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Al Schnupp’s ‘Ivy’ Gives Rights Activist a Second Act

When Cal Poly Theatre Professor Al Schnupp reconnected with fellow playwright and longtime friend Ellyn Gersh Lerner, she proposed an interesting project — a jointly written play.

Ivy Bottini
Ivy Bottini 
Photo: Ed Krieger, courtesy of KCETLink

Schnupp and Gersh Lerner decided to develop a play that explored the life of a yet-un-named female artist who was also engaged with politics. When another of Schnupp’s friends Andrew Campbell, cultural affairs administrator for the city of West Hollywood, suggested Ivy Bottini, the writers had their subject.

“We met with Ivy, hit it off, and had a great time,” Schnupp said. “We interviewed her for about four hours and established a relationship. She gave us the rights to her life story.” Over the following months, the writers conducted several more lengthy interviews, teasing out the fascinating details of Bottini’s life.

Bottini, a graphic artist, has been involved in women’s and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights since the beginning of the women’s movement. In 1969, Bottini designed the logo for the National Organization of Women (NOW) that is still in use today.

Bottini was not a young woman when she helped found the New York chapter of the nascent NOW in 1966; she was 40, married with two children, and in mid-career at a daily New York newspaper. 

When Bottini came out as a lesbian, Betty Friedan expelled her from NOW. Bottini moved to Los Angeles, leaving behind her marriage and former life.

“Ivy,” the play, is about the relationship of art and politics, of the personal and the political, dramatized in one woman’s life and her responses to the social and political inequities of her time. If “Ivy” tells a story of a political life, it is also a funny one.

Bottini comes from a pioneering generation for women’s and gay rights activism, and Gersh Lerner and Schnupp capture her forceful personality, trailblazing passion and mordant wit.

“Ivy” represents a lot of firsts for Schnupp, who had never co-written a play and whose previous works are largely fictional. At the outset, Gersh Lerner and Schnupp feared diverging from the facts of Bottini’s biography. “In some ways we felt our hands were tied, but with each revision we felt more and more freedom to say, ‘We can fabricate some things; we can change around the timeline,’ to better tell the story.”

“We had a small reading with students here at Cal Poly, revised the script, and then did a reading in West Hollywood.” Schnupp said. “She gets funnier and funnier as the play goes on.”

But while the play is humorous, it does not ignore the personal costs of Bottini’s political activism. Although Bottini has been forced by health issues to scale back her activism, her drive for justice and equality could not be more relevant. Schnupp hopes that “Ivy” provides Bottini a fresh opportunity to step into the limelight. 

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