Jeanmarie Simpson Bishop
You know those bumper stickers that say, “Well behaved women rarely make history?” Jeanmarie Simpson Bishop leaves those in the dust.
“I am a complete, raging, leftist, revolutionary nightmare from hell,” she said over the phone from her home in Glendale, Arizona. At least that’s how some critics see her, and she’s stopped trying to make nice with them.
She’s a playwright and actor whose most recent play, The Joy, tells the story of the last moments of Mary Dyer, who was hanged in 1660, mostly for being a vocal Quaker, openly practicing a religion not approved by the government. Bishop has toured the play widely in recent years and found that Dyer’s story is still relevant. For one thing, Dyer’s death led straight to legal reforms that would eventually influence the part of the First Amendment that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” And while the feds haven’t executed anyone for being a Quaker lately, freedom of religion for all Americans still isn’t a given.
“I don’t have my head in the clouds,” said Simpson. “The ACLU has had to fight very hard. They have never gotten a day off.”
And after a polarizing election, with talk of Muslim bans and all, the The Joy strikes an even louder chord. “Certainly this last year has just been frightening for me, and so when I perform the play it’s felt a lot more sinister,” Simpson said. “Anyone who’s seen the play who’s Muslim has been thankful.”
And that’s why she’s not giving the time of day to those who think she’s a nightmare from hell.
Bishop is a former Renoite, founder of Nevada Shakespeare Company, and a career-long peace activist. She’s been arrested over 100 times for protesting with anti-war groups. She’s made a career of writing and portraying female characters—based on real women—who’ve fought injustice. She wrote and starred in A Single Woman, about Jeannette Rankin, the first American woman elected to Congress, which was made into a film starring a list of household names including Patricia Arquette.
She also wrote and starred in Coming In Hot, a play made up of monologues by 14 military women. That one was more about forging understanding between groups with different outlooks. Researching and writing that play, she said, “I had a really strong, hard learning curve. … I’d though anybody in the military has to be a redneck jerk, and then I learned no, that isn’t true at all. … I learned a lot, and there was a lot of common ground found, and a lot of great conversation.”
Bishop tends toward one-woman plays, which have notable pros and cons. “You have to generate all your own cues,” she said. “You have no one to rehearse with. The cast party is really boring. It’s a lonely business. … But once you’ve got it under your belt, you don’t need to pay a bunch of other people.”
And while she’s sworn off engaging with trolls—if you want to call her a “feminazi,” you can take a number—productive dialogue is still a major goal. “I hope to to reach people with an open mind,” she said. To that effect she’ll host a conversation with the audience after each Reno performance. She noted that current politics do tend to come up naturally after people see The Joy.
What’s next for Bishop? Aw, not much, just a little project whereby she’s thinking of taking on “the military industrial complex, prison industrial complex and health insurance industry” all in one bite. Yet again, do not expect “well-behaved.” Do expect “making history.”