Studio B at ART/NY is dimly lit with long fluorescent bulbs overhead. At just past 7 o’clock in the evening, two women, an actor and a director, sit at a small table chatting and nibbling homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, waiting for two other actors to arrive so rehearsal can begin. There are thick packets of scripts on the table, one which fills a big red binder belonging to Taylor Reynolds. Taylor is director of the show Think Before You Holla, which will next be performed this coming July at the Capital Fringe theatre festival in Washington, D.C.
Think Before You Holla is a show Taylor developed in 2014 for the Harlem Arts Festival as a response to street harassment, the way some men shout at, catcall, or actively force unwanted attentions onto women walking on the street. In a series of vignettes and scenes, it relays women’s true stories that Taylor culled from interviews, social media, and news. It looks to examine “the patriarchal roots of gender-based street harassment and its overall influence on women’s psyches.” In D.C., the show is part of the premiere season of the Ally Theatre Company.
Since graduating college with a BFA degree in Directing, Taylor has worked with Chicago and New York theatre companies like Victory Gardens, The 24 Hour Plays, Stage Left Theatre, UglyRhino, The United Solo Festival, and many others. She is also a member of the Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab, and is currently a Producing Artistic Leader of the Movement Theatre Company.
Soon all three actors are present and, since Holla is partly a movement piece, Taylor leads them in a warmup. Arms swing, legs are stretched, hips are swirled, necks are rolled, and jaws are loosened. Taylor explains to the actors, scripts in hands, what scenes they will work on that day. They go through blocking, or stage positioning and movement, and Taylor’s hands move as quick as her brain and her tongue, fluttering through the air like two butterflies attached to her wrists. Okay, move here. A little further. Great. Now come here. Yes. The actors move about the space, sharing with each other with these stories of men walking into glass doors while trying to speak to them, men coming up to them to ask about their thighs, doormen hitting on them, and others. Then they tackle a news story about street harassment gone violent, like a man who ran over a 14-year-old girl twice when she refused to get in his car and have sex with him. Say the lines like a news broadcaster, Taylor says. Now like you don’t believe street harassment is real. Now like you are the family of the victim. All of this conjures in my mind the oft-relayed Margaret Atwood quote: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”
“What can women do to make men uncomfortable?”, one of the actors wonders aloud.
“Girl,” Taylor says, “I have been wondering that since 2014.”