The Henley Rose Playwright Competition for Women was founded by Yellow Rose Productions, with permission of Beth Henley, to encourage and recognize the new works of female playwrights. The Henley Rose Playwright Competition seeks to honor both the writings of Pulitzer Prize winner Beth Henley and those of future winners of the Henley Rose Award.
Submissions are received July 1st of every year and capped at 200. It is a submission with a fee, but it is waived for Dramatists Guild members. You can find more information on the competition here: http://yellowroseproductions.org/henleyrose/
Ellen Wittlinger was a finalist in the 2018 competition with her play THE SUMMER DRESS.
How did you hear about the Henley Rose Playwright competition?
I first heard about it through the Minnesota Playwright’s Center where I’m a member.
Is it something you would submit to again?
What types of plays or work do you write?
I started out as a poet, I segued to fiction, started writing plays in my late 20s. But soon I had two young children and it didn’t seem possible to do the kind of unpaid travel all across the country that was the prerequisite for getting a career going in playwriting….But I'm older now and can afford to "retire" from writing for children, so about 4 years ago I went back to writing plays. That was always my first love and still is.
At this point I'm trying lots of things, some traditional 2 act comedies, full-length dramatic pieces, a hybrid of those two, some one-acts, and some 10-minute plays. These have primarily been more traditional kinds of plays, but I'm hoping to try writing something more experimental now as well.
Are there any other conferences or competitions that you have been a winner or finalist for that you have enjoyed or been a part of?
I've only been sending things out for about a year and I'm just figuring out what to send where. I was a semi-finalist with a 10-minute play at The Actor's Studio of Newburyport in Massachusetts last year. In my earlier playwriting days I was also a finalist for Ensemble Studio Theatre's one-act competition.
I just found out another of my full-length plays, LEFTOVERS, is a finalist for the New Works Festival at the Garry Marshall Theatre in LA. I'd love to be able to go to that!
Melissa Bell’s play LADY CAPULET was a Henley Rose finalist in 2017.
How did you hear about the Henley Rose competition? What led you to submit?
I saw the Henley Rose competition on a listing of submission opportunities. I had spent the year writing, workshopping and revising LADY CAPULET and felt that it was in a good place, so I began submitting it for various opportunities. With the Henley Rose Competition for Women I felt I had a level playing field. There is an incredible bias in the theatre world for plays written by men with men as the central character and women in supporting and subjugated roles. I often don’t submit to competitions with fees, but the fee was waived for members of the Dramatist Guild, which I am. As emerging playwrights, we need to submit to competitions, not just to win, but to have our work read by the judges, who then become familiar with us and our work.
As a finalist, you had to beat out 200 submissions. What do you think is captivating about your script that got you to the finalist level?
For a play to work, the stakes must be high. The characters need to have skin in the game. No one in LADY CAPULET is passive, everyone is active; each character wants or needs something from another, especially the lead character, Rose. The play begins with a sexual betrayal, and Rose is driven by a tremendous secret as we follow her journey from budding country girl to powerful Lady of Verona. Rose is more like Richard III than Juliet in her actions to get what she needs.
Moreover, the premise of the play, “what caused the feud” of Shakespeare’s most well-known play, peaks people’s interest. They know there is a feud in Romeo and Juliet, but no one knows what caused it--he doesn’t say. Once Rose makes up her mind to be a player rather than to be played, the audience knows they’re in for a rollercoaster ride.
Would you encourage other playwrights to submit to this competition?
There are few opportunities for women playwrights that provide a forum for our unique voices to be heard. The Henley Rose competition is one. I would encourage women to submit a play that has had some early developmental work, such as a reading, dramaturgical feedback and several rounds of revisions. Submit something that is well-cooked. With only 200 submissions, you have a pretty good shot.
What types of plays do you write?
I create new works for the stage grounded in plot-driven storytelling, featuring a strong yet flawed woman as the central character. These women are active participants in their world who want something more than their current social or gender experience allows them. I am interested in re-imagining and responding to classic themes and texts. I don’t write straight adaptations; I use a source text as a jumping off point and respond to it, pushing it forward rather than looking backwards.
I am increasingly aware that as playwrights we need to differentiate our work in theatre from that of film and television, and that is through “theatricality.” To that end, I belong to a physical-theatre group, Farm Arts Collective, which devises short performance pieces on conservation and social issues, touring at festivals and conventions in the Catskill region. This type of work goes against my inclination to write scenes with “three people in a room.” Writing a scene for a group of people walking on stilts teaches a lot about theatricality.
How do you feel the Henley Rose competition help your play in its development to this point?
When I saw that LADY CAPULET was a finalist, besides being thrilled, I felt incredibly validated as a writer. The Henley Rose Competition's only agenda is to support women playwrights.
The competition is about the work and whether the play is good on its own terms. I knew that people enjoyed LADY CAPULET, but I didn’t know if it was a good play. Being a finalist means I have one unbiased confirmation that LADY CAPULET is stage worthy and worth an audience’s time to watch. Luckily, Emily Gallagher, Artistic Director at Barefoot Shakespeare, agrees. It will be presented free and open to the public at Summit Rock (W 83rd St & CPW) in NYC’s Central Park by Barefoot Shakespeare, August 22nd to September 1st 2019, and is available to download on the New Play Exchange. Additionally, I was an honored Finalist for Women in the Arts & Media Coalition’s 2019 Collaboration Award for COURAGE, produced by NACL Theatre.
Recently, I ran a theatre salon in Cincinnati where one of the participants—an academic and an aspiring playwright—told me a disturbing experience she had had in a writing class. “One of the gentlemen, mind you, wrote about women who had been left behind by their fishermen husbands and brothers. The instructor told him (and the class), ‘You’ve missed the boat. The story’s out there,’” pointing, I assume, to where the men-of-action lived offstage.
This story now comes to mind when I hear women who select plays for theater seasons and competitions criticize female playwrights for “not writing like their male counterparts” or for “failing” to create female characters that are “active,” only “reactionary.” It’s not that these female artistic directors are trying to pick all male writers—but they are trying to pick a “solid” season that comes together in a thematic or unified way. This approach will, yes, identify and reward women writers who are good mimics, amongst other things, writers who have perfected the male sound, the male play, the male sentence.
