That's What She Said burst onto the C-U scene in 2013 as a showcase of women's voices and stories. The project, founded by Jill Harlan, Casey Wakefield, and Kerry Rossow, was immediately successful, and inspired a She Said Soul Journey to Haiti, an entire LadyFest weekend, and most recently brought in some younger voices with That's What Teens Say. After a three year TWSS hiatus, Rossow is back in action, and with the help of Creative Director Jenette Jurcyzk has another group of women ready to take the Virginia Theatre stage Saturday evening. Rossow, who is also an accomplished writer and Community Manager and teacher at Montessori of C-U, graciously took some time out of her preparations to answer some questions for SP readers.
Smile Politely: That's What She Said hasn't happened for a few years. Why the break, and what made 2019 the year to bring it back?
Kerry Rossow: I am mom to four teenagers, and really wanted to fully enjoy these final "at home" years with my kiddos. I thought I was putting this project to bed, but we are living through such an intense time of change — especially for women — that we felt there has never been a more important time to give women a microphone. Luckily, our previous show director, Jenette Jurcyzk was willing to step in and breathe life back into the show in a way that I couldn't.
SP: When you first introduced the in 2013, it kind of took off instantly. What are you most proud of in terms of it's impact?
Rossow: By far, we are proudest of the community we've built that shines a light on and values women's stories. So many friendships have been formed by sharing the stage with each other or connecting to a speaker as an audience member, or joining one of our "soul journey" trips to Haiti. We have always used the analogy that the show should be like a mirror and a window. Everyone sitting in the audience should see their own experience reflected back at them and they should also see a new view they had never considered. Life is filled with snapshots, and one of my favorite TWSS snapshots is sitting on the stage watching a completely terrified Jen Cochrane tell her story. Her knees were shaking so hard that I could see them knocking from 10 feet away. I saw the entire front row nodding her on and when she got her first laugh, I have never loved a group of strangers more. Women supporting women — it doesn't get any better than that.
SP: How do you find your presenters?
Rossow: We start with a goal to have women from as many different demographics as possible. We know that what our perspective is at age 25 will likely be very different at age 75 and also different depending on race, sexuality, socio-economics, etc. From there, we sit down with a very large list of names (there is no shortage of amazing women in C-U!) that have been given to us. It is a beautiful thing to get stopped on the street or open an email that begins with, "I know an amazing woman who should be in your show..." We then piece together a show that has a wide range of belly laughs, ugly cries, and everything in between.
SP: Okay, a bit more personal. From your bio it looks like things have changed a lot for you, at least professionally, in the past 5-6 years. What brought you back to teaching?
Rossow: I moved to Champaign and began at Montessori of CU in 1994, so my return felt like coming home. The MSCU community allows me to enjoy the classroom AND have time to cheer at my children's events. Not to mention, 6 year-olds laugh at all of my dumb jokes!
SP: What do you hope women take away from the show, whether they've attended before or this is their first time?
Rossow: On the surface, I hope women enjoy a night out — either yucking it up with friends or basking in some alone time. But beyond that, I hope women find a moment in the show where they are nodding in solidarity, laughing in cahoots, or finding the courage to share their own stories. Our speakers are not polished, professional speakers. They are our neighbors, sisters, teachers, doctors, they are all of us. My hope is that the audience members look at that and recognize that EVERYONE HAS A STORY. Just ask.
Photo from TWSS Facebook page by Della Perrone Photography