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The Soul of a Woman is a show composed by Elisabeth Withers-Mendes. Withers-Mendes is an American singer, solo artist, Outer Critics Circle nominee, Tony award nominee, and Theatre World Awards winner for the critically known musical “The Color Purple”. She is now a professor of music and performance at Valencia College, using her artistic expertise as a motor to propel her students closer to achieving their goals.
According to Wither-Mendes, most of the time, women do not reflect the hardships they go through in order to get where they are and where they are going. The Soul of a Woman is a dialogue between real-life women, made of flesh, bone, and testimony, stripped from fiction. Women who will be sharing their stories, the hardships they have braved, and where they aspire to go.
The event will be showing Thursday, Sept. 20 and Friday, Sept. 21 at the Valencia College East Campus Performing Arts Center. “Every woman has a story that every man needs to hear,” Withers-Mendes said. “I want to empower women,” Withers-Mendes stated candidly while explaining what had driven her to create The Soul of a Woman. “This show is open to all women and that means the LGBT women, people who identify as women, people who are sort of caught between who they are. It’s the kind of conversation every man wants to hear.” For more information, visit events.valenciacollege.edu.
The Soul of a Woman
Q: First question, in essence, what is The Soul of a Woman?
A: That is an awesome question. The Soul of a Woman is a dialogue among women, and it touches on a wide range of topics, sort of like a structured improv, like a party at your house. The show is purely based in the individual lives of the women and the unapologetic, powerful songs that shape the incredible lives of these women. It also sends the audience on a rollercoaster ride of truth because we talk about everything. We talk about womanhood, relationships, politics. There is no topic off-subject. The unique partnership between the arts and entertainment department at Valencia College and the company Orlando Eye of Talent, which is excited to have Valencia students to take a part in this journey with some incredible talent and the concept of The Soul of a Woman.
Q: How did The Soul of a Woman occur to you? What or who inspired you? A book? Music? A musician or an artist? Why did you choose to do The Soul of a Woman?
A: As a woman, we go from day to day, and we don’t really look like what we’ve been through. You see women and they’ve got their hair done and they look so beautiful and poised, but nobody really knows what we’ve had to do to get through to get to that. They don’t know the struggle and the ups and the downs. It all really started one evening from a club’s owner’s call. He asked me if I could go down to the W hotel and sing a couple of songs. He said it was a corporate meeting, and I agreed. I was living in Brooklyn, New York at the time. So, I take the G train, which we called Geriatric train because it moves so slow, to the A train and barrel through to Times Square. I get off the train, walk up the stairs, and I’m swimming in a sea of lights and tall skyscrapers. I get to the W hotel, go up the escalator, and to my right is Robert de Niro. I keep ascending and once I get there, I see all these famous people, but it is late, and I am tired. I get to the stage and tell the drummer what songs I wanted to do, which happened to be Aretha Franklin. The drummer counts the band off, I sing, had a great time, and then I’m on the train back home. Two weeks later, I receive a fax from Londell McMillan, my attorney, who sends me a 20-page disclosure. He said that Paul McCartney was at the event, and he wants you to sing at his wedding, but you have to sign this disclaimer. Throughout all my life, I had to sign a lot of disclaimers that prohibited me from taking pictures of the events I worked at, like the time I worked for JLo. Then, these dots have connected from Oprah Winfrey, Valencia College, and Rob McCaffrey. These dots connect, and that’s what I want to share with the students of Valencia. We can’t take for granted our lives right now. I want women to take everything they can from life in order to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. I want to empower women.
Q: What women are being represented in The Soul of a Woman?
A: This show highlights real women like me, Emmy and Grammy nominated women, Valencia students, and some women I am very grateful to have met.
Q: In your opinion, how has the souls of women been affected by the pursuit of education against the biases in our current society?
A: We had the MeToo movement. We had a woman running for office, Hillary Clinton. This show has a place for who we are. It is open to all women. This show is open to all women and that means the LGBT women, people who identify as women, people who are sort of caught between who they are. The point is, this is the kind of conversation every man wants to hear. Our male society likes to say that women are some way, but they have to remember: every leader has a mother. Regarding Valencia College, look who’s running the campus, Dr. Johnson! If women like my thirteen-year-old daughter gets a grasp of that, and if men would just stop and listen what we go through, everything would be better. In my opinion, you can only get beat down so many times until you spring back up. Women from various ethnicities are rising up not with vengeance, but with boss moves. In that regard, they are making aggressive moves quietly, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.
Q: How can women defeat the fear of being repressed?
A: It all starts with us and knowing our purpose. We must stay in total contact with our inner selves. Sometimes we do not know that purpose yet, but we learn every day to be honest with ourselves. We must focus on our purpose; that is how we combat fear.
Q: Why should Valencia students be interested in watching The Soul of a Woman? What should they expect?
A: I want them to expect to learn that we have gone through the same situations. If you stay at Valencia, you are on the road to success. The financial struggle, relationship struggles, physical struggle… we were all there. Let us help you get where you’re going.
Q: In a technical note, what has been the most rewarding experience while building this show?
A: The most rewarding moment was meeting and connecting with Dr. Johnson and Wendy Givoglu. Those ladies are so inspiring. They’re super transparent, alarmingly bright, fair, they go beyond the color line. They’re ultra supportive. They’re mirrors of every lady that will be on that stage. Wendy [worked on] her doctorate, maintained a marriage, and raised a two-year-old at the same time. That speaks volumes of who she is. Dr. Johnson went to the Olympics and became the head of Valencia’s East Campus. Also, meeting the ladies in the production was also extremely rewarding.
Q: To conclude, what do you want attendees to keep with them once the event is over?
A: There will be a scholarship coming up of 1,500 dollars based on merit. I want men, women, and students to leave there hopeful, empowered, and knowing that they’re leaving with tangible mentors. I hope that there is a connection between the actors and the people in the audience.