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In the first part of this discussion on why achieving gender parity in theatre continues to be so problematic, I argued that women have been conditioned to adopt male patterns of thinking, reading (i.e. the world as well as texts), and writing. Assuming a male writer’s primary crisis is a tendency to emulate his favorites and that women writers search for such heroes in her own likeness but don’t find them and so suffer an “anxiety of authorship,” with so little women’s writing preserved or cherished as literary legacies who could her heroes be and where might they be found?
If a woman traditionally “surrenders” her natural forms to comply with institutional male models (and by this, I mean the metaphors, language, and structure women might have used instinctively to shape her stories), then how does “she” recover that, after assimilation? Can she? Having learned how to codify: to decode her female nature and encode male logic, language, and strategies, can she return to an informed innocence—in order to re-shape her experience? [As girls, we had to code through the universal “he” to share in much of the written word.]
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“Herstory,” then, is really about trying to un-imagine the damage of that impact and, as stories are made of smaller units called “sentences,” this re-imagining must include a valuing of a female sentence. Not only must the culture deem “her” stories important, but also it has to recognize her way of telling a story--the words she chooses and how rhythmically or circuitously she strings them together to form meaning. What if her style isn’t linear?
What, then, might her sentence look like—had it lived freely to spawn female libraries and literary canons to influence us? This is what I’m asking. This is the sentence I am after, hers. What is her sentence and how is it different from the standard stock and trade? Will you recognize it, if and when you hear it? Is it a welcome addition to what should be a growing lexicon, syntax, and pallet of voices, voices and words, words and ways of speaking and storytelling? Or will the Otherness irritate because it goes against all that training, consciously or unwillingly, you’ve internalized?
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If we’ve debunked the myth that female playwrights are rare and if women comprise 52% of the world’s population, then why aren’t women’s plays, naturally, selected at least half of the time, even now? Are her stories consistently subpar—or could it be her sentence or storytelling blueprint that is different? Will her content and the structure she comes up with to carry her message alienate you, if she deviates from the “norm”? They may—but couldn’t you learn to “hear” it her way, adjusting to her storytelling methods? Her style may not be simple or clearly straightforward but comprised of sentences that curl into a story that circles. Curling sentences and circling stories that repeat to redefine and reinforce through repetition.
We love to discuss diversity (over uniformity) and a multiverse (instead of a universe) but, seriously, what if her sentence isn’t his economy of words? Or if her style “fails” to replicate his focus on action—making her stance a “reactive” posture, which thereby “reduces her characters to inert followers”? And if her concerns for community aren’t things the standard models value?
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Who hasn’t memorized--into the fiber of our consciousness--what that aesthetic is in literature? Perhaps not the novices, emerging playwrights who aren’t yet expert impersonators. This notion is confirmed when “Bitter Gertrude,” whose posts I enjoy, blogs that 75% of the playwrights her theatre produces are men and how hard it is to find new, female playwrights who don’t make the same “beginner’s mistake. Their characters suffer a lethal passivity and don’t have active desires. This is only a problem [with] emerging female playwrights. [V]eteran, more established women writers write active main characters, just like their male counterparts.” There is no incentive then for women to try and think outside this box so how will “she” find more organic ways to produce meaning? Will we ever achieve accepted and esteemed “alternative discourses”?
Virginia Woolf wrote, “However much we may go to the work of male artists for pleasure, it is difficult to go to them for finding a voice,” and I’m not sure how much has truly changed on this front in the century since. I’ll need to write my dissertation, however, to develop this argument into its truest potential, but I will finish here with these thoughts. My frame of reference changed 20 years ago when I read Luce Irigaray (“This Sex Which is Not One”), Ann Rosalind Jones (“Writing the Body”), Helene Cixous (“Why so few texts? Because so few women have as yet won back their body”) and others. Ideas about “renversement” as a process and as a worthwhile, final product. That it’s important to keep blowing up an idea with questions, not always aiming to answer them—and I don’t mean that dismissively or to suggest that art can just be a hot mess with no craft involved.
My argument for learning to identify what a woman’s sentence might look like isn’t one in support of an anything-goes approach devoid of merit, artistic method, or a stylized talent. It is about multiplicity, building up, including. How? I don’t have those answers. Why? Because we can’t just release young women back into the wild and tell them that, after years of acculturated evisceration, “It’s okay to throw like a girl now. Take it back. Reclaim those words and what they mean.” We have to show her the ways she can #FightLikeAGirl and #WriteLikeAGirl. But first? First, we must help her find her sentence. Why? Because to cure rot you must diagnose it from its point of origin. Culturally, we can slap down new linoleum but the floorboards will groan until we rip them up and replace them—maybe even go so far as to reconfigure the floor plan. In a less-linear fashion.
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Rita Anderson is an award-winning playwright and poet. She has an MFA Creative Writing and an MA Playwriting. Contact Rita through her website: http://www.rita-anderson.com/index.html
Read more about Rita in her member profile.
When Dr. Jenni Munday of the International Centre of Women Playwrights, asked me to share thoughts on my newest work for the stage, Playing Fate, I smiled and thought this really is fate. For I was just thinking about how fortunate I was to meet my director and witness the miraculous transformation of this ever-growing dramatic work. We only met a few months ago, but since collaborating with Cailin Heffernan, my writing has hit a whole new level. We started first working on the Eve of Beltane with my writing partner and master composer, Joe Izen. A process which we all felt was frankly easy and wonderful. So you can imagine it was amazing to me that my writing life was yet to get even better. This incredible experience, being able to lock into a relationship beyond the page, yet before the stage, has been truly enchanting. Why? Because it has made me actually look forward to revising! A daunting task most writers, including myself, dread. Why? Because, as we all know, it is hard work!
