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Thasia Anne Lunger: 'Our goal is to start serious conversations on some of the toughest subjects facing society today'

Diebold theatre on Edinboro University Campus, 2018; Sitting; James Trevison, Luchetta Manus, Alexis Carney, Paul Eisert, Heidi Blakeslee and Terye Carney Standing; Marisa Moks-Unger, Joanie Eisert, Marge Wonner, Thasia Anne, Kissing; Bryan & Amy Prior Two heads last row; Darryl Brown, and Bear Lunger

A chat with Thasia Anne Lunger about her WoW (Women of Word With a Few Man Made Words) Project

Please tell me a little about your WOW Project – how did it come to be set up and what are your main aims and aspirations for it?

The initial impetus for WOW came about when I had read a poem about my experience with domestic violence, and a women came up and recited her poem about domestic violence. I felt like they spoke to each other. A few weeks later I experienced a similar situation when two of us read poems about losing a son. So I mulled it over and created Women of Word. The first year was all-women on Penn State Behrend campus during their gender conference. When I joined Edinboro University to achieve my social work degree I asked about moving my production to that campus. We then became a part of the March Women’s History Month celebrations for the next six years. I also knew so many male poets writing very important subjects, that I added - A Few Man Made Words to the title. Our goal is to start serious conversations on some of the toughest subjects facing society today. We NEVER talk politics, as I want people to absorb all of what we are presenting, and not go inside their heads seething about politics.

You told me previously you change topic every year; what are some of the other topics you’ve covered?

We have remained very diverse. Here is a partial list of the subjects over the last almost 13 seasons. We began with; Body image, loss, love, family relationships and their impact on your entire life. We have covered both sides of abortion very respectfully, PTSD. suicide, domestic violence, gun violence in juxtaposition with gun safety, mental illness, addiction, and homelessness. This past March we tackled arts education for children and how impactful it can be.

How do you find the physical spaces to hold the events?

That can be a challenge currently. We were on university campuses at no charge to us, up until 2020. After that I had to pay for venues. Since the program has been free to the public since its inception, paying for spaces has come from my own pocket, or grants. 2024 was the first year that I attempted sponsorships and that went very well.

Do these change annually?

We did two years at Penn State Behrend, six years at Edinboro University, one year at Blasco Library, two years at PACA performing arts facility, and this year we were in the event room at Chippers Sea Food and Southern Fusion. What a wonderful welcoming space we had there.

How do you promote the events?

This is where I need more help. Starting after 2024 WOW, I created a committee. The whole thing has become just to large for me to cover all the details on my own. I send press releases to the local papers, and news outlets. I now have someone who had that as their vocation for a time, and Courtney Fobes will handle that for me in the future. I was on one talk radio show, Talk Erie with Joe Natalie. I am in the process of creating a podcast. Everyone in the cast helps me blast Face Book. Erie News Now sent someone to 2024 WOW and we did a great interview after. There is a link to that on my website under the WOW header.

WOW 2021 Blasco Library, Hirt Auditorium; Gisele Littrell, Heidi Blakeslee, Matt Borczon, Thasia Anne, Luchetta Manus, Darryl Brown, and Barbara Crone (Narrator)

What is the process of finding /selecting people to take part in WoW?

That is a great question. I have had people come up and say; “I want in.” The truth is I go to many poetry readings in the Erie and out lying areas. I see poets styles. I listen for the poems that tie into what we do. I have a couple of WOW lifers that I can say do you have something on rape. If the don’t they will write something. Then I take the three of four poems on a subject and weave them into a conversation on the subject. Everyone loves the poets, but the unsung hero is the narrator. Between each set, I compose a segue between subject that will have statistics on the next subject. An example, she would say; “Did you know that 1-3 women and 1-5 men REPORT being abused. Can you imagine what it takes for a man to pick up the phone and say my wife or partner is beating me up? Lets see what Thasia has to say on the subject tonight.”

Can you tell me about the two-poem conversational format?

The narrator may have just introduced the subject of addiction. Then I will look at Cathi GG Mitchell and do a poem about how the young man said he knows we all mean well, but he can’t breathe without the heroin licking through his veins. Cathi might respond with a poem saying everyone tried. She went through rehab three times, but she died with the empty half gallon bottle beside her. Then we would hug and walk off.

How do you choose the narrators for the events?

We have had a male twice early on Cameron Barrett and a professor Bryan Prior, at Edinboro we had the best ever; Marie Loose who had a theatre back ground so she was animated and fun. Since leaving there we have had two different narrators Barbara Crone, and Cindy Mlaker. They have to be fun and articulate as their messages are so important to the success of the production.

How is the audience involved in the performances? For example, I enjoyed the moment in the video when the narrator invited them to rip up their ‘index cards of fear’ and toss them into the air at the last event.

