This weekend, Looking for Lilith Theatre Co. opens “Carefully Taught,” a production that hopes to introduce Louisville to a new mission Lilith has began working on: turning inward with their focused passion for forwarding social justice and evaluating their own white privilege.
Insider spoke with Lilith’s Jennifer Thalman Kepler, Kathi E. B. Ellis and Ebony Nolana Jordan to discuss the impetus and intentions of that mission.
“Back in 2015 when the Charleston shooting happened, we really became more intentional about addressing the issue of race and gender,” said Jordan.
The nine people murdered in a racially motivated mass shooting at the historic black church Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal included several of women. In revelations from his journal and statements made after the shooting, Dylan Roof claimed that among other motivations, he wished to protect white women.
It struck a chord for Lilith members, who recognize that white feminism and women’s rights in history has frequently come without thought to women of color.
“Lilith has always striven to work in an intersectional way, and we had looked at racial issues before in various ways, but we hadn’t plunged into that intersection as intentionally as other issues,” Jordan said.
Focusing on those intersections is known as intersectional feminism, and it’s a hot-button topic among activists all over the social justice spectrum. After discussion and some introspection, Lilith’s members decided to do a deep dive into their own culture. After all, they reasoned, change needs to come within as well as without.
“We need to not only look at this as a societal issue, we need to recognize how we ourselves, as individual artists and an organization, are working within a system that is steeped in patriarchy and white supremacy,” said Kepler.
Lilith applied for a grant from from Alternate Roots, an organization that helps support and deepen the social justice works of other grassroots initiatives.
After applying for grants last fall, the company finally got word that they would receive funding to help them in the new direction for their mission. Their work will help strengthen relationships in communities and focus on continued internal examination.
At the same time Lilith became interested in introspection, they also were planning their season schedule, and Co-Artistic Director Ellis was looking at the script for “Carefully Taught,” written by Cheryl Davis.
“I had worked with Cheryl Davis when Juneteenth Festival of New Works was in existence,” said Ellis.
That Louisville festival focused on African-American issues and artists.
“Cheryl and I reconnected on Facebook, and that’s when I read about this newest play she has written,” said Ellis.
Set in the present day, “Carefully Taught” focuses on a friendship between two school teachers and how it changes after one of them is fired. One of the teachers is white, the other is black, and issues of unspoken prejudices and loyalty threaten the bond between the two women.
So while Lilith works to look at the administration, social practices and community partnerships, they also explore issues of white privilege and racism’s effect on feminism and women’s solidarity — and they can do it with the medium they know best.
“Carefully Taught” also offers Lilith a chance to work on their relationships in the community by virtue of venue — they’re performing it at the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage. While the center doesn’t yet have a traditional theater space, that doesn’t bother the women of Lilith.
“We tend to look for non-traditional spaces, because so much of the work we do is non-traditional, whether we’re creating a play or selecting a play,” said Ellis. “I knew the Center for African-American Heritage had already hosted some theatrical productions, both from the UofL African-American Theatre Program and from the Smoked Apple Theatre group.”
The center is in the process of building a more traditional theater space, but in the meantime, Lilith will use a gallery space.
“We hope this works out, because we’d love for this to be a longtime partnership,” said Ellis. “Because of the work we do, we much prefer partnership to just renting a venue. So we’re hopeful as well.”
“Carefully Taught” is on stage (so to speak) at the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage, 1701 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. Tickets are $20, with shows on Oct. 26-28, 30*, and Nov. 2-4 at 7:30 p.m. The Oct. 30 show is a special $10 community night. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 4.
This story has been updated.