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Centre Stage

A blog for women-related theatre issues worldwide.

  • 24 Feb 2019 9:20 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    By Coni Koepfinger

    on the anniversary of 


    A Festival of Plays, Music, and Conversation

    March 20-22, 2018

    Museum of Jewish Heritage 


    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.



    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 WABCWOR, and WEVD-FM), cable television, and in Milos Forman's first American film, Taking OffMother/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 TheatreBetween 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!

  • 15 Feb 2019 10:14 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    By Sharon Wallace

    Pioneering Black Women Playwrights: The Early Plays

    (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

  • 13 Feb 2019 5:42 PM | Anonymous

    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 MarshallLeigh 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

  • 31 Jan 2019 5:31 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    by Rita Anderson 

    In 2014, I bought an anthology of Contemporary Plays by Women: Outstanding Winners and Runners up (1978-1990) for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (prize deadline was September 15th). In its preface, Editor Emilie S. Gilgore wrote what is now a damning statistic: “We got in touch with Lillian Hellman and asked her to join us as a director. . . At that time, in 1978, only 7% of the plays presented across the United States were written by women. A similar situation existed in the UK. Today, 12 years later, that figure has approximately tripled.” Today, women playwrights only experience 17-19% representation, but in 1990 women’s plays were produced almost 21%. How have we lost ground in the decades since, in this, the fourth wave of feminism?

    With a needed push from the theatre world for changes, “50/50 by 2020” (a little over a year away), it is refreshing, finally, to discuss the obvious: women’s right to be equally represented in contemporary American theatre and her odd absence from it. --For female playwrights the present is critical because historically she’s barely mentioned in the ranks of “classic” theatre, a sacred albeit-male canon. Today, I hope to begin a discussion on why I think parity hasn’t happened and why the issue remains problematic. Through events like Arena Stage’s The Summit, and The Kilroys, we now know women playwrights exist [*wink*] and that there is a waiting “pipeline” of talented women interested—so why aren’t women playwrights playing in theatres near you?

    We inherited the culture we inhabit and clues to a deep-seated gender inequality are everywhere. Take, for example, the recent ad which pointed out the perceptual differences between strong men (“BOSS”) and strong women (“BOSSY”). While many of us fight for change, more are invested in maintaining status quo, but these are complex issues for another time. To focus on the topic at hand, suffice to say that, psychologically and socially speaking, men and women may act, speak, and even write differently, but women are not, as Freud suggests, “imperfect men without penises.” [This is not to say that all women are the same, either.]

    One tenet of my argument, however, is that, in terms of decision-making styles, men statistically think in “absolutes,” while women are “situational” thinkers (decisions are made on a case by case basis). From here it is no stretch to see how, for self-preservation, a patriarchal system needs uniformity: There is one correct way to run businesses, make laws, love, and to art. This longstanding mindset and patriarchal power structure is our brick wall and it won’t be undone with polite discussion, a wish, or a prayer.

    Individual giftedness aside, gender differences aren’t imaginary. In April, The Atlantic Monthly ran an article about “The Confidence Gap,” showing how men and women promote their work and themselves--and asserting that “confidence” is as important as “competence.” Rather than deconstruct Nature vs. Nurture or “why” I think men excel in this area (which the article takes a stab at addressing), I will heap more facts on the fire to show why parity will be an Olympic-sized nut to crack.

    Washington D.C. theaters did band together this year to produce 44 female playwrights but, despite industry claims for big changes coming, these heavy-hitting lists still posted showcases with 0 or 1 female playwright, often out of 9 or 10 selected: The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest’s Summerplay 2014 (1 out of 9), Manhattan Theater Club (2 women to 6 men 2013-2014 and 2012-2013), Pipeline PlayLab (last year 1 of 7), Steinberg Trust (“Emerging Playwright Award,” founded in 2009 and runs every two years, first year all males to include Bruce Norris), and Summer Shorts (59E59, NYC), in 2013 1 woman, in 2014 0.