Allow me to access metaphor for a minute in order to better explain myself… Imagine you were hosting a dinner party with some of the world’s most distinguished guests. That is, when one writes for the theatre audience, especially in New York City, one never knows who is sitting out there…. Right? Anyhow, you first plan your menu, you gather the ingredients, then you start protocols and then cook. But how would this procedure change if you had a chef in the kitchen. Just imagine… Someone there to check the temperatures, to clean the utensils as you go, and to taste your dishes as they come into form. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Well, that is exactly what happened with this particular play. It started as a one-act called Fate, and during rehearsals, it suddenly spiraled into a full-length. Much like the occasion where you have asked a few friends over and suddenly you have a big event. Exactly. It’s a whole different animal. I was still dealing with the one-act, a perhaps trite love story to illustrate the hand of fate in our lives… But my director, Cailin, ever so gently kept suggesting that this was no longer the case. That the characters, that were now emerging, were not willing to hang locked against the stage walls for me to make a point for a generalization on the theme. These characters were willing, ready and able come center and show that they had living words to share, and they weren’t happy being silenced.
Just as I opened up the process of working on the play with my director, I now feel it is appropriate to let her share in this article about our work. So I will move from singular voice to dialogue. Please meet, my amazing director, Cailin Heffernan.
CK: Cailin, tell us how you got involved in the theatre?
CH: I came from a dance family, so I started dancing when I was three - that was just that. After I segued from Ballet to Theatre, I spent about fifteen years as a performer. I couldn’t imagine a life not in the arts and as my mentor, Vivian Matalon, liked to say - “If you’d pay to do it, then you should be in the theatre.” When acting was no longer making me content, I decided to become a director and for the first time in my life, felt completely at home in my skin. I went back for training from The New American Theatre School, HB Studios and Actors Studio. I was fortunate to be mentored by the aforementioned Vivian Matalon, Stephen Porter, Salem Ludwig, Bob Kalfin and Danya Krupska (Thurston). I had the pleasure of observing Sir Peter Hall as well.
CK: When you start to collaborate with a playwright as director, how is it different from say, working on your own dramatic writing?
CH: Well, it is great because it actually makes me do the work. And the collaboration makes you pick and choose battles. It can’t go all your own way as you are both compromising to create a shared vision. I have to be clearer and more concise in shared writing time. And, I have to really listen to what my collaborator is saying and translate it as best I can to marry my ideas. I guess you could say we create a new baby together.
CK: Now, for something specific about our collaboration… When you read the original text for Playing Fate, what made you see the depth of the work that caused its transformation revision?
CH: Must be noted, you give me too, too much credit. You’re an intrepid writer with an open hand, open heart and open mind. When I read your work, I like to first glean what is at the core of the piece. I tend to ask a plethora of “why” questions. Once I’ve picked out what is new (a character, a thought, a situation, a restatement…) and what is appealing; then I set forth to divine what is impeding that play - always with the writer’s intention clearly in mind. The characters themselves showed me the way in Playing Fate through their universal need to atone for their transgressions and forgive each other. In this instance, what was once a love story had evolved past that and become something else entirely. Playing Fate in its extended form harkened back to a family story of reconciliation akin to something from the American Classical Canon, for instance an Arthur Miller play. The characters of the father and two brothers shouted to me that this was their story and they would not be ignored. Since you agreed, the arc of this New York family came to life.
Thank you Cailin for sharing your insights. I hope it will inspire other playwrights who find themselves in similar circumstances. This business of making theatre, of creating something worth savoring, is vital today more than ever. I sense that audiences are hungry for something, not only to sate them for the time being but something that will give lasting nourishment, like the classics we all feed on. And we need plays that our collaborators- directors, actors, designers, can really sink their teeth into simply to sustain our sense of art on earth - Bon Appetit!
Playwright, Librettist, Artist and Educator, Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger is a playwright - in - residence at both Manhattan Repertory Theatre and Cosmic Orchid Theatre Company.
Cailin is a member of SDC, Dramatists Guild, AEA and SAG-AFTRA. She is an Associate Artistic Director with Boomerang Theatre Company.
Dialogue is what separates a screenplay from a play. I learned that lesson the difficult way when I took my first screenplay class in Los Angeles. There were two playwrights in the class, me and a lovely woman named Natalie, and the rest were screenplay writers. The teacher picked on the playwrights. “NO MONOLOGUES IN SCREENPLAYS!” he would yell at us when we submitted our scripts. “THERE IS WAY TOO MUCH DIALOGUE HERE LADIES! MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS SHUT UP AND USE THE CAMERA!!”
That was two years ago. Last April I had the opportunity to co-write a short screenplay with Melissa Skirboll who is also a playwright, screenplay writer and film director. We were adapting a short story of mine that was published in a literary magazine. At first, I wanted it to read as a play with dialogue and stage directions. Melissa and my film editor Evan Metzold showed me that many of my words could be visual images caught by the camera. Still, as a playwright, I was resistant. Okay, I was jealous of the camera. I wanted my words to rule the film, not a lens.
Well after at least twenty drafts, I learned I had to give up ownership. Yes, the story and the dialogue were important, but so were the images. We have one beautiful shot of the Manhattan skyline and a silent interaction between two characters and a rabbit at the end. The playwright in me would have shouted: speak at the end of the film! but the silence is so lovely and fills in so many gaps. Our film was a semi-finalist in a very competitive international film festival. And I’m proud to say that we were an all-female team from director, cinematographer, producer, assistant director and writers.
I asked fellow screenplay writers what they thought was a major difference between plays and screenplays. One mentioned that FENCES which works so beautifully in theater was just too talky on film and lost some of its dynamic power. With film it’s more what you see than what you say. Naomi McDougall Jones, one of my favorite female screenwriters, described the difference so poetically: “One of the things I love about screenwriting is the level of nuance and subtly you have available. I always think about the fact that an image of a teacup breaking, if lit right, with the right music underneath could be the moment of greatest drama, the turning point of your movie. “
I am currently preparing my play THE BATTLES OF RICHMOND HILL for a production at HERE Center for the Arts this April. And I have to admit I feel much more comfortable writing the script and working the director and actors. I don’t have to worry about sound or color or what cameras to use or which angle. I also don’t have to feed the crew which to me was one of the most intimidating parts of filmmaking. Try finding a restaurant opened at 11:30 in downtown Manhattan for a crew with so many food preferences. You don’t have to feed your crew in theater, and you can have regular hours. We shot MY DINNER WITH SCHWARTZEY from 3AM to 4PM for two day because the bar which was our setting had to get back to work by 4:30 pm. At least with theater there are regular hours.
