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Alternative Truth Project

Members of the cast of the Alternative Truth Project production of "Seven" include, from left: front, Dominique Sicard; second row, Wendy Mattison, Diane Foust, Suzanne Young; back, Kate Mayer, Diane Breeser, Susan Fox and Chelsea McManimon-Moe.

The Alternative Truth Project staged reading of “Seven” on Friday, Jan. 18, makes two full years of thought-provoking theater, a play a month followed by a rousing round of discussion. And here endeth the readings.

Sort of.

After “Seven,” the Alternative Truth Project will go on indefinite hiatus, but the three women who got the project rolling in the wake of President Donald Trump’s inauguration and Kellyanne Conway’s reference to “alternative facts” — Anne Drecktrah, Diane Breeser and Susan Fox — say they stand at the ready to revive it at any time in case of some kind of “cataclysmic political event.”

Kind of like theater reservists, ready for the call-up when it happens.

The three sat down for a chat recently and expressed amazement at the community support that has kept the project going longer than they could have hoped to expect. To get it started, they had to have some seed money for space rental and play reading rights and such, and they weren’t sure how long that money would last and whether people would keep donating.

“We figured we’d go until we can’t go, that it’ll dry up in a few months, but it never did. People are very generous,” Fox said.

Anne Drecktrah

Drecktrah

“Audiences have just been astounding,” Drecktrah added. “It showed that there was an appetite in the community for play reading.”

An appetite on the part not only of but spectators but also of actors. Normally, being in a play involves a six week commitment with many hours of rehearsals, followed by two or three weeks of performances. With the Alternative Truth Project, the plays involved one rehearsal (typically) and one performance, and that meant a lot of talented actors could get involved.

“It’s amazing the talent we got,” Drecktrah said.

The high level of talent made the staged readings compelling beyond expectations, every bit as absorbing as a play with sets, costumes, blocking, lighting and sound effects. “You don’t think that a staged reading is going to be that good,” Fox said. “Hearing the actors without all the distractions almost makes it a better story for me.”

For what could be the finale of Alternative Truth Project, Drecktrah chose to direct “Seven,” a play in which seven playwrights tell the stories of seven extraordinary women from around the world — Nigeria, Afghanistan, Guatamala, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Cambodia and Russia — who overcame extreme obstacles and oppressive circumstances to make a difference.

Drecktrah has had her eye on the play for years, thinking at first that she wanted to do the play with an ethnically correct cast. Having the correct nationalities involved has come to seem much less important, especially considering that the play has been done by a cast of seven male military generals.

“We’re telling their story. We’re not trying to be them,” said Drecktrah, emphasizing that these are stories that need to be heard.

“It’s pitifully relevant to today. We’re still facing the same discrimination as women and the sex trafficking and domestic abuse. We’re still facing the same issues,” Drecktrah said. “It’s really important to show that the issues are still out there to be worked on and strived against around the world, not just in the United States.”

Both Breeser and Fox are in the cast of “Seven,” Breeser as a Russian woman who fought trafficking of women and children, Fox as a woman who overcame great odds to become a lawmaker in Guatemala and fight for rights of women and indigenous people.

“She came from such incredible poverty — just dirt floor, not enough food — and she ends up being a congresswoman in Guatemala, and her life is seriously on the line because she’s fighting the corruption that is endemic in the culture,” Fox said. “When you read these stories, most of these women came from extremely humble beginnings. They accomplished great things for women everywhere.”

Each of the women in “Seven” served as a kind of tipping point in their countries, and the takeaway from the play is that there is hope for a better world.

“I am cautiously optimistic about the ability for every person to make a change,” Drecktrah said.

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Entertainment and county government reporter

Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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