Catherine Filloux and Selma ’65 at Sill Waters in a Storm Literacy Center

Catherine FIlloux talking to a group at Still Waters in a Storm.

Catherine FIlloux talking to a group at Still Waters in a Storm.

On September 20, 2014 at the literacy center Still Waters in a Storm in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Marietta Hedges performed from Catherine Filloux’s new one-woman play SELMA ‘65. The performance was followed by a discussion about the play and voting rights, between the young audience members, their teachers, Marietta Hedges, the director Eleanor Holdridge, and the assistant stage manager, Eloise Sherrid. 

Marietta Hedges as Viola Liuzzo performing a scene from SELMA '65 at Still Waters in a Storm

Marietta Hedges as Viola Liuzzo performing a scene from SELMA ’65 at Still Waters in a Storm


Next was a writer’s workshop surrounding voting in terms of SELMA ’65.  The students were asked to comment on two lines in the play:


“I’m not black, but I consider you and Sarah my people, Leroy.”




“But there’s a place where you think you should be, and you try to get there, a world that you want.”


Actress Marietta Hedges performing a scene from SELMA '65 at Still Waters in a Storm.

Actress Marietta Hedges performing a scene from SELMA ’65 at Still Waters in a Storm.

The first writing prompt was: Who are your people?


The second:  How can you make the world a better place?

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The AMAZING Activists, Scholars, and Artist Panels and Q&A’s for SELMA ’65

Don’t forget that most of the performances of SELMA ’65 include a discussion with various activists, artists, and scholars on the critical themes and events of the play. Be sure when you get you tickets here, that you check out who’s on the docket for an enlightening post show discussion of Voting Rights, the Selma March, and the lives of the individuals who inspired the play.

Saturday, September 27, 2014, 2:00pm Performance



Post-matinee performance panel with Gary May, the author of The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo, and Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy. In Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent from the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, where she argued that the law should be kept intact, Ginsburg cited May’s book.  Bill Moyers calls his book “masterful.”

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In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Selma Voting Rights Movement, Selma ‘65 explores the virtually unknown stories, and double lives, of Viola Liuzzo and Tommy Rowe.

World Premiere September 26th, 2014 at the

La MaMa Experimental Theater Club (74A E 4th St)

SELMA ‘65 – a new solo play from award-winning playwright Catherine Filloux – is set to make its world-premiere at the La MaMa Experimental Theater Club (74A E 4th St.) on Friday, September 26th, 2014. Based on true events, SELMA ‘65 stars Marietta Hedges and is directed by Eleanor Holdridge.

Performances of SELMA ‘65 will be held Wednesday through Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm with a matinee on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Beginning on Friday, September 26th, SELMA ‘65 will play its final performance on Sunday, October 12th, 2014.

In anticipation of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Selma Voting Rights Movement, Bloody Sunday and the Voting Rights Act, Filloux’s newest work explores the civil rights movement from the perspectives of white activist Viola Liuzzo and FBI informant Tommy Rowe. Rowe was among the Ku Klux Klan members who overtook and gunned down Liuzzo’s Oldsmobile on March 25, 1965. The Klan targeted Ms. Liuzzo, who witnessed racial hatred first hand as a young girl, whilst she drove African-American freedom fighters to safety following the historic March to Montgomery. Ms. Hedges tackles both roles, switching between characters throughout the 75-minute production.

About taking on the story, Catherine Filloux believes it was a necessary step towards preserving history in the minds of theatergoers and staying in-line with her dedication to activism. “As a playwright I focus predominantly on human rights, exploring issues of genocide and other forms of state violence, its crimes and scars. I always choose subject matter, which I personally feel most urgently about. In this case, it is the erosion of our civil rights. The long and often bloody struggle to win the right to vote is obviously ongoing. The Supreme Court recently struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And as long as the rights of minority voters remain in jeopardy, the play becomes even more crucial to society.”

SELMA ’65 brings a virtually unknown story in United States’ history to light,” adds Filloux. “In my story, I juxtapose the poetic with the brutal reality of violence and the individual moments of choice within the whirlwind of history.”

And in an effort to include the audience in a dialogue the play creates, select performances will offer special post-show panel discussions featuring renowned authors, journalists and activists. The still-growing list already includes author Gary May, Reverend Richard Leonard, voting rights expert Steven Carbó, Eleanor J. Bader and Serena Solomon.