Every year I try to come up with some sort of interaction. The one you spoke of was as they came into the venue, we asked them to write their greatest fear on an index card and take it with them to their seat. We did poems, and then a song with a dancer about Fear Is A Liar by Zach Williams, and then the narrator spoke about lets rip up those fears and toss them away. Another year we planted a few performers in the audience that stood up and helped us sing a Dua Lipa song.

PACA 2023; Matt Borczon and I on stage. Camera men left side, Andrew Festa, and right side Kevin Brown with my beloved Bear's head.

How do you think creativity can help people to overcome trauma?

I was in 7th grade when I realized I was a poet. I made some poor choices and got married as soon as I turned 16 to an abuser. I went through much trauma and wrote about it. When I finally escaped I found a counselor who sent me to the right folks to help me use my poetry about domestic violence to help other women. I realized and shared with the women that poetry saved my life. As I like it to taking out the trash. Weekly you take the stinky garbage out for the garbage men. As often as needed I take my soul stinky stuff and put it on paper and out of my soul.

How have people reacted to Wow? Have there been any reactions – positive or negative – that have surprised you?

God put the whole idea in my heart and I ran with it. Once we were on Edinboro campus, I noticed kids would hang around afterwards and want to speak with certain poets. The subjects often were domestic violence and mental illness. At that point I made sure each year to have safe help numbers on the back of the programs for mental health, domestic violence, suicide, and others.

I think initially WoW was all-female? Can you tell me about the decision to have men participate in WoW?

I attend a lot of poetry readings. I met and became friends with some men who were also writing on important subjects the world needed to address, Such as Military PTSD, and suicide. A couple males were also addressing child abuse, and families falling apart. I could have stoof on the hill of all women, or do the work I felt was needed in addressing these subjects publically and getting the conversations started.

I love the different creative aspects to WoW – as well as the poetry, some wonderful musicians and dancers too. I feel like in the UK we do this kind of thing only as a big theatrical event (a Royal Variety Show, for example, where the royal family would attend) or else on a small scale like a school performance. I’m not really sure what the question is here, but I wonder what your views on such cultural differences are.

Dance came into WOW. I saw a dancer named Sarah Foster and she moved me to tears with how she brought the emotion to life. She did four different pieces to WOW before joining the military and getting married. The one that can still bring me to tears in Sounds of Silence by Disturbed. When she was done, for a moment you could of hear a pin drop, and then you could hear sniffles and noses being blown. I have also had a dancer from India doing traditional dance and that was so beautiful. Once we left Edinboro one of my poets with dancing daughters connected me with Sovereign Ballet and Christina Marie. Her daughter Mia danced in 2024.

Do you think WoW would work in other regions of the country/world? If so, have you thought of a roadshow event?

I know it would work. Since none of the performers get paid trying to take them on the road would be difficult. Although in August we will do a few vignettes at the Erie Blues and Jazz Festival which committed Sunday to all women.

What’s been the best thing about WoW for you?

As WOW has become more successful and brought locally famous people to see the performances, with high praises, my confidence has grown. WOW is live. That success gave me the courage to also have one poetry production open mic that goes on air live. Added to that, I have two recorded programs. Never Quit-Hers where I mainly interview women over 60 who are still setting the world ablaze with their achievements, and Poetry, Prose, and Personalities which focuses on recording; artists, poets, and culture to allow the home bound access.

Gisele Littrell singing an original, 'Don’t Forget Who You Are'

What’s next for WoW?

Since we have been invited to do some scenes from WOW for Erie Blues and Jazz Festival, I am curious to see how well that works. I have had in the back of my mind for a long time, taking parts into schools to educate and offer conversation to the high school youth.

As well as creating, producing and directing WoW, you’re also an author, which is how you and I first got to know each other – can you tell us a little about this, and what you’re working on now?

I am so grateful to you for this opportunity. It has been awesome working with you in this capacity. Once I get my pod cast up and running, I will reach out to have you on for an episode. As I mentioned earlier poetry saved me as it allowed me to process and remove my trauma. As a social worker I can now easily see why I made the mistakes I did.

I have six poetry collections; The Past is Calling, Broken Branches, Subtle Shade of Bruise, Still Standin, and Poetography all published by Alien Buddha Press, and Pam’s Jacket by Guerrilla Genesis Press.

I also just released my latest of five novels all by Alien Buddha Press. Check Mates, Horse Sense, Sea Escapes, How Far Must I go, and the new one is That Laugh. Those are all available on Amazon.

You can check me out on which will take you to Poetrees Productions. You can go straight from my page to all of my books on Amazon by clicking the buy now button.

Under the WOW button you can view 2023 version, please note it starts in the dark on purpose. Listen for the rain stick.

You can browse and see past readings under media. Soon you will be able to watch all of my productions from my website. I am also on Facebook at Thasia Anne Lunger

Thank you, Sam, for this opportunity. This has been great getting to talk about one of my greatest passions. I hope it inspires someone else to take that thought or dream and run with it.

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