Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival concludes with red carpet and gala awards ceremony

Mohammed Al-Turki, chairman of the Festival Committee, with British model Naomi Campbell. (AFP)
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Updated 18 December 2021
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Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival concludes with red carpet and gala awards ceremony

  • Stars gather in Jeddah as first event of its kind in Saudi Arabia bows out in style, with the promise of bigger and better things to come
  • Closing curtain comes down on glittering event that marked historic moment for cinema in the Kingdom

JEDDAH: In another landmark occasion for Saudi Arabia’s fledgling film industry, the stars gathered once again on the red carpet in Jeddah on Monday for the finale of the first Red Sea International Film Festival.

Though the film screenings will continue for two more days, the gala event, which included the announcement of the festival award winners, marked the official end of an event that just a few years ago few could have imagined taking place in the Kingdom. It has only been four years since a long-standing ban on cinemas was lifted in the country.

Dozens of actors, celebrities, filmmakers and officials turned out, including supermodel Naomi Campbell; British actor Ed Westwick; Spanish actor Maria Pedraza; “Junoon” writer Pedro Paulo Araujo; Jack Lang, president of the Arab World institute in Paris and a former minister of culture in France; Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore; and a number of actors from the region including Basem Khayat, Hend Sabri, Maysa Maghrabi, Ahd Kamel, Dhafer Labidine and Yasmine Sabri.

“This was our first-ever international film festival and we have learned a lot that we will now build upon for our second edition,” Mohamed Al-Turki, a renowned Saudi producer and chairman of the festival committee, said during the closing ceremony.

“I am touched by the reactions of many guests who have shared positive stories of the incredible warmth and hospitality they have received from the Saudi people. The future is now bright for the Saudi film industry.”

The sentiments were echoed by a number of international guests, including Lang, who said: “I’m very happy because the first Red Sea Film Festival is a great success and we see the people are as happy as I.

“It’s very important for Saudi cinema; we’ve discovered many new, young talents. I’m very optimistic and I’m sure that this will become one of the more important cinema festivals in the world.”

During the closing ceremony the winners of the festival competitions — including best film, best Saudi film, best short film, and special “Immersive” awards for virtual reality projects — were announced. They were chosen by three juries led by “Cinema Paradiso” director Tornatore, Egyptian director Marwan Hamad, and American avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson.

The first award of the night, for Best Saudi Film, went to psychological thriller “Rupture” and was presented to director Hamza Jamjoom by Campbell.


GALLERY

Stars shine at RSIFF’s gala awards ceremony


The winner of the Golden Yusr for Best Feature went to the drama “Brighton 4th,” by Georgian director Levan Koguashvili.

The short film award went to “Tala’Vision,” directed by Murad Abu Eisheh from Jordan; the Special Mention Award was given to “Farha,” a film set in Palestine directed by Jordanian filmmaker Darin J. Sallam; Adam Ali was named best actor for his performance in the film “Europa;” and the Jury Prize, presented by Syrian actor Basel Khayat, went to “Hit the Road” by Iranian director Panah Panahi.

The winner of the Audience Award was “You Resemble Me,” a drama that marks the directorial debut of Egyptian-American filmmaker, and award-winning journalist, Dina Amer.

In her acceptance speech, Amer said that the award is a dream come true and added: “So much prayer went into this moment. This film is about our beautiful faith, Islam, that has been perverted and sold as something that it is not, through propaganda, as a religion of violence — and this is our reclamation that this is a beautiful faith, one of peace, and that we can tell our story on our terms.”

Director David Adler received the Immersive Golden Yusr award for his film “End of Night,” which was presented by Anderson. The Silver Yusr award went to Taiwanese director Hsin-Chien Huang for “Samsara.”

“Over the last few days, we looked at the 13 works of Immersive cinema,” Anderson said. “Once you get used to the very large headset and headphones you discover that you cannot only fly or fall from atop of buildings, but in this art form you enter cinema in a new way.

Aside from these gravity tricks, you find yourself caught into your dreams and thoughts, between plot and image. In Immersive cinema, you use your dream body, you counter what it is to see, what it is to tell the story in a whole new way.”

