After PEOPLE contributor Natasha Stoynoff went public in 2016 with her horrifying account of President Donald Trump forcibly kissing her during a 2005 interview, she turned down numerous opportunities to talk about the experience.
(Trump has denied her allegation and similar claims by more than a dozen other women.)
“It’s hard to put yourself out there in this way,” Stoynoff says now. “You are exposing yourself to a lot of different reactions, not always positive.”
Then came an opportunity that, despite initial “great hesitation,” she could not refuse: write a short one-woman musical about what happened for The Pussy Grabber Plays, to be performed Monday night at Joe’s Pub in New York City.
The short plays are based on the stories of seven of 19 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual assault or harassment, though he adamantly denies any wrongdoing.
In 2005, he was recorded while on Access Hollywood bragging about touching women, apparently without their consent: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. … Grab them by the p—-. You can do anything.”
Stoynoff tells PEOPLE that channeling the ordeal — the memories and swirl of feelings — while writing for The Pussy Grabber Plays “was liberating.”
“I have no idea how I’m going to feel seeing it on stage,” she says. “All I know is that when I listen to it I feel triumphant.”
She says she wanted to put her story into a “sweet-sounding” song that conveys the wide range of emotions she felt after the alleged attack at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club while on assignment for PEOPLE 14 years ago.
“You start off with ‘it’s my fault, I’m imagining it,’ ” says Stoynoff. “You minimize it. You go through all these mind games before you allow yourself to get to the anger you feel deep down inside.”
She expresses her rage in an ironically catchy, upbeat tune that involves a lot of cursing. “I’m a polite Canadian girl, and I’ve never said ‘f-you’ to anyone, ever,” Stoynoff says. “It’s hard enough for me to speak about this at all. I had to couch it in a song to make it more comfortable for me to retell it.”
Theater agent Kate Pines and her best friend, Sharyn Rothstein, a playwright and writer/producer for the TV series Suits, had been struck by the stories of Stoynoff and the other women who came forward.
Why, they wondered, were powerful men such as former studio head Harvey Weinstein doing perp walks while “the pussy-grabber-in-chief is still sitting in the White House?” says Pines, 37.
Meanwhile, “19 women have been reduced to a statistic — their stories were swept under the rug.”
Over countless coffees and phone calls, Pines and Rothstein, 37, felt compelled to do something with the accusers’ accounts. One day late in 2017, Pines was walking near her home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side when she answered a call from Rothstein.
“Let’s call it The Pussy Grabber Plays,” Pines recalls her friend saying. “The title came before anything else.”
Pines — the daughter of outspoken Trump critic Tony Schwartz, who co-wrote Trump’s 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal — and Rothstein then reached out to the women to see if they would share their stories.
“Some of it was slow going,” says Rothstein. “A lot of these women, for good reason, are very trepidatious.”
Their first conversation was with Jessica Leeds, a former businesswoman who told PEOPLE she was sitting on a plane next to Trump more than 30 years ago when, she alleges, he grabbed her breasts and tried putting his hand up her skirt.
Rothstein recalls that after hearing Leeds’ “bravery and her intelligence and her sense of humor, we just knew there would be an amazing night of theater and activism to be had here.”
The pair matched up playwrights and writers — including Julia Brownell of the NBC hit This Is Us — with each of the women to create seven 10-minute plays. Actresses will play Trump’s accusers, except for Tasha Dixon, the 2001 Miss Arizona who alleged that Trump walked in on naked Miss USA contestants.
Now an actress, Dixon will portray herself in a play written by Brownell that she insisted be humorous, says Rothstein.
Everyone is working for free, with all proceeds going to the New York Women’s Foundation. After Monday’s performance, Pines and Rothstein will allow The Pussy Grabber Plays to be read or staged by others royalty-free as long as it benefits women’s organizations.
“Monday night is a kickoff for a national movement,” Pines tells PEOPLE. “We want it to just be the beginning.”
Stoynoff hasn’t yet met Trump’s other accusers and looks forward to meeting and hugging the six women expected to attend opening night.
“I think I will burst into tears,” she says. “This has been so stressful for all of us, and this is like a cathartic experience for us all.”
The Pussy Grabber Plays premieres Monday night at Joe’s Pub. Tickets are on sale now.