which took place at TaborSpace (a neighborhood gathering place which describes itself as being like a “community living room”), also included a Red Tent. Women participated in the same “proud circle” and “stepping into the circle” activities that their sisters in other states had earlier in the month.

October’s final set of screenings also involved a fair bit of serendipity. Dr. Isadora had already planned to be in Colorado for 10 days to help a friend decorate her home, but when two local women with whom she had previously corresponded (they were seeking advice about how to start a Red Tent) found out she was in the area, screenings were quickly arranged!

Jessica, the leader of the Nectar of Life Red Tent Temple (begun this past summer in Colorado Springs, CO), had already planned to hold a screening on October 25th. She had held one previously, in late August, but had had to limit it to 15 people due to the size of her space, and now wanted to have a bigger event. This screening, to which Dr. Isadora was invited, was held in the Movement Arts Community Studio. It, like the previous screening, was very well-attended. It was also supported by Jessica’s husband, a lieutenant colonel in the US Army who was on leave for a few days—and who spent part of that time putting up the Red Tent! Yet another man giving practical support to women’s community.

Red Tent Movie screening at Colorado Springs, CO

Red Tent Movie screening in Colorado Springs, CO

The second local woman, Ananda, who lives in Denver, CO fell in love with the Red Tent Movie and wanted to bring it to her home community and to the women of The Temple of the Crimson Lotus, the Red Tent she started recently. When she found out Dr. Isadora would be nearby, she organized a screening for October 26th and invited the filmmaker.

The event took place in a private home that frequently hosts women’s activities. It was a small gathering, but a sweet one. Two of the women in attendance brought their very young babies, only weeks old. The women joined Dr. Isadora in the same activities previous Red Tents this month had engaged in, as well as in a “fire releasing” ritual, during which they wrote on pieces of paper things they were ready to release and then burned the paper.

Despite (or because of?) many unusual circumstances, this month’s Red Tent movie screenings facilitated a variety of powerful connections: between sisters separated by distance but united in common Red Tent activities, between men and women engaged together in creating Red Tent space, and between women longing to create Red Tents and those with the resources to help them. The movie continues to fulfill its purpose.

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Filed under "things we don't talk about", friendship, From the filmmaker, Guest Blogger, Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost, Jayleigh Lewis, men in sacred space, recent screenings, red tent, red tent film, red tent movie

Recent Screenings: From New York City to the Deep South

By Jayliegh Lewis

As the days grew shorter and colder this November, Red Tent movie screenings created havens of warmth and community. Isadora, the filmmaker, attended screenings of Things We Don’t Talk About in venues from New York City to the Deep South, while the film premiered in six new locations (Michigan, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Mexico).

The first ten days of the month saw Isadora traveling through New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for a series of cozy screenings in small towns and small spaces. Although the Red Tent movie had already premiered in New York City, this November 1st was Isadora’s first time attending a screening there. The local Red Tent Temple hosted; the space filled with community members, and a post-screening discussion focused on the topic of self-esteem.

Nyack, NY screening

Nyack, NY screening

A yoga studio in Nyack, New York was the next stop, on November 2nd, for a screening and Red Tent gathering which Isadora described as “radiant, ethereal, and moving.” Nyack is a small-town northern suburb of New York City, located in the Hudson River Valley; fall foliage was at its peak there at the beginning of November. Nyack Yoga, already a grand space, with high ceilings and beautiful lighting, was transformed into a Red Tent for the occasion, providing a gathering space for at least 60 people. Attendees were a mix of women from the local Red Tent community and women from northeast Pennsylvania’s yearly women’s spiritual festival, Where Womyn Gather. (A Red Tent movie screening was part of the festival last spring, quite appropriate since the film features the northeast PA Red Tent community!) Some festival goers who had seen the movie were so inspired by it that they wanted to bring it back to their hometown.

Nyack, NY

Nyack, NY Screening

One woman brought her brother to see the film, which caused a bit of controversy in what is often a woman-only space. Isadora made an announcement addressing this: she has always maintained that men are welcome at screenings. Men come from the wombs of their mothers just as women do, and in order to create lasting change in our world we need more men to come out in support of women’s empowerment. When this particular man left the space prior to the woman-only Red Tent portion of the event, everyone in the room clapped for him and thanked him for coming. He, too, said he was glad he came.

Isadora attended two more screenings in the area the next week: one in Hawthorne, New Jersey (hosted by a woman, Zena, who Isadora’s mother had synchronistically met a week and a half prior while the two were exhibiting next to each other at an art show), and one in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (hosted by Khrys Exposito, whose story is featured in the film). Both were small and intimate; the Hawthorne screening attracted friends of Zena’s who were of Russian ancestry (accessing this community for the first time), while the red decorations at the Bethlehem screening inspired women to view the event as their own woman-centric celebration of the season, paralleling the Christmas decorations the town was putting up outside.

November 14th marked the beginning of the filmmaker’s tour through the Deep South. She had been initially invited to the area by a professor of social work at Arkansas State University, Dr. Kat (an attendee of the Red Tent at Where Womyn Gather), but confessed to feeling nervous before embarking for some very conservative places in states she had never visited before.

Isadora’s first taste of the beauty and joy she would experience throughout her time in the South came in Memphis, Tennessee (home of Graceland), when she arrived at sunset to the First Congregational Church. The screening that evening was well-attended by a group of women representing many kinds of diversity. Afterwards, a Red Tent talking circle discussed early feminism and changes that have taken place since. The evening included celebrations in song: one woman, a disability rights advocate who said she doesn’t normally speak in front of crowds, sang a beautiful gospel song for the group, followed by members of the Jewish community singing songs in Hebrew, and a woman singing “Happy Birthday” in Dutch.

Arkansas State University, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, hosted two screenings the next day. An afternoon screening was attended by deans and professors at the school, while an evening screening at a different location, which also included a Red Tent, drew a larger audience. The evening was leisurely and relaxing, including lots of time for talking and foot rubs! During the last hour, a playlist of empowering women’s top 40 music Isadora had created began to play; the women got into the spirit and began dancing with veils and scarves. The filmmaker reports that everyone had a lot of fun; many women who had never heard of Red Tents before said they wanted more women’s community like this.

Red Tent at the Jonesboro, AR screening

Red Tent at the Jonesboro, AR screening

Another impromptu dance party broke out the following day at a screening in Tupelo, Mississippi (birthplace of Elvis), as women assisted with takedown after the event. This screening was hosted by a young woman named Zola, who offers Red Tents in the area. Her community remains small but strong thanks to her passion for bringing concepts of women’s empowerment and community to a population for which these ideas are often new.

Isadora wrapped up her tour of the South by speaking at a small Unitarian Universalist church in Tupelo on November 17th. In response to a man who shared that he wished his daughters could have the type of community featured in the film, and that he was glad screenings were going ahead even in this very religiously and ideologically conservative region, she spoke about the Red Tent movement being compatible with religion and spirituality even though the movement itself is not spiritual or religious. Anita Diamant’s novel, The Red Tent, which inspired the movement, was initially promoted within churches and synagogues because of its Biblical roots. The Red Tent movement is a grassroots movement which continues to grow because it speaks to women (and men) of many different lifestyles and beliefs.

Overall, November 2013’s Red Tent movie screenings were full of joy: each gathering moved women to access the radiance of their spirits, in their own unique and brilliant ways.

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Filed under "things we don't talk about", From the filmmaker, Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost, Jayleigh Lewis, recent screenings, red tent, red tent film, red tent movie