According to festival organizers, 38 percent of the 138 films from 67 countries screening during the 10-day festival were by female filmmakers, a fact that further underlines the growth in female cinema talent in the local industry.

Saudi actress and writer Sarah Taibah told Arab News that she believes this is just the beginning for female scriptwriters, directors and producers.

“A lot of women writers and directors and actresses have been active for a long while now but the spotlight is finally now on them,” she said. “It’s really thrilling that this (festival) is finally happening in my country, in my city.

“I’m lost for words and I’m sad that this is the closing night but it’s been a hectic, crazy, exciting week and I can’t wait to share our voices, female and male, but mostly women.

“It’s finally our time to share with the whole world who we really are, aside from the stereotypical representations all around international media.”

Festival film screenings continue until Wednesday, Dec. 15, when the inaugural event will conclude with a screening of Hindi film “’83,” based on the true story of the Indian cricket team’s victory over an “unbeatable” West Indies team, which helped to put India back on the cricketing map.


Tunnel, fortification wall unearthed by archaeologists in Jeddah

Updated 11 sec ago
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Tunnel, fortification wall unearthed by archaeologists in Jeddah

  • Findings linked to expansion of city’s defenses in 18th and 19th centuries
  • New evidence of human settlement discovered in Umm Jirsan cave in Madinah

RIYADH: A series of archaeological discoveries in Jeddah and Madinah were revealed on Thursday by the Historic Jeddah Program and the Saudi Heritage Commission.

The finding of new evidence of human settlement in Umm Jirsan Cave, located in Madinah’s Harrat Khaybar, was announced by the commission, and the remnants of an ancient underground tunnel and a fortified wall, which once encircled the city, were announced by the program as part of the inaugural phase of Jeddah’s Archaeology Project.

Situated in the northern sector of historic Jeddah, adjacent to Al-Kidwa Square and in close proximity to Al-Bayaa Square, these historical structures date back several centuries.

Some estimations put Jeddah becoming a fortified city during the late 10th to early 11th century, but laboratory analyses suggest that the new finds belong to a later phase of fortification, likely constructed during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Archaeological excavations revealed that by the mid-19th century, the tunnel had become unusable and was quickly filled with sand. However, the wall remained standing until 1947, and some parts of the tunnel’s supporting wall remained intact up to a height of three meters.

Imported European ceramics dating back to the 19th century were also found, highlighting the historic commercial connections of Jeddah. Additionally, a pottery fragment dating back to the 9th century was discovered in Al-Kidwa Square.

These findings are part of a broader collection of archaeological discoveries announced by the Historic Jeddah Program as outcomes of the first phase of its Archaeology Project — a collaborative effort that involves specialized national teams, Saudi experts from the Heritage Commission, and foreign archaeologists.

Their combined expertise has revealed a trove of 25,000 artifacts across four sites, marking a significant development in understanding the cultural evolution of historic Jeddah.

In Madinah, the Heritage Commission announced the discovery of new evidence of human settlement in Umm Jirsan Cave following research conducted by its archaeologists in cooperation with King Saud University, Germany’s Max Planck Institute and Saudi Arabia’s Geological Survey, as part of the Green Arabian Peninsula Project, which focuses on multidisciplinary field research.

It is the Kingdom’s first study that looks into archeological research inside caves, and involved archeological surveys and excavations in several parts of the cave, revealing evidence dating back to the Neolithic period.

The oldest piece of evidence dates back to between 7,000 to 10,000 years ago, encompassing the Copper and Bronze Age periods.

The study of the cave proved that it has been utilized by pastoral groups.

The artifacts discovered include wood, fabric, and some stone tools, in addition to rock art facades depicting scenes of grazing goats, sheep, cows and dogs, as well as hunting activities with different types of wild animals.

The commission noted that the scientific discoveries represent evidence of human settlement in the cave, and a great number of animal bones, including those of striped hyenas, camels, horses, deer, caribou, goats, cows, and wild and domestic donkeys were also identified.

The analysis of human skeletal remains using radioactive isotopes revealed that ancient humans relied on a predominantly carnivorous diet but that, over time, plants were introduced, suggesting the emergence of agriculture.