I love a stage and how you can fill it with movement and words. Every single line of dialogue counts. In a film, if one line of dialogue isn’t perfect, the camera can cover it. A good editor can even make a bad performance good. You can’t hide in theater.
And then there’s the audience. I always say that an actor in a film doesn’t care if you’re laughing or crying. To me, to be applauding along with Mark Rylance dancing on stage is one of my greatest theatrical experiences.
But… I keep returning to but. Theater is ephemeral. Film is final. My play will last for twelve performances and unless someone publishes it the work will vanish. My words for MY DINNER WILL SCHWARTZEY will not disappear and we hope to continue to submit it to festivals for at least another year.
Will I write another screenplay? Maybe. I’m still nervous that my words will always be secondary to the cinematographer. The film editor. There are films I see at film festivals that are almost wordless. They can be powerful and provocative but the playwright in me desperately misses people speaking. Will I write another play? Absolutely yes.
I am a playwright who lives in New York City. My play, I KNOW WHAT BOYS WANT, was chosen as one of the best plays produced in an off off Broadway theater. My play, SAFE, was produced at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Other plays have been produced in New York, Chicago and Seattle. I am a member of The Dramatists Guild and The League of Professional Theater Women.
Like many of you, I’ve struggled for much of my life to find “a room of my own.” Growing up in a shoe box size Manhattan tenement apartment, my first writing sanctuary was the shared family bathroom. With a clamorous household crammed with sisters, my grandmother and a working mother, it was impossible to have more than five undisturbed minutes before the desperate hordes advanced on the porcelain bowl’s pearly gates.
Lacking the advantage of my own room, I anointed treasured New York hideouts as ‘June’s Dens’. My favorite refuge was the Cloisters – a medieval castle perched at the tip of Manhattan on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. On Sunday mornings, as Gregorian chants wafted through the castle’s cavernous chambers, I sat between sun-warmed marble columns pouring the secrets of my soul onto a child’s lined schoolbook.
My pattern was set – if not in stone, at least on dog-eared paper – that to write, I needed to leave home to find myself and explore creative visions.
It wasn’t until college, when I first encountered Virginia Woolf’s status quo busting A Room of Her Own, that a thunderclap of recognition struck; I was not alone needing to be alone to write!
"In the first place, to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound-proof room, was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble….”
The idea of class and privilege as it relates to a writer’s process (and available opportunities) was something I was just beginning to understand. Raised by a single mother in a class typically referred to as working poor, I felt a failure (and lacking in discipline) because of my inability to write at home.
Historically, women have been denied access to space other than their tightly contained domestic spheres. Breaking out of her home’s confining walls, Virginia Woolf wrote in a converted toolshed. What refuge have you found to compensate for the dearth of creative space in your home? Perhaps, like me, you have sought the quiet of a library, the peace of a house of worship, or the rickety back table of a deserted coffee shop to hear your Muse.
A discovery I made in the late ‘80s opened an exciting new avenue in my quest for creative space. One harried, grey day in New York as I rushed from Teaching Job #2 to Teaching Job #3 - with an hour-long trek on the subway between the two – I opened a journal to pass the time.
An article about a new residency program in North Carolina hiring artists from around the country caught my eye; right then and there I decided to apply, and was accepted a few months later. Journeying to the American South and serving as a North Carolina Visiting Artist (for three years) was an extraordinary, life-changing experience!
Over the past three decades, I’ve explored different types of residencies in a plethora of places; many short-term (a few weeks), some, a couple of months, and a few, spanning years. Although I am fortunate now to own my own home with an attic-shaped office and an antique oak desk which I adore, writing habits are hard to break; I continue to seek out residencies to start or finish a new work.
There has been an explosion of artist residency programs around the world the last twenty years. Are you inspired by nature? Select national parks offer residencies! Would you enjoy writing in a deceased famous person’s house? Heritage sites (literary etc.) have programs.
Do you crave working in a collaborative environment? Yep, those residencies exist too. As I write this blog post, I am happily ensconced in a mountain cabin in Georgia at one of my favorite residency sites (Hambidge Arts Center).
Why do I love artist residencies (let me count the ways)! The best programs offer unique environments to explore and be inspired (whether on top of a mountain or in a vibrant urban setting); a place of one’s own to think and write; and – the super-fun part – the opportunity to meet incredible artists from around the globe.
“If we live another century or so….and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the freedom to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality...then the opportunity will come….”
Well, it’s been close to a century since Woolf’s revolutionary essay was published, and the challenges facing women writers unfortunately persist. If your writing journey is similar to mine, and you long for a room apart from your ‘real’ life to connect with your Muse, beg, borrow, or steal a room of your own, because the plays and stories you have to author are important! (FYI, a terrific resource for residency opportunities is the Alliance of Resident Communities.) Happy residency hunting!
ABOUT JUNE GURALNICK
For three decades, June has created works (plays, performance projects, multi-media installations) melding fact with fiction and portraying individuals caught – sometimes comically, sometimes tragically - in the intersection of politics and personal dreams. Her work has been performed at venues including the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement Theatre (NY), Spirit Square (NC), Equity Library Theatre (NY), Bethany Arts Center (CA), Burning Coal Theatre (NC), Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (NC), AS220 (RI), North Carolina Museum of Art – and beamed to the Space Station!
Plays include MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD, CONTAINMENTS: THE HOME PROJECT Part II, IN GOLD WE TRUST (with Guy Nickson), ART TALES OF THADDEUS, WOMEN OF THE LIGHT (with Cynthia Mitchell), SPACE INTERLUDE, FINDING CLARA, ACROSS THE HOLY TELL, ON THE DREAMHOUSE SEA, and most recently, BIRDS OF A FEATHER: A COMEDY ABOUT DE-EXTINCTION. Selections from her plays have been published by North Carolina Literary Review, Playwrights’ Center (Monologues-Heinemann Press), Blackbird Press, Smith & Kraus and Left Curve; ON THE DREAMHOUSE SEA was published in 2017 and monologues from BIRDS will be published in Applause Books’ upcoming Best Women’s Monologues.