Ever the activist, Marietta Hedges realizes the opportunity to tell the oft-forgotten story and continue standing up for the things she believes in. “As an actress whose work focuses on socio-political issues, Viola’s story is of the kind I want to tell,” she said. “It’s one with a strong female protagonist and compelling civic issues. I quickly learned that few knew of this woman and the man at the center of her death, an undercover FBI informant, Gary Thomas Rowe (Tommy). We hear so much about the martyred men of the movement, African-American and White, but very little of the contribution made by women.”

She adds that “Viola’s story is a rich history of the march, questionable FBI tactics and

an activist at the cusp of second wave feminism. The issues presented in SELMA ’65 are ones we are still dealing with almost 50 years later. In this so-called ‘post-racial’ age, we have seen major portions of the voting rights act gutted alongside a well-organized backlash against African Americans and women. Enacting Liuzzo¹ s story is the strongest way I have to address these issues.”

Empowering women is a subject that’s also on Marietta’s mind, especially when it comes to seeking out roles that may seem unorthodox on paper. “Additionally, playing both Viola and Tommy will make for exciting theatrical storytelling, affording me the chance to play a man¹s role. Women are still fighting for parity in the American Theater. And it is time our profession, which encourages men to play women¹s roles, extends the same artistic challenge to its female artists.”

Marietta Hedges is a theater artist based in Washington, DC. She has acted in theaters and theater festivals in New York, London, China, Baltimore, Washington, DC and San Francisco. Like SELMA ’65, much of her work centers on issues of social justice. She co-created Fear UP, a docudrama about the war in Iraq and the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and originated the role of Tammy in Jack Gilhooley’s post-war drama The Warrior. She also appeared as Karen in the award-winning HBO film Money Matters. Marietta is an Associate Professor of Acting at Catholic University where she heads the MFA acting program. She received her MFA from Columbia University. Marietta has appeared in both The Taming of the Shrew and Turandot at La MaMa and she considers it to one of her artistic homes. She is thrilled be returning there with this new work.

Catherine Filloux is an award-winning playwright and Artist in Residence at La MaMa, who has been writing about human rights and social justice for more than twenty years. Her plays and libretti have been produced around the world, some of which were commissioned works for the Vienna State Opera House, Book Wings Iraq, Contemporary American Theater Festival, and the Houston Grand Opera. Her credits include over twenty plays, including Luz, Dog and Wolf, Lemkin’s House, Killing the Boss, The Beauty Inside, Eyes of the Heart, Silence of God and Mary and Myra. She is the librettist for New Arrivals, Where Elephants Weep, and The Floating Box. Ms. Filloux is also featured in the documentary film, Acting Together on the World Stage.

Eleanor Holdridge (Director) has Off-Broadway productions that include Steve & Idi, (Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre), Cycling Past the Matterhorn (Clurman Theatre), The Imaginary Invalid, and Mary Stuart (Pearl Theatre Company). Regional credits include Zorro, which she co-wrote (Constellation Theatre), Double Indemnity (Roundhouse Theatre), The Gaming Table (Folger), God of Carnage and Pygmalion (Everyman Theatre), Something You Did and Body Awareness (Theatre J), Much Ado About Nothing (Taffety Punk), Gee’s Bend (Arden Theatre), Hamlet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, Lettice And Lovage, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare & Company), The Crucible (Perseverance Theatre), Educating Rita, Noises Off and Art (Triad Stage), Julius Caesar and Macbeth (Milwaukee Shakespeare), Two Gentlemen of Verona (Alabama Shakespeare), Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare St. Louis), Henry V (Shakespeare on the Sound), Betrayal (Portland Stage), and Lion In Winter (Northern Stage).

An integral part of New York City’s cultural landscape, La MaMa has a worldwide reputation for producing daring work in theatre, dance, performance art, and music that defies form and transcends boundaries of language, race, and culture. Founded in 1961 by theatre pioneer and legend Ellen Stewart, La MaMa is a global organization with creative partners and dedicated audiences around the world.


La MaMa presents an average of 60-70 productions annually, most of which are world premieres. To date, over 3,500 productions have been presented at La MaMa with artists from more than 70 nations. Honored with more than 30 OBIE Awards, dozens of Drama Desk and Bessie Awards, La MaMa’s programming is culturally diverse, cross-disciplinary and draws audiences from all walks of life.