    The list above fell in my lap and it makes no pretense about being exhaustive. It’s just one of those tip-of-the-iceberg glimpses that makes you despair. I cannot wait for when America becomes a “post-racial” and a “post-gender” society, but that day is not today. Gender parity makes everyone uncomfortable but it’s more than because it’s “the elephant in the room” issue. The real question isn’t, Where are all the female elephants? but Why aren’t they in the room?

    The 17% Solution

    While the temptation of an “easy solution” for gender parity might entail (a) a mandate that theaters contract 50/50 female/male playwrights, and (b) boycotting or (c) cutting funds for theatres that don’t comply, these measures don’t extinguish the underlying conditions that helped create female invisibility in the arts. Until these “norms” (we’ve been bombarded with and have steeped in for so long they’re absorbed) are brought back to the surface and acknowledged, the cultural lens will remain skewed and inequality will persist. We must learn to look at or “read” plays differently and to see other ways in which to “see.” Otherwise, even with “blind” submissions and with female literary managers at the helm, scripts that fit this ordained writing-style tradition will continue to be selected.

    As an undergraduate psychology major, we learned that women use different conversational styles than men: we apologize more, face each other, touch, and rely on eye contact to communicate. Men’s preferred style for communication is side to side—as in from the driver’s and passenger’s seats of a car, or sitting together on the couch. There’ve been controversial studies about differences between the sexes on everything from physical strength, sexual preferences and performance, and intelligence and brain size. What’s important is whose style is being favored. . . Foucault said, “Knowledge is power,” and it follows that whoever runs the board room or classroom (writes the text books, serves as artistic directors and literary managers) dictates what is “good” and sets the agenda for what that looks like.

    When feminism began, the most successful women fit in by becoming female men, laughing at jokes which were aimed at their own sex’s expense to assimilate and to show that they were “good sports.” Once inside the golden doors, those women felt privileged to listen to (if not to memorize and to copy the styles of) the sermons and lectures of journalists, novelists, and poets who operated from a foreign set of metaphors and a male-centric way of thinking. “She” learned to read (i.e. decode and encode) the male pronoun “he” as the universal referent for “mankind,” while her models—all male—sponsored phrases like, “Cold as a witch’s tit,” “Take one for the team,” and “Grow a pair.”

    Until recently, women were the sole object of the gaze—and everything fell in around that worldview. It is mindboggling how all-encompassing a worldview can be, and how nearly impossible it is to change the sights on that rifle, male habits “she” accommodated and forms “she” learned, after surrendering her own, more natural way of expressing herself to blend in and feel less foreign. If unfettered, what might “her” writing style look and sound like?

    (Stay tuned for Part II: “Fighting for a Female Sentence” to be posted in a few weeks)

    Rita Anderson, a published and an award-winning playwright, has an MFA Creative Writing and an MA Playwriting. A national winner at Kennedy Center (KCACTF), she went on scholarship to the O’Neill.

    Her plays are widely produced and she has 100 publications to
    include Final Conversations, and Early Liberty, a “Top 10 Selling Play” for the international publisher (, and two books of poetry: The Entropy of Rocketman, and Watched Pots (A Lovesong to Motherhood), both of which have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Contact Rita through her website.

  • 28 Dec 2018 12:19 PM | Anonymous

    Reaching parity in the world of theatre takes everyone's engagement and involvement. Organizations and decision makers must be deliberate in producing female-driven work.

    There are a variety of organizations that support women in theatre and female playwrights to make parity and equity a reality, and we all must support one another in this endeavor. As playwrights, we can purposely submit our work to organizations that will celebrate our voices. 

    Works by Women, now merged with VH Theatrical Development Foundation to create Parity Productions, still houses a wealth of information on their former website.  Looking through the participating companies can give insight on where submissions would be welcome. 

    Little Black Dress INK  takes an extremely proactive approach to getting more women playwrights heard. The organization explains their mission as the following: 

    Little Black Dress INK is an experiment in support, inspired by recent revelations in numbers on the subject of just how few female playwrights actually get produced. Through outreach, education, and producing opportunities, Little Black Dress INK strives to create more production opportunities for female playwrights while also strengthening the female playwright network.  