Saudi Cinema Encyclopedia prints first batch of film books

Updated 18 April 2024
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Saudi Cinema Encyclopedia prints first batch of film books

  • Initial run of 22 titles part of plan to release 100 books by the end of the year
  • First set of releases will be available to the public during the 10th Saudi Film Festival, held May 2-9 this year

RIYADH: The Saudi Cinema Encyclopedia, an initiative launched by the Saudi Cinema Association, will kick off with an initial release of its first 22 books, written by an international group of authors, as its first batch of publications.

The project aims to release 100 books in its first year, published by Josour Al-Thaqafah Publishing House.

The first set of releases will be available to the public during the 10th Saudi Film Festival, held May 2-9 this year.

The aim is to establish a periodic program for book production in Arabic to elevate the Kingdom’s film industry writing from amateur to an area known own for its professionalism and specialization.

Abdulwhab Aloryad, editorial director of the Saudi Cinema Encyclopedia and the bulletin of the Saudi Film Festival “Saafa,” told Arab News that the books were published to enhance knowledge among filmmakers.
“This encyclopedia aims to add to what the Saudi Film Festival has started and be an active contributor in Saudi cinema, reinforcing the beliefs of the festival organizers and their efforts to create a competitive film industry on a global level,” he said.

“The series will continue to be an icon in film knowledge, with its central goals of unveiling Saudi and Arab talent in authorship, presenting the latest new books in Arabic, and transferring specialized knowledge in this field from various other languages into Arabic to be available to those interested in the film industry.”

Aloryad said: “Since its launch in 2008, the Saudi Film Festival has believed in its authentic role in cultural and intellectual development aimed at professionals in the film industry. It has focused on the project of knowledge and has driven the wheel of authoring and translation in all fields related to the film industry in order to elevate all stages of the film industry.

“Based on this belief, the festival has adopted a periodic program for book production, presenting more than 50 books in its previous editions that shed light on various aspects of the film industry.”


REVIEW: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ takes gaming adaptations to next level

Updated 18 April 2024
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REVIEW: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ takes gaming adaptations to next level

LONDON: Don’t say it too loud, but we might, finally, have reached the point when good TV adaptations of hit videogames become the norm, rather than the exception. Hot on the heels of “The Last of Us” and “The Witcher” comes “Fallout,” an eight-part series based on the post-apocalyptic world explored in the series of famed Bethesda games.

In an alternate future, with the world devastated by a global nuclear war, a community of wealthy individuals retreats to a series of underground vaults to ride out the fallout. Some 200 years later, wide-eyed vault dweller Lucy (Ella Purnell) is forced to leave the safety of her underground home when her father is kidnapped by raiders from the surface, kickstarting a journey that will not only make her confront the horrors of the unlawful society above, but also sees her meet a revolving door of eccentric (yet equally horrifying) characters along the way. Among these are Maximus (Aaron Moten), a squire in the militaristic Brotherhood of Steel, and The Ghoul (Walton Goggins), a terrifyingly mutated former actor now forging his way as a bounty hunter.

The key to the success of “Fallout” is that your enjoyment of the show is not dependent on whether or not the previous paragraph made any sense to you whatsoever. Rather, creators Graham Wagner and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, along with developers (and executive producers) Christopher Nolan and Lisa Joy have taken the wise decision to create a world wherein knowledge of the wider “Fallout” universe is a bonus, but not a prerequisite. So even if this is your first introduction to the world of Pip-Boys, gulpers and Vaulters, you won’t be penalized, and you certainly won’t feel like you’re missing out.

The world of “Fallout” is a gloriously gritty, bloody and savage one, but it’s also one of razor-sharp humor and fiendish satire — not least thanks to Goggins’ phenomenal turn as The Ghoul. Acerbic and frighteningly violent, The Ghoul is the very embodiment of the savage, unforgiving wasteland, and Goggins has a blast with perhaps the role of his career to date. Lucy is the polar opposite, and Purnell is equally as great as the naïve-yet-capable young woman entirely unprepared for the muck and murder she emerges into. Throw the two together with a razor-sharp, witty script and top-drawer production values and you have a show that’s about as much fun as you can have without a controller of your own.