For additional information and a full performance schedule, please call La MaMa at 
(212) 475-7710 or visit

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An Interview with Gary May, author of The Informant and Bending Toward Justice

Gary May is the author of The Informant, about SELMA ’65 character Gary Thomas Rowe and a major research source for the play, premiering at La MaMa in NYC this fall. May is also the author of Bending Toward Justice, the foremost book on Voting Rights in America. Here he is interviewed about his work, Tommy Rowe, Viola Liuzzo, and the current state of Voting Rights.


Photo Credit: Alton Christensen/Moyers and Company

What’s your background as an author?

Gary May: I’m a Professor of History at the University of Delaware and I’ve written five books. My third book, The Informant, is one of the sources that Catherine drew from to write her play.

How did you meet Catherine? Did she contact you?

Gary May: She contacted me because she had come across the book and it’s really the only major book that’s been written about the Liuzzo story. There’s another, a kind of biography of Liuzzo but, at least in my view, I don’t think it’s a good or reliable book. Mine is based on research in FBI records, and the records of Gary Thomas Rowe, who was the Klan informant. I also interviewed members of the Liuzzo family and the FBI agent who supervised Tommy Rowe during his years inside the Klan.
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Actor Marrietta Hedges on Selma ’65 and her characters Viola Liuzzo and Tommy Rowe.


 In Summer of 2009, Hedges met playwright Catherine Filloux while participating in a panel for women involved in socio-political theatre making at the annual conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. Since then they’ve worked together on a staged reading Killing the Boss, presented as a reading at the Amnesty International Arts festival in 2010.

   In Spring of 2011, Hedges traveled to Alabama to participate in another conference. During this visit she decided to do a “Civil Rights Tour” of sorts, traveling to Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham. While in Montgomery, Hedges visited the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). As the organization’s website states, the SPLC is “A nonprofit civil rights organization dedicating to fighting hate a bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society” by exposing hate groups. While visiting the organization, Hedges also visited their Civil Rights Memorial, which is directly around the corner from the capitol steps where the march from Selma to Montgomery ended on March 25, 1965. The memorial is dedicated to those who lost their lives in the struggle for Civil Rights. The list of martyrs can be found on the organizations website here (

   During a tour of the memorial, Hedges was struck by the story of Viola Liuzzo, the only activist in the exhibit who was both female and white. Liuzzo eventually became the inspiration for Selma ’65. The story of Liuzzo’s death by Ku Klux Klan members who drove up beside her after the march to Selma and shot her in the head stayed with Hedges. She counts among the reasons for this that her story was so unknown and the dramatic nature of the moment of her death.

    During the exhibit it was mentioned that in testimonies of her murder trial that the suspects recounted Liuzzo was singing “We Shall Over Come” while driving and that when the Klansmen drove up next to her, she looked them directly in the eye.

   “She looked them right in the eye right before they shot her.” Hedges explains. “She knew she was going to die, I’m sure she must have been terrified but at that last minute she made this decision to just show her face to her killers. There is something very brave and political in nature in showing them the face. This is who I am. You’re killing a real person.” To complicate things further, an informant of the FBI was one of the accused Klansmen in the car. Liuzzo’s story affected Hedges to such an extent that she returned to D.C., in March of 2011,  researched more information about Liuzzo and contacted Catherine Filloux shortly after. Within a few months, they decided to begin work on Selma ’65.  

   In one-person Selma ’65, Hedges portrays both Liuzzo and Tommy Rowe, both victim and someone who witnessed her death. The characters, as shown in Selma ’65, have some similarities that ended up balancing the story. And they had several similar commonalities: both born in the south, both had five kids and 3 marriages. Both were estranged from one of their daughters for a time. The following is Hedges perspective on the character’s that she’ll be portraying:

   “I love these two characters. They are both very complicated -Vi [Viola] is not a saint just because she died for the cause – she had faults and took certain actions/did things in her life that negatively affected people. But she was also a woman very ahead of her time-a second wave feminist before second wave feminism and quite brave to go to Selma all by herself.”

Hedges had a similar balanced view on Rowe..