    The International Centre for Women Playwrights (ICWP) 50/50 Applause Awards was founded in 2012 to increase awareness and applaud theatres that produced a season with an equal or greater number of plays written by female playwrights.

    In reviewing the past winners since its inception, there have been a few theatres that have continued to show up on the list multiple times, and should be commended for their dedication for parity. Playwrights Horizons of New York, NY has been featured repeatedly, as has The Factory Theatre in Ontario, Canada and the Latino Theatre Company/Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC).  

    Sphinx Theatre's Sue Parrish, in her breakdown on why parity is taking so long, advises how it must be intentional and be supported by the numbers. As she explains: 

    There needs to be a proactive approach to increasing women’s representation within the theatre industry. Working from the ground up, we must change the way we write female roles for theatre, and the way we support, train and develop female writers, directors, actors and other women working within the theatre. We need to create a level playing field right now as well as in the future.

    As we move towards gender parity, let us be proactive and intentional, and let us remember it is a team sport in which we all must participate and support one another in our ultimate goal of gender parity and representation.

    Let us not only create our own groups and drive our own visions, but support those organizations already out there doing the work. 

    Tags: #ICWP #Parityprodcutions #VHTheatricalDevelopmentFoundation #worksbywomen #JessieSalsbury #femaleplaywrights #womenplaywrights #LATC #PlaywrightHorizons #FactoryTheatre #LittleBlackDressInk #365WomenAYear

  • 20 Dec 2018 1:28 AM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    A posting from Sandra Seaton

    In 2000, I was asked by composer William Bolcom to write a libretto about the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. Growing up as an African American in the South during the era of segregation, I heard many family stories about relationships between blacks and whites outside the law. Some were love relationships; others were exploitive–some were probably both. I couldn’t help thinking about these relationships, when I read the chapter appropriately titled “Haunted Legacies-Interracial Secrets From The Diary of Sally Hemings,” in Naomi Andre’s new book Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement. Andre states that the effectiveness of From The Diary of Sally Hemings is that it allows the conflicting emotions, such as the ones I describe above, to exist simultaneously.

    When I stepped into that world of 18th century America, that time machine, I brought some of my own world with me. What did I bring? Part of it was the result of exhaustive research about that era. Of course, once I started to write, most of the research was unnecessary baggage that had to be set aside. Aspects of my own past stayed with me. It always does. I was fascinated by stories whispered about my great grandmother, a woman who wouldn't go to see her white father, a wealthy man, when he called for her on his death bed but who would stay and visit all day with the family after she was a married woman living on her own. A family secret. Her birth certificate says "father unknown." 

    My libretto of From the Diary of Sally Hemings is ultimately a work of the imagination, an imagination constrained by historical possibility. So far as anybody knows, the historical Sally Hemings left neither a diary nor any other writings. The words and ideas of Thomas Jefferson have been preserved in his voluminous writings but the thoughts and feelings of Sally Hemings cannot be recovered through research. The “diary entries” I created that make up the libretto are my attempt to give a voice to Sally Hemings, to allow her to speak for herself.

    Sandra Seaton is a playwright and librettist. Her plays have been performed in cities throughout the United States, including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and her libretto for the song cycle From the Diary of Sally Hemings, set to music by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom, has been performed at such venues as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.

  • 11 Dec 2018 5:22 PM | Anonymous

    We interviewed our ICWP members on current topics of Inclusion, Writing, and their Reason Why.

    The most common theme from any question was that there still aren’t enough deliberate actions taken by theaters and artistic directions to give writing opportunities to playwrights that identify as female, are of color, or are LGBTQ.

    We have quoted the best excerpts from our questions here. 

    What do female playwrights bring to the theatre? Why are female playwrights important? 

    Elana Gartner: Female playwrights bring unique voices and perspectives to the stage…It is important that female playwrights serve as role models for those younger women behind us.

    Lisa Grunberger: I think female playwrights like Carol Churchill, Susan Lori-Parks, Margaret Edson (Wit), Marsha Norman, Wendy Wasserstein can tell stories that place women at the center of the story. We need a diversity of stories that tell us about how women negotiate the world.

