Woman Channels Experience with Abuse into One-Act Play

Woman Channels Experience with Abuse into One-Act Play

"I Am Her" will be performed at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in October

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Mimi Kress, right, helped Amanda Moskowitz, left, with her play, "I Am Her," which will be performed at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., in October.

Michael Kress Photography

A chance meeting at a benefit dinner helped Amanda Moskowitz turn a personal story about sexual abuse into a theatrical play that will be performed at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.

Moskowitz, 37, of North Potomac, was supposed to go to a Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless dinner in April 2018.

The day before, she experienced a sudden onset of memories of sexual abuse she experienced as a child, she said.

The flashbacks were upsetting partly because she had not remembered the abuse for the past 25 years, beyond one memory. She said she had been fixated on this one memory and it affected everything she did, giving her “a very skewed vision of what it meant to be in a … healthy relationship.”

The deluge of new memories affected Moskowitz deeply. It was a “traumatic experience, to just have these memories just pour out onto you,” she said. She planned to take a day or two to process and recover — and skip the event.

But the day of the dinner, she changed her mind. She calls that a “serendipitous” moment because that’s how she met Mimi Kress of Bethesda, who helped Moskowitz bring her play, “I Am Her,” to life.

At the dinner, Moskowitz realized she recognized Kress, an owner of Sandy Spring Builders and an active philanthropist and board member of local nonprofits, from a Jewish Women International event.

They had never met. Moskowitz, a marketing communications manager and self-proclaimed writer at heart, introduced herself and mentioned to Kress that JWI was seeking submissions of stories framed around #MeToo, a social media movement in which numerous women came forward about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment.

Moskowitz shared that she had been working on a script based on her experiences with sexual harassment at a former workplace. She was unaware that Kress had connections in the theater world because of her daughter’s past involvement with Montgomery County community theater.

Four days later, “we met for coffee,” Moskowitz said. “I gave her a draft of the script, [and] she’s like, ‘OK, we’re doing this.’”

Moskowitz’s play begins with a woman’s experience with sexual abuse as a child. It goes on to showcase its impact on her future relationships, from scenarios featuring instances of emotional abuse in a college relationship to sexual harassment in the office.

Moskowitz said that writing the play started as “self-therapy.”

“One of the key takeaways of the play is that sexual assault, or sexual abuse, or any sort of trauma, doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she said. “And as much as you want to put it in a box and hide it away, it’s gonna come out in other ways in your life — in how you view relationships, how you view love, how you trust people.”

Kress and Moskowitz have spent the last year building “I Am Her” from the ground up, securing funding, rewriting and fine-tuning the script, and staging readings to get feedback.

Now, the play is just about ready to hit the stage. It will run Oct. 3 to 5 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

As the show’s producer, Kress’s role has been focused on fundraising and networking, using her connections to secure sponsors and get the word out. It’s her first time producing a play.

“I’m a businesswoman. I’m connected to a lot of nonprofits. I’ve lived here all my life … and I know a lot of people,” Kress said. “I like to make things happen. … Amanda likes to call me the chief networking officer.”

Moskowitz said Kress introduced her to directors, actors and writers who shared their expertise. They advised her on subjects like scriptwriting and how it differs from novel writing, as Moskowitz has self-published two children’s books. They referred her to others in their network if they could not get involved themselves.

Kress and Moskowitz met with several directors before deciding on Toni Rae Salmi, an actor and director who lives in Silver Spring.

“Amanda’s very clear that this is not just a female issue, but it’s from her perspective as a female, so we wanted to kind of honor that, and we really wanted a female director,” Kress said.

Salmi suggested they also bring on board a dramaturg, a consultant who works alongside a playwright and director to flesh out the story and its background, Kress said. Laura Esti Miller from 1st Stage in Tysons, Va., was added to the team.

The one-act, nine-scene production will feature talkback sessions at the end of each performance, during which audience members can participate in a discussion about the material they just saw.

There will be a trigger warning in the program advising audience members about the sensitive content of the show, Moskowitz said. Trauma experts from the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse will attend, and there will be a resource table featuring information from a variety of advocacy groups, such as Tree House Child Advocacy Center of Montgomery County, she said.

Seeing women at the readings realize that they are not alone in their trauma and that a whole community of people understands their experiences has been “powerful,” Moskowitz said. At one reading, a mother shared that sexual assault has happened to every female in her family and expressed her fears of it happening to her daughter.

“Every person in that room felt a responsibility to help her daughter … and somebody from the back was like, ‘We won’t let it happen. We won’t let it happen,’” Moskowitz said. “And if that’s from the reading, I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen when it goes up on stage.”

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