  “Tommy Rowe is not ‘evil.’ He was in part a victim of the FBI who used him and did not stop violence against civil rights workers – violence they knew would happen based on his reports. Yes he joined the Klan as an informant but he said he thought the Klan was stupid. Neither character is black or white but very complicated which is why I’m enjoying working on them so much. Vi walked the walk-she didn’t just talk social justice – she acted, and died as a result. And Tommy Rowe really just wanted to be involved in law enforcement and he worked very hard and his work was very diligent-his work as an informant. His life was ruined -in part by the FBI which kind of turned on him.”

   Back in October 2013, Hedges and Filloux came together for a workshop at New York’s Culturehub, “an incubator for arts and technology” that was founded by La MaMa. The work was part of of the CoLab education programming at Culturehub. Filloux and Hedges did two workshops October 9 and 16, 2013 with youth from University Settlement in New York City and, through telepresence, with the Freedom Foundation in Selma, Alabama, and University of South Carolina-Lancaster, surrounding the performance of a segment of SELMA ’65. Reverend Richard D. Leonard, who marched the entire Selma Voting March, and wrote the book Call to Selma, was a guest speaker. The workshops consisted of writing workshops and discussions about past and present day issues with voting rights and racism in the south, specifically Selma.


   This was the first time Hedges had performed a piece of the play for an audience. Prior to that, any performance had been in either Filloux’s or Hedges’s living rooms. Through the benefit of telepresence technology, the first audience of this first performance was viewed by different generations, races and physical locations through a teleconference between Selma, Alabama, Lancaster, South Carolina, and New York City. According to Hedges, through this experience one of the main goals of the project was accomplished


   “To have a conversation about civil rights, voting rights, [and] women’s rights. Huge issues because we all see a backlash against them,” says Hedges.


   Hedges elaborated to explain that this was also a mix of students who knew about certain issues, and others who were just coming to learn about the extent of some of the challenges at hand in civil rights work. She believed this workshop to be “a great way of using art to educate and open up a dialogue.” Another highlight of the workshop for Hedges included watching Filloux work with students on personal writing reflections on challenges they face in their day to day lives.  Hedges cited that it was a “great experience as an artist, activist, and as a teacher.”

   When anticipating the play itself, Hedges had a few thoughts. She hopes that, like the workshop, it has a deep impact on some of the audience. She cites one African American youth who broke down and cried thanking the work because it helped her understand her heritage and history.

   “My hope is that they would feel impacted [by the play],” Hedges explains. “Is it going to make them learn more about the history of the Civil rights movement? About Feminism? The Civil rights act that Viola literally died for? I would hope that it had some lasting effect on them beyond the theatre.”

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Part II of an interview with playwright Catherine Filloux on her characters, her unique use of outreach and audience engagement, recent Voting Rights Legislation and more details on SELMA ’65!


Participants of Catherine Filloux’s October 16, 2013 workshop livestreamed from The Freedom Foundation in Selma and from University of South Carolina-Lancaster to actress Marietta Hedges and Catherine Filloux at CultureHub in New York City.

When you write your plays, do you see the stage? Or do you see the characters?

I always think about what I see onstage.  I imagine the action as I write it.  When I write I start onstage envisioning the actors and actresses.  In terms of the characters, I channel them through me.  I see them–so they are in me. I am drawn to them in a very emotional way and they speak to me. So it’s a combination of them being inside of me, seeing them, and hearing them.

How do you feel about the characters?

I always have to somehow love them and/or invest deeply in their actions and circumstances. I wrote a play about Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge dictator: I saw some footage of him that I tracked down through an amazing journalist (Nate Thayer) who was very generous to show it all to me, and in that footage Pol Pot seemed to appear kind, grandfatherly and soft spoken. Pol Pot was responsible for the death of in the area of 2 million Cambodians.  I saw in the footage that Nate Thayer provided me with that Pol Pot (originally named Saloth Sar) thought of himself as a teacher, and that he felt he had the power to convince others. I chose for a majority of his actions in the play the acts of teaching and persuading. In SELMA ‘65, Tommy Rowe, the FBI informant, watches a KKK clan member shoot Viola Liuzzo in the head. She died instantly. He saw this happen right in front of him and he was complicit in a lot of horrible and violent acts, yet he was a deeply vulnerable man, so I try to feel all those extremes of the character and look for the ambivalence.


Actress Marietta Hedges performing a scene from SELMA ’65 at CultureHub for workshop participants in Selma and Lancaster, South Carolina.

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Catherine Filloux on Writing and Selma ’65.