Saudi poet and artist Hana Almilli: ‘After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion’ 

Updated 18 April 2024
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Saudi poet and artist Hana Almilli: ‘After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion’ 

DUBAI: Saudi artist Hana Almilli and her two siblings grew up in a household where creativity and self-expression were actively encouraged. “My mom is a poet,” Almilli tells Arab News. “And my dad was very motivating in terms of doing photography.” Her two brothers, she adds, “are both talented in terms of music and art.” And with her Syrian maternal grandmother, Almilli shares a love of nature and of textiles. 

But aside from being one of the main inspirations behind her creative output, Almilli’s family are also the subject of most of it. Through her poetry, embroidery, weaving, dyeing and photography, she explores her own history and her diverse cultural identity (she has Saudi, Syrian, Turkish, Kurdish, and Palestinian ancestry).  

Detail from 'Memoirs 2,' which shows Almilli's maternal grandmother in Syria. (Supplied)

“It’s about me and my family history,” Almilli says of her work, which was most recently on display at Art Dubai in March. “It does really focus on heritage, history, personal narratives.  

“Being from all these different identities, it’s always been important to be a part of those cultures,” she continues. “They’re all very different. And sitting with each and every grandparent, which I’ve had the privilege of doing, you learn so much. Growing up I’d have Turkish lullabies from my Turkish grandma, Kurdish news on the televsion that my grandpa would translate. My memory’s not great, but those specific moments from my childhood still remain; I still write about them and I’m still inspired by them. And I still want to almost recreate them in my work.” 

Aside from her family history, the other major theme running through Almilli’s work is alienation or estrangement (as made clear in the title of her ongoing series “The Echoes of My Alienation”). That may seem odd in someone who talks so warmly of her close and nurturing family ties, but those same ties could, perhaps, have been one of the causes of her alienation. 

'A fragile dawn, a floating wish, a fleeting farewell' on display at SAMOCA. (Supplied)

It really began when she moved to the US to attend the California College of the Arts in 2014. Initially, she was studying architecture, but, “I just hated it. I couldn’t express myself in any way that I wanted to.” She shifted courses, eventually graduating with a focus on textiles and creative writing, the latter allowing her to build on her poetry writing, which began as a teenager with verses that were “hidden under the bed — ‘No one’s looking at this.’” 

It was towards the end of her college years that she began “The Echoes of My Alienation,” although the emotions it explores had surfaced almost as soon as she arrived in the States.  

“My first day in the US, there was an earthquake, and I’d never experienced an earthquake. So it was almost like the beginning of this trial of alienation,” Almilli says. “I was, like, ‘I don’t know if this is for me.’ So persevering, and staying there for five years, was an interesting experience. It grew that alienation. And I wouldn’t say it has dissipated. It still stays, because if it doesn’t then that curiosity about finding out where I come from is gone.” 

The series features a number of different works, including several self-portraits and images of family members embellished with embroidery. 

“You can see the pieces are obsessively embroidered with little maps. I was almost mapping myself out — those identities that have always been a part of my life but that, to some extent, I had lost as I travelled to the US and was far from home. My grandma had Alzheimer’s at the time, too, so that history was lost with her. My grandpa had passed away in the first year I was in the US as well, so there’s this aspect of rediscovering and recreating history through myself in self-portraits.” 

 'Languages Interlacing 2,' one of Almilli's self-portraits. (Supplied)

The “most emotional” section of the series, she says, is “Memoirs.” In “Memoirs 2” Almilli has embroidered delicate jasmine flowers over an image of her maternal grandmother in Syria, standing among trees.  

“It’s the same technique I use every time, but I intuitively highlight specific parts of an image, whether it’s to hide or accentuate,” Almilli explains. “My grandma and I have a great connection with flowers.” 

As she explored working with textiles, Almilli also developed her poetry skills. She has even published the poems that she once hid under her bed.  

“At art school, you don’t really have that fear of exposing yourself, because everyone is. So I found the courage to take part in this school publication that went around California as well. That really re-started everything in terms of writing and, ever since, every piece I make has been inspired by a written poem.  

