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Lily Ali-Oshatz
Part of American [IN]TENT

I was raped in New York City during my final week of college in 2013. This moment marked a rupture in my childhood freedom and forced the beginning of my autonomy as an adult.

Hi Lily, thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?


Oh, it's been a time for all of us, hasn't it? I live in Brooklyn in New York City and it physically hurt to feel the way this pandemic ripped through our community. My parents and siblings live in California and they wanted me to come home in March 2020, but the threat of spreading the virus felt too great so I stuck it out. We Zoomed every day for the first few months, actually. We gave each other little writing and drawing assignments. Anything to feel like we could be together in one of the most terrifying and uncertain times in our lives. It's been beautiful and overwhelming to feel my city opening up again. There are people and places I will never see again and that hurts. But New Yorkers are survivors and we're trying our best.

Has this time provided you with any new creative opportunities and inspiration?


I wrote a lot! When I wasn't taking long, melancholy walks, I was writing, or on calls with my collaborators. My first commission as a composer/lyricist/playwright, PROSPECT HILL, is a musical about the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Park Slope in the 90s when it had one of the largest Lesbian populations in the United States. I wrote that show with one of my best friends, Mark Galinovsky. We just closed our outdoor, free, and open to the public run this past July. The original plan was to present a workshop in July 2020 and when that clearly couldn't happen, our gay little show about friendship and intergenerational dialogue became the 2021 Mainstage. We worked really hard on that show in the pandemic. 


I also started producing for film. First with The Lesbian Bar Project and then this past May and June for a virtual concert that celebrated Trans and Non-binary musical theatre writers and performers. I'm very proud of my queer theatre making community and that concert was gorgeous. My close friend and fellow writer, Preston Max Allen, has such a clear vision of uplifting and supporting TGNC voices in musical theatre. We were so excited to showcase so much unique and beautiful music. 


Last year you where involved in The Lesbian Bar Project which raised over $110,000 which went to protect the remaining lesbian bars in the US, did you imagine you would get such an incredible response to this campaign?


We hoped we would! Queer women are so often invisible in media and left out of the narrative, but we're out here and we deserve space. I was also really proud that our campaign made it clear that we saw the label "Lesbian Bar" as a space that prioritises the safety and needs of all people of marginalised genders, including women, non-binary folks, and trans men. We're starting to see more and more of these bars self identify as "Queer human bars," like Henrietta Hudson in the West Village. I think this is wonderful. Also, huge thank you to Lea DeLaria, the Executive Producer on The Lesbian Bar Project. Her commitment to the project was a huge part of its success, along with all of the support we received from Jagermeister as our sponsor. 


How important, culturally and historically, are lesbian bars within the wider LGBTQ+ community? 


Uh oh! We could really get into the weeds here. To me, and I speak only for myself, not my fellow founding members of the project, it's about misogyny. I freely take my cisgender male gay friends to lesbian bars and they are aways welcome. We are all one community and a safe space belongs to all of us there. But when I go to gay bars that cater specifically to gay men, the same courtesy is mostly not extended. Maybe this is just my personal experience, but I really do feel it immediately. And hey, that's ok! Queer women don't need to populate bars geared towards serving gay men, but we do need space somewhere. I have NEVER met more queer elders than at lesbian bars. I need to hear their stories. They need to hear what young queer folks are doing. We need intergenerational friendships to evolve so that we can protect and sustain our community. These conversations need to happen and they can't happen without a real, live space.

"I feel incredibly proud of the years of work my team and I have put in to bring this story to you."

Congratulations on having She Said part of American [In]tent at the 2021 Edinburgh Fringe, what does it mean for you to bring your show to the festival?


Thank you so much! I have been working on this show in some way or another for most of my 20s. For pretty much all of my adult life I have been trying to figure out how I want to understand sexual assault as part of the narrative of my life. It has gone through workshops and performances and rewrites and conversations and losses of faith. It has been this through-line in my life, a way for me to take ownership over how we, survivors of assault, choose to represent ourselves. Now we finally get to bring it to one of the most beloved theatre festivals in the world. It means everything to me.


What was it about Stephanie's initiative that connected with you?


I’ve known Stephanie Vlahos since she mentored me as a member of her singular Full Circle Opera Project. She has always been a theatre maker with vision and her mission to create space for Americans in the international community of Edinburgh Fringe immediately resonated with me. There is this fallacy that Americans are uninformed and uninvested in our own democracy and I refuse to believe that. There is also a perception that Hollywood and commercial theatre represents all of what American art has to offer. Stephanie is at the forefront of presenting stories that don’t always get the spotlight. I have so much respect for her and I desperately wish our politicians would take her lead and invest in uplifting the numerous stories that we have to share.


Can you tell me a little bit about how She Said came about and do to the personal nature of this story did you have any apprehensions about bringing this show to the festival?


I am so ready to share this piece. I was raped in 2013 when I was 21 years old. It was the last week of my college education and it absolutely changed the course of my life. I remember feeling closeted about my status as a survivor of assault. It didn't feel empowering to talk about it. It didn't feel appropriate to bring it up. As I started to process my experience with the American justice system through words and music, I felt excited to get to a place where I would want to share that part of my lived experience. I feel incredibly proud of the years of work my team and I have put in to bring this story to you. Specifically the hours of dramaturgical work my director, Madeline Wall, put in, as well as the feedback from our friends and families. 


What have been the biggest challenges you've faced bringing this show to the stage?


There was a time when I shared a 15 minute excerpt of the piece in early 2018. That was already 5 years after the assault, but it was honestly too soon. Sharing work is always vulnerable. Sharing an autobiographical piece about sexual trauma can make the stakes feel way too high. So I've had to learn my boundaries and learn to be very careful with myself. This includes when I schedule my writing sessions. I'm an Aries and not particularly patient or cautious, so this creation process has been very valuable for me. 


I give a lot of the credit of keeping me safe to my director, Madeline Wall. She has always advocated for creating a show that would not only serve to educate and heal audiences, but heal me as well. It takes a very special artist to facilitate that type of work environment.


Have you always had a passion for theatre, performing and writing?


Yes. My mother and father are both very talented writers and creators. My mom grew up with a huge appreciation for Broadway musicals and live performance that she passed on to her children. To me, it feels like part of our Jewish culture to love theatre. I was also extremely lucky that I had access to arts education throughout my entire public school education in Los Angeles. I knew very early on in my life that pursung theatre would be challenging and I always told myself that I would stop the moment it stopped being fulfilling. That moment hasn't come and I hope it never does. 


How has your approach to your writing changed since you started out?


I've learned that I must schedule my writing time or I won't prioritize it. It's a job and a career, not a hobby. I also love writing on the subway. I have a phone full of voice memos of song fragments with subway doors opening and closing in the background.


What makes American Spoken Word so special?


There is no one way to be American. There is is no true, central American narrative. This means that our words and stories need to be understood as part of something much larger and more complex than any individual can embody. Complexity is good for humanity.

Do you have any advice or tips for someone interested in storytelling or spoken word?


If you care, your audience will care.  


And finally, what do you want audiences will take away from She Said during American [In]tent?


It it every person's repsonsibillity to create a culture of consent. It is currently legal to rape people in the United States and it's because human's created our justice system and humans are flawed. But I have hope. I have to have hope. I choose to have hope. I hope you will join me.

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