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'Island Women Speak' returns to Stonington, bringing 6th year of spoken stories from local women

The Stonington Opera House, where "Island Women Speak" will return for the sixth time. The performance features a collection of spoken stories from local women spanning multiple generations, exposing moments from their personal lives.
Kaitlyn Budion
/
Maine Public
The Stonington Opera House, where "Island Women Speak" will return for the sixth time. The performance features a collection of spoken stories from local women spanning multiple generations, exposing moments from their personal lives.

If you live in a small town, you may think you know everything about your neighbors. But a performance this week in Stonington might prove you wrong.

"Island Women Speak" features a collection of spoken stories from local women spanning multiple generations, exposing moments from their personal lives. This year the women were challenged to tell a story about a three-word phrase: "A Hot Mess."

"I am fearless. I am not intimidated by anyone. But the hardest thing I've ever done is to take care of my mom."

Donna Brewer wears many hats in Stonington. The 70-year-old farms scallops and delivers them around the state in the summer, she has an upholstery business and serves on the Board of Selectmen.

And this year she's one of seven women performing for "Island Women Speak," to share parts of her life that many in town might not know about.

"We brought her home from the nursing home. And the first step was to remove all furniture from the room where she was going to stay," Brewer said.

Inspired by the short story style of the popular "Moth Radio Hour," "Island Women Speak" is returning to the Stonington Opera House for the sixth time, and has fast become a local tradition.

This year's theme for speakers is "A Hot Mess."

"I said oh that's me," Brewer said with a laugh. "I've had a million of them, always survived, always come out of them- things always work out."

Brewer says she just had to figure out how to narrow it down. So she decided to talk about caring for her mother at the end of her life.

"It's like a thunder shower," Brewer said. "You know how the thunder builds? Well, the stress builds and builds and then you're bursting into tears over everything. And you realize that you just can't do it much longer. And then you pull up your bootstraps, and you wipe your eyes and you get up and it's another day."

"Island Women Speak" was started in 2018 by Debbie Weil, a writer and storytelling coach who was inspired by a project called Generation Women in New York City, in which she had been a speaker the year before.

"My first sentence was, I'm 65, And I still have sex," Weil said. "The audience which was mostly women in their 20s and 30s, 40s, went wild because they were so surprised, I guess."

Weil says she wanted to bring the concept to the small island community where she now lives, and reveal more about the women she sees every day.

"There's something about having a woman from every decade or from each decade, that is mesmerizing, and just every time I just learned so much, and I think the audience does, too," she said.

Weil says past themes have included “Advice to my Younger Self” and "Island Secrets or How to Live Honestly on an Island." This year she says she was inspired by extreme weather events.

"So the truth is, I'm obsessed with climate change," Weil said. "And we started planning this six months ago in the summer. And Phoenix, Arizona was having that heatwave- I'm completely obsessed. And I just thought, you know, we are in a hot mess."

"That was hard, that was hard, I was one of those people who was like I'm not a hot mess!"

56-year-old artist and designer Julie Morringello, says she struggled with the theme at first, but eventually found her own story.

"When I was 10, or 11, my parents gave me a miniature dollhouse," Morringello said. "It wasn't fancy, just three rooms stacked one on top of the other, and it wasn't finished. So there were lots of projects to work on. I loved that dollhouse and I was desperate to fill it with furniture... but the parts were cheap and ugly and didn't fit together right and the instructions were impossible to understand. Talk about a hot mess."

"Island Women Speak" has grown in popularity, and tickets for Thursday night's show are sold out. There are still tickets available for the online livestream.

Weil says over the years she's been asked repeatedly why she doesn't do a production of "Island Men Speak."

"And I always take a breath," she said. "And then I say, we don't need Island men speak because Island men speak all the time."

Kaitlyn Budion is Maine Public’s Bangor correspondent, joining the reporting team after several years working in print journalism.