Awards and residencies include the Silver Medal-Pinter Drama Review Prize, North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellowship, Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre New Plays winner, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Writing Fellowship, Hambidge Center for the Arts Writer-in-Residence, Writer-in-Residence at Wildacres Retreat, Artist-in-Residence at the Rensing Center, United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County Regional Artist Grant, Piedmont Regional Artist Grant, and Sewanee Writers’ Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar. In 2019, June has been awarded a writing residency at Hambidge Arts Center for rewrites on her work-in-progress (LITTLE ) as well as Runner-Up for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Tyrone Guthrie Writer-In-Residence Fellowship (Ireland).
Notes from the 1984 Conference of Women Theatre Directors and Administrators reveal that little has changed for women in British state theatre seeking equality of opportunity.
Questions asked then were:
Why is there no parity for women on the English subsidized stage? Why is the male-only narrative considered the human one? Why are women shoehorned into a category called ‘diversity’? Why are women forced to compete for subsidy with other groups and therefore perceived as a minority? Why are women the majority on the fringe where their work is unsupported by any infrastructure. Why is women’s work unfunded or underfunded compared to men who run national theatres? Why are women under-represented in the English theatre canon? Why are women ghettoized because they have a vagina and not a penis?
In 2019, I invited Chris Campbell, former Literary Manager of the National Theatre, to talk to my Theatre MA students at City University. How did you get the job? I enquired. He told the group of students and me I was an actor at the NT and keen to play all the roles that Simon Russell Beale was given. I was not a very good actor and I was not given these parts. One day the Artistic Director, Nicholas Hytner, invited me in to his office and asked me if I wanted to join the Literary Department. That’s how I became Literary Manager. The job was not advertised which goes against the spirit of the law. Jobs for the boys is not supposed to happen in the state theatre. But the funding body, the Arts Council, does not check this and so it happens and nothing is said. The role of the Literary Manager is crucial. He, and it is always he at the National Theatre, is the gatekeeper. A writer must be approved by him to get her work read. When Hytner was National Theatre Artistic Director, and rewarded for it with a knighthood, he never directed a play by a woman. Therefore, the Literary Manager knew in advance that he must favour male writers. When Hytner was asked why so few women were produced under his watch, his response was in twenty years women will have equality.
Had he said this about a black person he would have been sacked. Hytner has now left the National Theatre but is still considered one of the ‘great and the good’.
In 2014, Sam Potter asked if the National Theatre had a problem with women when blogging in The Stage. Of 206 productions in the 12 years of Hytner’s directorship only 15% were written by women. Peter Hall, another knight of the British establishment, programmed four women playwrights in 15 years.
This is how it is run in Britain.
In 2018, I wrote in The Guardian about this human rights injustice.
After pulling together a petition of a hundred women protesting about lack of parity, I went to see the Director of the Arts Council with a core group of professional theatre practitioners, among us was Equity’s President Maureen Beattie. We discussed this with Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of the unelected quango, the Arts Council. The Arts Council is the distributor of state money. Its funds come from the taxpayer, over half of which are women. Those women rarely see the complexity of their lives onstage. At the Arts Council meeting my colleagues and I revealed that this lack of parity was a human rights issue and one which we have been exposing as a problem in theatre for over thirty years. Sir Nicholas declared that he was shocked by our revelations. I asked about the monitoring of jobs for the boys in the Literary Departments. Arts Council officers said that there was none.
The patriarchal order is the default position. Questioning it has resulted in intimidation. When I wrote in 1984 in the London magazine City Limits, that the national theatres were marginalizing women’s work, I received a personal letter from the Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Sir Trevor Nunn was so outraged at being held responsible for lack of parity that he wrote this ‘somehow I doubt that you will be experiencing much of what we do at first hand.’
What is the answer? Perhaps The Guerrilla Girls have got it right with their demonstrations outside which shame art galleries that show male-only work.
If the majority of theatre audiences - women - went on strike, this would provoke panic among the ruling self-proclaimed elite. I suggest that we should refuse to visit theatres that do not practise parity. If the Arts Council is afraid to take on the clients it funds and refuses to withdraw funding from theatres that refuse our equal right to work as playwrights, performers, directors and practitioners, we must take action ourselves. A theatrical demonstration outside theatres would provoke unwelcome publicity and highlight this sexual apartheid to a wider audience.
Julia Pascal’s new play Blueprint Medea opens at the Finborough Theatre 22 May 2019.
Julia Pascal is a playwright and scholar in the UK focusing on politics and war. Plays explore multi-ethnicity, the transmission of trauma, mothers and daughters/fathers and sons. Family conflict through a political prism.
You can check out her member profile in the member directory as well as:
In 2018 Pernille Dahl Johnsen was granted a 2-year Work Grant from the Norwegian Government Grants for Artists. We decided to ask her additional questions about this prestigious award as part of our ongoing series of highlighting our members’ awards, grants and recognition.
#jessiesalsbury #icwp #PernilleDahlJohnsen
UNTOLD STORIES OF JEWISH WOMEN
A Festival of Plays, Music, and Conversation
March 20-22, 2018
Museum of Jewish Heritage
A CALL TO INSPIRATION
Early in 2018, esteemed playwright, director and theatre festival producer, Shellen Lubin asked me to be involved in UNTOLD STORIES OF JEWISH WOMEN. She commissioned me to write a play about activist and politician, Bella Abzug, for Caroline Aaron to perform. I was very honored to be asked and, lo and behold, a most magical thing happened.
Feminist and National Organization for Women (NOW) founder, Bella Abzug was known for her line “ This woman’s place is in the house- the House of Representatives.” She was a lawyer and U.S. Representative from 1971-1977. In 1976, as a freshman at Penn State University, I met women from NOW who asked me to write a scene for them that was to be performed nationally at PTA meetings across the country. A young teacher had lost her job because she decided to solve gender issues with her kindergarten students- the boys made fun of girls at the carpentry table forcing the girls to play in the kitchen. The teacher decided to split up the boys and girls and assign days in kitchen for boys only. One angry dad did not want his son to play in the kitchen but the teacher would not back down, so he had her fired. My play about Bella, PLAYING HOUSE, brought it together for me and made me realize why I am still writing about women’s issues even in the 21st century. I am truly grateful to Shellen Lubin for that opportunity.
