On February 2, 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 the third and final talkback about the historical and scientific context of the play, as well as the many issues it addresses, especially the history of gynecological surgical techniques, the rights of enslaved women to be used for experiments, what urgent gynecological concerns exist today in the developing world, and much more. Joining Charly will be Marisa J. Fuentes, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and History at Rutgers University, Ambereen Sleemi, Executive Director and Surgical Director of International Medical Response, and Erin Anastasi, Coordinator of the Campaign to End Fistula at the United Nations Population Fund, for a conversation moderated by actor and research scholar Naomi Lorrain (Philomena in the play).
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
Marisa J. Fuentes is the Presidential Term Chair in African American History and Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and History at Rutgers University—New Brunswick. Her scholarship brings together cultural studies, critical historiography, and black feminist theory to examine gender, sexuality, and slavery in the early modern Atlantic World. Professor Fuentes is the author of Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) which won the Barbara T. Christian Best Humanities Book Prize, the Berkshires Conference of Women’s Historians First Book Prize, and the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize from the Association of Black Women Historians. She is also the co-editor of Scarlet and Black: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History, Volume I (Rutgers University Press, 2016), and the “Slavery and the Archive” special issue in History of the Present (November 2016).
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 serves 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.
Erin Anastasi is Coordinator of the Campaign to End Fistula and Technical Specialist for Sexual & Reproductive Health (SRH)/Obstetric Fistula in the Technical Division at the United Nations Population Fund. In 2017, the United Nations Federal Credit Union Foundation awarded Erin its Women’s Empowerment Award for her leadership of the Campaign. She received her doctorate in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the University of London and her Master of Health Sciences from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Launched in 2003, the Campaign to End Fistula now consists of over 100 global partners working in more than 55 countries across Africa, Asia and the Arab region. In each country it focuses on prevention by increasing access to quality maternal health care services; treatment, from training doctors in fistula surgery to equipping and upgrading fistula centers; and rehabilitation/reintegration, including emotional, economic, and social support.
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
Naomi Lorrain plays Philomena in the world premiere production of BEHIND THE SHEET by Charly Evon Simpson at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Naomi is a New York City-based actor, playwright and scholar. She received her B.A. in the History of Science, History of Medicine and African American Studies from Yale University and her M.F.A. in Acting from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She works part-time as a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her plays include A Trojan Woman’s Tale (Villa La Pietra), The Queen of Macon County (The National Black Theatre), Shelfies (The 52nd Street Project), The Big O (Villa La Pietra), and Rigor Mortis (NYU Tisch). Recent theater credits include What to Send Up When It Goes Down (Movement Theatre Company), Stained (The Amoralist), Song for a Future Generation (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Restoration Comedy (The Flea), and Daughter of Lot (Edinburgh Fringe Festival). TV: “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix), “Elementary” (CBS), “The Good Fight” (CBS), “Madam Secretary” (CBS). As a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant, she has worked on several books, including Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive by Marisa J. Fuentes. At Yale, her senior essay “Plan B: The Collision of the Birth Control Movement and the Uplift Movement Viewed Through Works of Angelina Weld Grimké” received both the Lily Rosen Prize in Women's Health for best essay that contributes to knowledge about women’s health and the William Pickens Prize for outstanding senior essay in the field of African and African American Studies.
BEHIND THE SHEET began previews on January 9 and runs through February 10 at EST. You can purchase tickets here.