“Usually, my works are unique pieces representing a story, or a dream, or someone,” she continues. “It’s interesting, because nowadays, with contemporary art, you’re meant to look at it and make your own sense of it. But, to me, it’s important to know the story of what happened. Being able to write, as an artist, is very important for me because it gives context to my work — what it represents, what it feels like.” She cites her piece on display at the Saudi Arabia Museum of Contemporary Art — “A fragile dawn, a floating wish, a fleeting farewell.” “That was initially a long poem that got turned into an embroidered piece that has the poetry within it,” she explains. 

With so many different outlets for her creativity, her mind must be constantly churning with ideas, which seems like it could get exhausting, I suggest. But Almilli, who returned to Saudi Arabia in 2019, explains that she’ll often take a lengthy break after finishing a piece or a series. 

“After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion,” she says. “For example, the piece I just spoke about talks about how, in my dreams, I meet people I’ve loved, but they’re forever drowning in my dreams. Like, my grandma had Alzheimer’s for a few years and we couldn’t get her to Saudi. It’s almost like the only connection I had with her was when she showed up in my dreams. And to be able to write that and grasp it, and put it into something that is physical… it’s very difficult, in the beginning, because you’re facing the idea of that loss in the future, but after that comes a conclusion of sorts: ‘Now I understand these emotions.’ I try to think about what I wrote when I’m making each piece, and — if it’s a difficult piece — to try and heal from it in the process. That difficult feeling becomes something you can bear, whatever it might be.” 

And even though her pieces are so personal, Almilli has found her work connects with people on a very emotional level.  

“As much as my stories are about my personal history, and my family’s oral history and heritage, at the end of the day there are a lot of people that feel an alienation, or a craving after the loss of a person for that person. So they are stories that people can relate to,” she says.  

“I cherish my pieces so much. It’s very difficult for me to let go of them, but I’ve grown to understand that it’s really about being able to share that story with people and show them that there are others going through that,” she continues. “It’s beautiful too, because I hear stories from others that they’ve never spoken about. It’s important, because it shows them that you can embrace multiple aspects of yourself, and that’s OK.”  


‘Suffs’ musical with Malala, Hillary as producers has timing on its side

Updated 17 April 2024
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‘Suffs’ musical with Malala, Hillary as producers has timing on its side

  • ‘Suffs’ is a Broadway musical that focuses on the American women’s suffrage movement
  • Pakistani Nobel laureate says musical helped her see her activism from a “new lens“