Part 1 of an interview with playwright Catherine Filloux on her writing and the story that inspired her latest work, Selma 65.

When did you start writing for theatre and how did you develop your voice?

Catherine Filloux: I began as an actress (and a very bad actress) but I feel that I learned so much about playwriting by actually being an actor and knowing what it’s like when the lights go down, in front of an audience. I knew I was attracted to feelings, to the heart, and that I wanted to write from a place of emotion…

In terms of my voice, I was the child of a mother from French Algeria and a father from Guéret, in rural France.  So my parents spoke French and I grew up speaking French as my first language, but in a kind of a schizophrenic landscape. This was in San Diego so I was really a floater. I was somebody who existed in a world that might be represented as a kind of a diaspora of cultures. In addition to the ones I mentioned there was also the Mexican border very close to where we lived, which was a clear indication of economic inequity. At a young age I think I was pretty clear that I felt something was very wrong [with this inequity] and I had empathy for finding ways to work with that sort of injustice. I used to write a lot of poetry when I was young and then I just really channeled the writing into plays, and my voice developed in terms of the themes of being the outsider and of an immigrant’s perspective, and then of course I came to writing about human rights.

How do you choose what to write about?

CF: I choose the subject that I must write about, that I’m burning to write and that feels the most urgent at the time if it’s up to me to decide. I’ve also written three libretti for opera and in those cases they were works-for-hire where I was given a subject and a composer so in those cases I did not choose. But in all three cases they were subject matters that were very dear to my heart and all three composers were inspiring talents with remarkable integrity (Jason Kao Hwang, Him Sophy and John Glover.)  Generally, I choose what I write based on a type of historical urgency and what I personally think is the most important story for me to tell at the time.

When did you first hear about Viola Liuzzo, the woman whose story inspired Selma ’65?

This story was brought to me by the actress, Marietta Hedges, who commissioned the play. She approached me about writing a one-woman play for her and I very much wanted to; I love Marietta. In addition to being an actress she’s also an activist and we share similarities. She told me about Viola Liuzzo and I was amazed by what happened to her. I began to do research about Viola and also about Tommy Rowe because he’s so key to this story and the day that I decided Marietta would play Viola and Tommy was a really exciting day for me

What influenced that decision?

CF: I just loved the idea that these two people’s lives were converging, that they were so utterly different and yet had striking commonalities. They were of course different genders, which excites me to have an actress who will be able to play that. Also, what is it going to be like when she changes from one [character] to the other? There’s spacing between [scenes] that is also part of the rhythm of the piece and I think that could be very exciting theatrically. What are we going to do to make it fluid and beautiful as Marietta goes from being a 60’s housewife to a kind of “bouncer-looking” not only FBI informant but also [a person] posing as a Ku Klux Klan member. So there are all these layers. [The woman who is going to do the costumes is Suttirat Larlarb–a Thai American costume designer who did the costumes for Slumdog Millionaire and for the London Olympics.  We worked together in 2004 on my play Eyes of the Heart.  Also Suttirat went to Yale with our director Eleanor Holdridge.]

And we have this convention of the hood.  When Tommy Rowe testified in front of the Senate Committee much later, he wore, by choice, a strange hood that he made himself, which was not dissimilar to a Ku Klux Klan hood. He said he wanted to protect his identity because he was in the Witness Protection Program.

Moore on Viola Liuzzo and Tommy Rowe and the process of Selma ’65 in part 2 of the interview next week. Stay tuned.

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Selma ’65

Catherine Filloux’s one-woman play will receive its world premiere from September 25th to October 12th, 2014 at La MaMa, where she is a Resident Artist. Her play Selma ’65, has sadly become more timely since the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 
Selma ’65 is based in part on events surrounding Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights activist shot dead after the Selma Voting March, and Tommy Rowe, an informant for the FBI who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, which was responsible for her death. Marietta Hedges will be playing both Viola Liuzzo and Tommy Rowe.  Filloux, Hedges and the director Eleanor Holdridge are conducting diverse community outreach in New York City — with organizations such as the University Settlement and through telepresence at Culturehub, with the Freedom Foundation in Selma, Alabama and University of South Carolina-Lancaster.  The team of theater artists also includes set designer Kris Stone and costume designer Suttirat Larlarb, who did the costumes for Slumdog Millionaire
More information about Catherine Filloux’s work can be found here:
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