On February 23, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of BEHIND THE SHEET, the powerful new drama by Charly Evon Simpson, everyone is encouraged to stay for our fourth talkback about the historical and scientific context of the play, as well as the many issues it addresses. Joining Charly will be Deborah Gray White, Distinguished Professor of History and Women and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, and Ambereen Sleemi, Executive Director and Surgical Director of International Medical Response, for a conversation moderated by Ayofemi Kirby, who manages all communications and publicity initiatives at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture.
BEHIND THE SHEET confronts the history of a great medical breakthrough by telling the forgotten story of a community of enslaved black women who involuntarily enabled the discovery. In 1840s Alabama, Philomena assists a doctor—her owner—as he performs experimental surgeries on her fellow slave women, trying to find a treatment for the painful post-childbirth complications known as fistulas. Reframing the origin story of modern gynecology, the play dramatizes how these women supported each other, and questions who, and what, history remembers.
The World Premiere of BEHIND THE SHEET is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.
About the Panelists
Deborah Gray White is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is author of the seminal book Ar’n’t I A Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South; Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994; several K-12 textbooks on United States History, and Let My People Go, African Americans 1804-1860 (1999). In 2008, she published an edited work entitled Telling Histories: Black Women in the Ivory Tower, a collection of personal narratives written by African American women historians that chronicle the entry of black women into the historical profession and the development of the field of black women’s history. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, a co-authored college text, is now in its second edition. As a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and as a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, White conducted research on her newest book, Lost in the USA: American Identity from the Promise Keepers to the Million Mom March. She holds the Carter G. Woodson Medallion and the Frederick Douglass Medal for excellence in African American history, and was also awarded a Doctorate in Humane Letters from her undergraduate alma mater, Binghamton University. She currently heads the “Scarlet and Black Project” which investigates Native Americans and African Americans in the history of Rutgers University. With Professor Marisa Fuentes she is editor of the 2016 volume: Scarlet and Black: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History.
Ambereen Sleemi is a female pelvic medicine reconstructive surgeon (urogynecologist) and trained obstetric fistula surgeon. She is Co-founder, Executive Director and Surgical Director of International Medical Response and leads a medical relief project in Puerto Rico, and fistula training programs in Malawi, Liberia and Haiti. Dr. Sleemi has served as an obstetric fistula surgeon for the Eritrean Women’s Project in Mendefera, Eritrea since 2007, and as a surgical team co-leader for Medicine in Action’s spring trip to Kingston, Jamaica as well as on the medical board. She spent six years on the executive committee of the International Society for Obstetric Fistula Surgeons (ISOFS) and is still an active member. In January, 2013, she developed the Haitian Women’s Heath Collaborative in partnership with the Department of Ob/Gyn at the National Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Charly Evon Simpson is the author of BEHIND THE SHEET, this year’s EST/Sloan mainstage production. Her other plays include Jump, Scratching the Surface, form of a girl unknown, it’s not a trip it’s a journey, Stained, Hottentotted, Trick of the Light, While We Wait, who we let in, or what she will, and more. Her work has been seen and/or developed with Ensemble Studio Theatre, Ars Nova, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, The Flea, P73’s Summer Residency, National New Play Network through its NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop and National Showcase of New Plays, and others. Jump will receive an NNPN Rolling World Premiere, with productions at Playmaker’s Rep (Chapel Hill, NC), Actor’s Express (Atlanta, GA), Milagro Theatre (Portland, OR), and Shrewd Productions (Austin, TX) in 2019-20. She’s currently a member of WP Theater’s 2018-2020 Lab, The New Georges Jam, The Amoralists 18/19 ‘Wright Club and she’s The Pack’s current playwright-in-residence. Charly is a former member of SPACE on Ryder Farm’s The Working Farm, Clubbed Thumb’s 17/18 Early Career Writers’ Group, Ensemble Studio Theatre's Youngblood, and Pipeline Theatre Company’s PlayLab. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at SUNY Purchase and an engager at The Engaging Educator.
About the Moderator
Ayofemi Kirby is a communications and public engagement professional who builds mission-driven brands, engaged audiences and active communities, on and offline. She is passionate about helping individuals, multicultural communities and organizations across sectors tell powerful stories, start provocative conversations and build the relationships necessary to achieve meaningful results and measurable impact.
With more than 10 years of experience at the intersection of communications, civic engagement and culture, Ayofemi has managed online and corporate communications in the financial sector, developed award-winning programs that empowered Snake People across the country to be leaders in their communities and more active in our democracy, and led communications for the Congressional Black Caucus on Capitol Hill. She has also shaped and shifted community and media conversations about political, civic engagement, entertainment and cultural initiatives as an independent consultant.
Ayofemi currently manages all communications and publicity initiatives at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture and continues to runs her own consultancy, CODE PR GLOBAL where she has worked with SONY Pictures, the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation, the NYC Office of the Mayor, A+E Networks and others. Her work has shaped media coverage in and secured partnerships with the New York Times, USA Today, ARTNews, Teen Vogue, CBS News, Essence, Ebony, OkayAfrica, The Huffington Post, NBC, among many others.
BEHIND THE SHEET began previews on January 9 and runs through March 10 at EST. You can purchase tickets here.