CK: Shellen, again, thank you. It was truly a wonderful project. Could you tell us what inspired you to begin the Untold Stories project?
SL: Women’s issues? Still, you say? Because we’re still in a ridiculously under-known place. We’re still 9-25% of the voices heard. We get 9% of the venture capital funding (people of color get 2%), and, depending on the size of the budget and the reach of the project, somewhere between 10-25% of the productions. It’s pathetic. We still too often see women through men’s eyes, and as appendages to their stories.
Susan Merson and I have co-produced a few festivals of short plays primarily from 365 Women a Year: a Playwriting Project. These are plays that are inspired by and/or about moments from the lives of women who should be known, or famous women who are only known in a particular context and there is so much more to know about them. As shifting perspective has always been one of my benchmarks as a writer and director, it has excited me greatly to work with this project, begun by Jess Eisenberg on facebook and including hundreds of writers from around the world, trying to write women back into the history of the world through plays.
When I made a terrific connection with the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A living Memorial to the Holocaust, and with their resident theatre company, NYTF, the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, we decided to do a three day festival completely devoted to historical Jewish women, from the bible through to the transgender Martine Rothblatt--an incredibly incomplete history of Jewish women, but all untold stories--or old stories told from new perspectives--a panorama of Jewish women over the centuries. Susan and I are both Jewish women and have both been actively involved with struggling for shifts in perspective in theatre, both in form and in content.
CK: Who all was involved in the project?
SL: There were over 40 playwrights and plays involved in this project, some that were written or excerpted for us and many that were already written. The 'piece de resistance' was an evening of songs and monologues from various places including an opening poem about Lilith in both English and Yiddish, an excerpt from Indecent (with the permission and delight of the creative team), an appearance by Luna Kaufman--a Holocaust survivor who still writes and speaks so eloquently, your monologue, and a song written and performed by Christine Toy Johnson (with Bobby Cronin) in the voice of Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, the first Asian-American Rabbi (who attended the evening!). Performers included Estelle Parsons, Roberta Wallach, Ilene Kristen, Tia de Shazor, and so many others. It was a spectacular evening, both in its theatrical accomplishment and in its portrayal of the breadth of female perspectives that are available to us.
CK: What was the overall response from the artists involved?
The artists were so pleased to be involved in a project that was such a huge and collective undertaking of women-centric voices.
CK: Any plans for a project like this for the future?
SL: NYTF is pretty consumed with their Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof right now (which really should be seen by all), and the museum has taken some different turns in their focus, but Susan and I are now in deep discussions of what might be the next venture for this project. One thing we have discussed and may try to make happen is a podcast of these pieces and more. Although that would only be audio, it would be a way of bringing these voices and perspectives to a much wider audience.
CK : Tell us about your work right now... what have you done and what’s coming up—-
SL: I am working on a number of projects right now, directing/developing a few projects with some terrific playwrights--primarily Stuart Warmflash and Amy Oestricher--and working on re-writes for a few of my own plays as well as some new songs. And on Monday, March 11, I will be directing the Bistro Awards for Sherry Eaker for the seventh year in a row--a fabulous night celebrating the best in cabaret, jazz, and the NYC nightlife scene.
ABOUT SHELLEN LUBIN:
Shellen has been onstage—as both a singer/songwriter and an actor— for years, both in and out of New York City. She and her songs have been featured on radio (Woody’s Children on WQXR-FM, a one-hour special on WBAI-FM, and various shows on WABC, WOR, and WEVD-FM), cable television, and in Milos Forman's first American film, Taking Off. Mother/Child, her one-woman musical, was called by WBAI-FM: “a dynamite show about the joys, agonies, conflicts, and concerns of combining new parenthood, person-hood, and artist-hood.” Other performing credits include stage (most recently "The Flood" in The Vagina Monologues at Here Arts Center directed by Andrea Bertola), screen (including principal roles in the films Green Card and Taking Off, and Amanda Cole's High Falls).
Shellen recently completed Without a Title, loosely based on Federico Garcia Lorca’s Play Without a Title and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her play, Imperfect Flowers, played to rave reviews in Omaha, Nebraska, as part of SNAP!Fest (“a night when acting and lights and music and a glorious script all come together into something bordering on magic,” Omaha World-Herald.) The first act of the play, a one-act entitled Anthesis, also received raves in L.A. when it played at the West Coast Ensemble. Her first musical in NYC, Molly's Daughters, was commissioned by American Jewish Theatre. Other plays and musicals have been performed in productions and staged readings at the Public Theatre, Henry Street Settlement, Manhattan Class Company, Hubbard Hall, 13th Street Theatre, and many other venues.
Shellen has directed numerous plays, musicals, and cabaret acts in productions, workshops, and readings, most recently the 28th-34th Annual Bistro Awards, Tyler’s Theory of Love by Stuart Warmflash in the E.A.T. Festival, This Year’s Model by Donna Hoke at NJ Rep’s Theatre Brut, Buck Naked by Gloria Bond Clunie at Ivoryton Playhouse, Door Opens Walk Thru by Susan Merson at 13th Street Repertory Theatre, Between Pretty Places (a musical Ghost Story by Susan Merson with music and lyrics by Shellen Lubin and additional music by Matthew Gandolfo) at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, CA and at Here Arts Center in NYC, and many more.
Shellen is 1st Vice President & Past President of the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition, Inc. which brings together many unions, guilds, and associations, to work for women in the industry, expanding their voice, their vision, and their clout. She is also a past VP of the League of Professional Theatre Women, for which sheCo-Chairs the Mentoring Committee. She is also a member of the National Theatre Conference, where she chairs the Women Playwrights Initiative.
Shellen is a proud member of most writers’, directors', and performers’ unions in our industry
PLEASE NOTE: the below event is happening in 2019!
By Sharon Wallace
(excerpt from dissertation chapter 3)
The politics and creativity represented in the African American struggle in the works of pioneering African American women playwrights who prolifically wrote plays concerning the Black struggle that informed the Black community on the politics of social issues that influenced their everyday existence.
