Friday, August 15, 2014

How Gay Are We: Oven Productions Has Been Celebrating Female Pride for Nearly 40 Years

Debra Hirshberg doing sound production for Oven Productions in the '80s.
Debra Hirshberg was a Case Western Reserve University senior in 1975 when she read a front-page article in the women’s newspaper, What She Wants, about the opening of a female-only production company. As a technical theater minor yearning to use her lighting skills, she called Oven Productions and has been involved with the nearly-40-year-old lesbian-feminist nonprofit ever since. The group hosts Hot Time in Cleveland, a women-only dance party, featuring disc jockey Zoe Renee Lapin at the Trinity Cathedral 8 p.m. tonight. 

         In 1974, the first National Women's Music Festival was held at the University of Champaign-Urbana. A woman in Cleveland came back from that and said, 'We have to start a production company.' It was the beginning of what was known as women’s music — music that stoked feminist and lesbian ideas. No one was producing them. So, we wanted to create a community of production companies to help get their music out. From '76 to maybe '82, we did probably 10 or so productions a year.

   It was a time where you didn't really see much feminist or lesbian stuff reflected in popular culture. We weren't on TV. ... There weren't many out performers.
      We started a lot of organizations, because they weren't there. There was no rape crisis center. There was no battered women's shelter. There was no coalition for women. In 1975, the UN had its International Women's Year Convention in Cleveland. They brought many women together, both lesbian and straight, and ideas came from that.

    We used to be the only place to go to for [lesbian-feminist productions]. We did concerts, music, dance, theater. We did a variety show every year to raise money; initially to buy sound equipment and then to just fund our concert series. In 2015, it’s going to be the 40th anniversary of the variety show, and some of us have been doing it all those years!

      Last year, we said, 'We've got to throw a party for the Gay Games.' It's a big celebration of Cleveland and the lesbian-feminist community. We wanted to welcome the women from out of town — come party with us.

     Bringing the Gay Games to Cleveland — it’s because people in Cleveland say, Why not? I think in Cleveland — we dare to dream, and we do it. We don't let things get in our way. — as told to Frances Killea

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