Bachelor of Arts (Hons.), Contemporary Studies and English, 2011
I was taught to never forget and … if there was any kind of injustice happening … to do something about it.
“I’m not a ‘name’ yet,” says Hannah Rittner.
Maybe. But don’t tell the Canadian theatre scene that. Hannah has worked for some of the leading Canadian theatre companies and festivals such as Summerworks, Canadian Stage, Neptune Theatre and LunaSea as a playwright, director and producer.
In particular, don’t tell the people at Stratford that she isn’t a “name”. Hannah was one of eight playwrights chosen from across the country for the prestigious Playwrights Retreat in the fall of 2016. Hannah began work on a four act play about Sarah Bernhardt there. It’s a story “about heartache and ambition and what we stand to lose when we try to gain as much as we can,” she says. But it is also a story that “deeply investigates gender, women’s power and genius.”
That is a powerful theme in Hannah’s life as an artist and as an advocate. Before heading off to Stratford Hannah launched LACE Productions. It is a film and theatre collective that uses, as Hannah says, “art to tackle what it means to be a woman on the planet and to promote social change.” The company’s first production, a play Hannah wrote, is called The Unbelievers. It is the first live production to tackle the torture, the sexual slavery and the sheer ugliness of the Yazidi genocide in northern Iraq by ISIS. It tells the story of a Yazidi woman imprisoned by ISIS who shares a cell with a female conflict journalist.
“I hope this play ignites a national conversation about this issue and gives people a way in so that they take action,” Hannah says.
Hannah’s experience at King’s gave her a hefty push into the world of theatre. She was involved with a number of King’s Theatrical Society productions, but more importantly she says, “I came into myself as a thinker at King’s.” And with the tools she learned she has been able to channel her own story into her art.
Two of Hannah’s grandparents were holocaust survivors. “I was taught to never forget, ’’she says, “and to make sure that if there was any kind of injustice happening, that was related to people telling someone else that they don’t deserve to live because they are different, that I had to do something about it.”
And there is more.
“Many women know what it’s like to be assaulted and unfortunately I have had some bad luck that has led me to know what these experiences are like. I have a very deep understanding of this kind of pain and to also move out of it.”
Hannah, because of her research and advocacy on behalf of the Yazidi people, has become both ally and friend of Nadia Murad. She is a Yazidi woman who was imprisoned and raped repeatedly before escaping her ISIS captors. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and has spoken to the UN and other world leaders. Hannah facilitated and coordinated meetings with Canadian politicians in Ottawa for Nadia. Nadia then asked Hannah to accompany her when she spoke before a Parliamentary committee.
Hannah may not be a name yet. But she certainly is a force.