Specifically, this chapter explores the early plays that gave African Americans the opportunity to hear their story being told by people who looked like them. These plays were written by the mother dramatists and were more prominent than their Black male counterpart at the time. Thus, the early plays of Black female playwrights were influential on the Black community because the news as it pertained to Blacks at that time slanted the truth to one side.
This injustice of inaccurate information kept Blacks ignorant to the truth of a situation or conflict. Therefore, the pioneer African American women playwrights illuminated information that was hidden from them.
Additionally, the mother playwrights wrote about what some Black writers feared to address, such topics as religion and abortion. They were bold and bright and set the standards for contemporary Black female dramatists to follow.
As a contemporary playwright, I am inspired by pioneer African American women playwrights such as Angelia Weld Grimké, born in 1880. James V. Hatch and Ted Shine write in Black Theatre USA: Plays by African Americans—The Early Period 1847-1938 that,“Grimké was the only daughter of Archibald Grimké and Sarah E. Stanley.
This was an interracial marriage that was unique in that it was a legal marriage. Grimké, a well-known poet, had written a play, her first, Blessed Are the Barren during the time the NAACP published a request for race propaganda plays. She had hoped that this play would tug at the heart of white mothers. It might eliminate racism. Grimké re-titled the play Rachel.
It was submitted and accepted by the Drama Committee of the NAACP. Produced originally in Washington, D.C., in 1916 at the Myrtill Miner School . . . the play remains a major classic by a Black playwright, and it is the earliest extant full-length drama written by a Black female” (Hatch and Shine 133).
Grimké’s play, Rachel, was the first play by a Black woman that was presented on stage to inform the American public of the plight of the Black race. “Rachel was the first attempt by a Black woman to use the stage for race propaganda in order “to enlighten the American people relative to the lamentable condition of the millions of Colored citizens in this free republic” (Gloria Hull, qtd. in Hatch and Shine 134).
Grimké’s play Rachel speaks up about the civil injustice and racial abomination Black people encounter living in America. The staging of Grimké’s play was the first time a play written by a woman of color was used in the theatre to educate the masses on the state of affairs of millions of Black people. The theatre was used to tell the story to a White audience about the struggles of a Black family to succeed in a racist an oppressive society.
However, plays about a Black family received limited reviews, and of course the play’s theme may have kept White audiences away from the theatre. As Eulalie Spence noted, “The white audience didn’t wish to be reminded about their sins, and Black audiences already were very well aware of the lamentable condition of the million of Colored citizens” (Eulalie Spence qtd. in Hatch and Shine 134).
The story that Rachel tells is not a happy tale about a Black family content with the life they’re living. Grimké’s goal is to show the audience the reality of Black life. However, the theatre is a space of escape for some audiences, a place to be entertained. The harsh realities of Black life were not what the White or Black audiences wanted to see.
Whites wanted to avoid the arrows of blame directed at them for causing the suffering of the Loving family, and Blacks knew all too well what Blacks had to wrestle with. Grimké’s attempt to use the stage to inform her audience was not well received.
Nevertheless according to Hatch and Shine, “With the play’s 1920 publication, however, Rachel reached a larger female audience and became the subject of the ongoing debate among critics of the theatre and other literary forums.
In particular, the original Drama Committee that produced the work had already divided opinions on the function of drama: should drama be propaganda or art” (Hatch and Shine 134). Female audiences were intrigued by Rachel’s decision to live an independent life without marriage or children. The theatre offered few women figures that took such a strong and feminist role during that period.
Grimké’s play was used as propaganda to inform the audience of the suffering of Black citizens. However, both Black and White mainstream audiences did not attend the performance. This raises the question if the theatre should be used for art or propaganda.
I maintain that the theatre does a combination of both on most occasions. It showcases art and propaganda, a message is always factored into the story to inform the audience about how to live. The art of the story makes the teaching that takes place in a play easier to accept.
The public does not feel that they are being lectured to if they are entertained while being educated. I acknowledge that Grimké’s play was ahead of its time, and audiences were not ready to face themselves on the stage. Because they were in the midst of living the experience of the play; the reality of the play was too close to personal emotions and too soon to view in a performance.
The lynching of the father in Grimké’s play was a new tenet in theatre that the theatre going public had not been exposed to, so it was shocking to hear it discussed by the mother. Perkins asserts that, “Grimke’s outrage over the lynching of African Americans in the United States is reflected in her early activism as well as in her drama. . . .Rachel is traditionally considered a drama of new beginnings.
Samuel Hay notes that drama depicting the horrors of lynching began with Grimké, and Claudia Tate identifies Grimké’s work as the location of ‘a new point in African American literature,’ where depictions of racial protest start satisfying the expectations of twentieth-century Black readers . . . Grimké’s Rachel represents the foundation of a unique American dramatic genre which continues to develop on the contemporary stage” (Perkins 25).
Certainly, Grimké’s Rachel was a trailblazer for future playwrights writing plays as an act of protest against racial injustice. Clearly literature in the form of a play is a powerful genre that can raise awareness on an issue and bring about change. Most assuredly, Rachel was the emergence of American literature that cast light on issues important to African Americans.
Judith L. Stephens underscores in “Lynching Dramas and Women: History and Critical Context” that, “As a body of work, plays written in the anti-lynching tradition represent an important community of consciousness between Black and white Americans and reveal an artistic tradition that both preserves and transcends Black/white racial separation in the unity of dramatic form” (Stephens 4-5).
Remarkably, protest plays have the potential to enlighten the consciousness of Black and White Americans. By the nature of the genre, plays inform the public about matters of interest to the community. Thus these anti-lynching plays is a creative form that archived division between Blacks and Whites and goes beyond those disconnections and connect through a play.
Black female women’s leadership in the anti-lynching movement was prominent, and they demonstrated their objection to the lynching of Blacks through their dramas. Stephens asserts about “. . .dramas written by women because women played a unique role in the anti-lynching movement and in the development of lynching drama.
Given this particular history, these plays can be seen as a source of womanist/feminist drama. The compound ‘womanist/feminist’ is used here to represent Black women’s leadership in the anti-lynching movement and to recognize the tradition of Black and white American women working together toward common goals” (5). Thus, both Black and White female playwrights contributed to the genre of anti-lynching plays, which place attention on the issue of lynching of Black men.