NEW YORK: Shaina Taub was in the audience at “Suffs,” her buzzy and timely new musical about women’s suffrage, when she spied something that delighted her.
It was intermission, and Taub, both creator and star, had been watching her understudy perform at a matinee preview last week. Suddenly, she saw audience members searching the Wikipedia pages of key figures portrayed in the show: women like Ida B. Wells, Inez Milholland and Alice Paul, who not only spearheaded the suffrage fight but also wrote the Equal Rights Amendment ( still not law, but that’s a whole other story).
“I was like, that’s my goal, exactly that!” Taub, who plays Paul, said from her dressing room later. “Do everything I can to make you fall in love with these women, root for them, care about them. So that was a really satisfying moment to witness.”
Satisfying but sobering, too. Fact is, few audience members know much about the American suffrage movement. So the all-female creative team behind “Suffs,” which had a high-profile off-Broadway run and opens Thursday on Broadway with extensive revisions, knows they’re starting from zero.
It’s an opportunity, says Taub, who studied social movements — but not suffrage — at New York University. But it’s also a huge challenge: How do you educate but also entertain?
One member of the “Suffs” team has an especially poignant connection to the material. That would be producer Hillary Clinton.
She was, of course, the first woman to win the US presidential nomination of a major party, and the first to win the popular vote. But Clinton says she never studied the suffrage movement in school, even at Wellesley. Only later in life did she fill in the gap, including a visit as first lady to Seneca Falls, home to the first American women’s rights convention some 70 years before the 19th Amendment gave women the vote.
“I became very interested in women’s history through my own work, and writing and reading,” Clinton told The Associated Press. And so, seeing “Suffs” off-Broadway, “I was thrilled because it just helps to fill a big gap in our awareness of the long, many-decades struggle for suffrage.”
It was Taub who wrote Clinton, asking her to come on board. “I thought about it for a nanosecond,” Clinton says, “and decided absolutely, I wanted to help lift up this production.” A known theater lover, Clinton describes traveling often to New York as a college student and angling for discounts, often seeing only the second act, when she could get in for free. “For years, I’d only seen the second act of ‘Hair,’” she quips.
Clinton then reached out to Malala Yousafzai, whom Taub also hoped to engage as a producer. As secretary of state, Clinton had gotten to know the Pakistani education activist who was shot by a Taliban gunman at age 15. Clinton wanted Yousafzai to know she was involved and hoped the Nobel Peace Prize winner would be, too.
“I’m thrilled,” Clinton says of Yousafzai’s involvement, “because yes, this is an American story, but the pushback against women’s rights going on at this moment in history is global.”
Yousafzai had also seen the show, directed by Leigh Silverman, and loved it. She, too, has been a longtime fan of musicals, though she notes her own acting career began and ended with a school skit in Pakistan, playing a not-very-nice male boss. Her own education about suffrage was limited to “one or two pages in a history book that talked about the suffrage movement in the UK,” where she’d moved for medical treatment.
“I still had no idea about the US side of the story,” Yousafzai told the AP. It was a struggle among conflicting personalities, and a clash over priorities between older and younger activists but also between white suffragists and those of color — something the show addresses with the searing “Wait My Turn,” sung by Nikki M. James as Wells, the Black activist and journalist.
“This musical has really helped me see activism from a different lens,” says Yousafzai. “I was able to take a deep breath and realize that yes, we’re all humans and it requires resilience and determination, conversation, open-mindedness … and along the way you need to show you’re listening to the right perspectives and including everyone in your activism.”
When asked for feedback by the “Suffs” team, Yousafzai says she replied that she loved the show just as it was. (She recently paid a visit to the cast, and toured backstage.) Clinton, who has attended rehearsals, quips: “I sent notes, because I was told that’s what producers do.”
Clinton adds: “I love the changes. It takes a lot of work to get the storytelling right — to decide what should be sung versus spoken, how to make sure it’s not just telling a piece of history, but is entertaining.”
Indeed, the off-Broadway version was criticized by some as feeling too much like a history lesson. The new version feels faster and lighter, with a greater emphasis on humor — even in a show that details hunger strikes and forced feedings.
One moment where the humor shines through: a new song titled “Great American Bitch” that begins with a suffragist noting a man had called her, well, a bitch. The song reclaims the word with joy and laughter. Taub says this moment — and another where an effigy of President Woodrow Wilson (played by Grace McLean, in a cast that’s all female or nonbinary) is burned — has been a hit with audiences.
“As much as the show has changed,” she says, “the spine of it is the same. A lot of what I got rid of was just like clearing brush.”
Most of the original cast has returned. Jenn Colella plays Carrie Chapman Catt, an old-guard suffragist who clashed with the younger Paul over tactics and timing. James returns as Wells, while Milholland, played by Phillipa Soo off-Broadway, is now played by Hannah Cruz.
Given its parallels to a certain Lin-Manuel Miranda blockbuster about the Founding Fathers, it’s perhaps not a surprise that the show has been dubbed “Hermilton” by some.
“I have to say,” Clinton says of Taub, “I think she’s doing for this part of American history what Lin did for our founders — making it alive, approachable, understandable. I’m hoping ‘Suffs’ has the same impact ‘Hamilton’ had.”
That may seem a tall order, but producers have been buoyed by audience reaction. “They’re laughing even more than we thought they would at the parts we think are funny, and cheering at other parts,” Clinton says.
A particular cheer comes at the end, when Paul proposes the ERA. 
“A cast member said, ‘Who’d have ever thought the Equal Rights Amendment would get cheers in a Broadway theater?’” Clinton recalls.
One clear advantage the show surely has: timeliness. During the off-Broadway run, news emerged the Supreme Court was preparing to overturn Roe vs. Wade, fueling a palpable sense of urgency in the audience. The Broadway run begins as abortion rights are again in the news — and a key issue in the presidential election only months away.
Taub takes the long view. She’s been working on the show for a decade, and says something’s always happening to make it timely.
“I think,” she muses, “it just shows the time is always right to learn about women’s history.”