Kathy Perkins asserts in “The Impact of Lynching on the Art of African American Women” that, “The lack of representation of women as direct victims of lynching is remarkable when one recognizes that women were consistently subjected to the same brutality as men … Of all the known plays by women—both Black and white—none focuses on the lynching of a woman” (Perkins 16).
It seems that gender equality was not a factor in the anti-lynching plays. In order words, the lynching of Black women was not documented in dramas, although Black women suffered brutal attacks of violence. Nevertheless, these plays fulfilled a purpose that presents stories of the atrocity Blacks experience with the barbarity of lynching.
African Americans have used theatre ritual as a venue to share stories of the community through oral storytelling. Africans have a rich history in that early form of theatre. Therefore, because of that history we should not be surprised by contributions of the pioneer mothers to African American theatre and the plays that are available to us.
Hatch and Shine note that, “Since ancient times the people of Africa have celebrated life and death in theatre ritual. Much of this was oral drama, passed on by tradition but never written down” (334). However, as the culture evolves so does the theatre, and African Americans began to write plays that reflected their experiences.
In the past and like today’s plays written by Black playwrights, they can teach the history of the Black community in our own words. Moreover, Hatch and Shine stress that, “African American students could not learn about themselves from history texts, concerned artists such as May Miller. . . decided that plays could be an entertaining and effective tool of enlightenment” (326).
The African American story has been diluted and absent from history books from south to north. Arguably, African American students learned about their history and culture through early plays written by Miller and her contemporaries She was conscience of the importance and value of education and saw education as a means to progress and prosperity for Blacks. May Miller wrote mostly one-act plays to provide her students with images they could identify with and reflected themselves and not the stereotypes commonly presented. (Hatch and Shine 334).
The failure of history texts to inform African American students about themselves led playwrights, such as May Miller to write plays about Black culture. They believed that plays could educate and entertain all the while bringing awareness to students. Hence, audiences attending theatre production of plays written by Black playwrights could identify with the story and the characters on stage and shared similar experiences.
Theatre in the Black community served as a place where Blacks came together to examine through the lens of entertainment issues that affect Black life, teaching them how to problem solve elements of conflict with creative solutions presented through the play.
Thus, May Miller recognized the strength in using plays to confront issues within the African American community. Samuel A. Hays underscores in African American Theatre: An Historical and Critical Analysis that, “May Miller’s Graven Images (1929), one of the best plays of the period, was just what Bible-toting southerners needed:
God punishes Moses’ sister Miriam for defaming the Ethiopian Eliezer” (Hay 84) Moses’ sister Miriam slanders his son Eliezer and exposes racism thoughts and words to the child. These actions were shown in Biblical times as she tells her nephews’ friends that Eliezer is not the image of God because he is Black like his mother” (38).
Hay stresses that, “The Du Bois Era was significant, then, because it compelled African American dramatists to address the political and socioeconomic issues of race” (84). Thus, Du Bois commissioned plays for his Crisis magazine, creating a platform for Black playwrights to be produced and that made a way for the African American to publicly have a discussion on racism in the political and socioeconomic arena.
Moreover, those political plays would be used to encourage African Americans’ activism as active participants in the community. The theatre was that place where Blacks could speak freely on issues that impacted their future. For that reason, Du Bois saw plays as tool to teach African Americans on the issues of race and how it affects every aspect of their existence.
Black dramatists, most importantly, wrote plays about Black culture in a vernacular African Americans understood. Miller’s Graven Images shows the audience that Black people have always been a part of the developing world we live in and that we did not only happen or appear on the scene by accident.
In her play, Miller uses a Bible verse as an example of racism occurring B.C. Hatch and Shine point out that, “Graven Images is inspired by an Old Testament verse: ‘And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman he had married.’ (Numbers 12:I).
It was written around 1929 for eighth grade children and shows how the Black man is woven into the fabric of the universe. ‘We belong,’ this play exclaims, ‘we have always been, and we will always be’” (334). Miller’s play illustrates to Black audiences that African Americans have purpose in the world. That we are contributors to humanity and that contribution is equally as important to the building of the nation.
Therefore, African American dramatists gave voice to the political and social concerns of Black audiences. Because of that, early African American women playwrights saw the opportunity to use plays as a weapon Blacks could use to enrich their knowledge on how to take action against the injustices that shrouded African Americans in perpetual struggle.
Furthermore, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, like Grimké and Miller, was a dramatist and wrote plays that reflected the life and times of African American culture. Theatre was an outlet for the Black community, a space where they could see themselves as human beings.
Sharon Wallace is on the Board of Trustees for ICWP
There have been some strides in gender parity, with some recent polls and information confirming that parity is being reached with some theater art positions, but staying stagnant in others.
The newest report in the League of Professional Theatre Women's Women Count, compiled by Martha Wade Steketee and Judith Binus, reviews 515 unique productions, ranging from the 2013-2014 season to 2017-2018. 47% of the productions had female directors, an increase of 7%, while the most recent season had the most female playwrights, a report of 41% up from 36%.
In 2017-2018 season, however, women had the lowest amount of representation in the fields of sound and lighting design, with 21% and 23%.
Though the pool of theaters could be considered a small sample size for comparison, it is indicative of what we all see in theaters across the world. For more information and a great summary on the report, Ryan McPhee has written an exceptional article for Playbill.
In another take by Playbill, Women in Theatre, Resetting the Stage, a panel interview with 5 female theater directors , Margot Bordelon, Kathleen Marshall, Leigh Silverman, Rebecca Taichman, and Whitney White all agree that parity "is a fantasy" as expressed by Silverman.
Whitney White expressed similar frustrations, that she is not allowed to fail, as there is a feeling of 'scarcity' as a female, black director.
The video embedded in the article reinforces the passion these women have for their art and their craft, and how hard they must work to have their seat at the table. It is definitely worth a watch.
Whichever opinion currently held, that there is great progress, or stagnation, or defeat, it is worth reviewing the recent work Playbill has written on gender parity, and taking a break to celebrate the bit of progress, however small.
#playbill #parity #icwp #womenplaywrights #womenwriting #theatre #theater #writing #jessiesalsbury
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