    Sandra de Helen: It is important to have a diversity of voices in the theatre. Women’s voices are heard far less than 50% of the time, and consequently, the established canon of plays resulted in the belief that the male point of view is the “correct” and universal point of view.

    Karen Howes: We need the female playwright who can not only show us women characters who are individuals, and who not only tell us narratives sprung from female experiences, but we also need female playwrights who can help us broaden our understanding and acceptance of dramatic structure. I look to playwrights like Susan Glaspell and Ntozake Shange to see how plays can work very successfully while not adhering to male structure.

    Why do you write plays? 

    Christine Emmert: I started as an actress, and then I realized I had more to say than just what others wrote.

    Elana Gartner: It is part of the fabric of who I am. I have also gotten very depressed when I am not writing plays.

    Elin Hampton: My imagination can be triggered from a prompt, a photograph, a commercial or a conversation.

    Julia Pascal: To see the work that nobody else is writing. To tell women’s histories as they will otherwise vanish. To explore the world’s action from a woman’s view point.

    Lisa Grunberger: I write plays and poems and stories because I have to…it’s a compelling, ineffable force inside you that you hear and sometimes, if you are fortunate, you get the opportunity to tell these stories and to share them, on the page or the stage with other people.

    Aphra Behn: To push out a woman’s narrative. All of my plays are stories of women.

    If you could talk to your 13-year-old self about playwriting, what would you say? 

    Emily Adler: “It’s really easy to make this about ego and proving how wonderful you are and constantly needing to hear it…and that temptation will always be there…but when you fall in love with the process, you’ll feel it on a whole other level. And that is where the good stuff really happens.”

    Cynthia Wands: It is okay to take risks and talk like you’re the only one who knows what you’re talking about.

    Julia Pascal: Listen to old people. Capture their stories. This is your source material. Get older women to talk to you about their lives in great detail.

    What can the theatre world do to be more affirming to female playwrights? 

    Judith Pratt: Teach young women how to navigate the politics of theatre; how to manage their careers.

    Penny Jackson: They need to commit to including at least two or three female playwrights in their season. They need to commit to an outreach program for female playwrights. Above all, they need to reach all female playwrights of every nationality, race and age…Ageism is an unspoken issue with theaters chasing playwrights. 

    Cynthia Joyce Clay:  From reading business articles about how some corporations work ….. it seems the task is multidimensional, that problems arise from layers of discriminatory ideas that have to be peeled back and dealt with.

    Ibadete Abazi: America [must] give more space to female playwrights because I think even here in many cases …. we are not treated equally.

    Debbie Ann Tan: I hope that productions will be open to diverse voices, experimental writings by women…I hope that they can be open to supporting current and living female playwrights by choosing our plays and paying the proper fees so that we can somehow earn from our writings.

    Cynthia Wands: Make more female directors and artistic directors available at the theatres. All male staffed theatres don’t seem to be able to incorporate women’s voices as much as when there are women on board.

    Laurel Wetzork: Blind submissions. Read more plays by women. Schedule at least half of a [season] with female playwrights.

    Aphra Behn: Produce plays by women. Hire women directors. Involve their audiences in the progress.

    Farzana Moon: …It still lags behind in lending opportunities to indigenous voices, in US especially, Native Americans.

    Karen Howes: The change has come from within. It’s been through the slow movement of women into the entrenched male dominion of theatre management, education and criticism that women artists have been allowed entrance.…. The momentum that has sprung up to support women could easily slip away. It is not entrenched. It is fueled by anger and resentment which are fleeting emotions.

    The International Centre for Women Playwrights seeks to support women playwrights around the world by bringing international attention to their achievements and encouraging production of their plays. As an organization, they provide an affirming community of female-identifying playwrights that support one another to advance their craft. Their hope is to achieve parity by empowering women playwrights across the world. 

    For more information on statistics on women playwrights, please see the League of Professional Theatre Women Women Count report published in February of 2018 or the Dramatists Guild the Count 2.0 - on who is getting produced in the United States, encompassing seasons from 2011-2017. 


    #ICWP #WomenPlaywrights #womanplaywright #femaleplaywright #jessiesalsbury #theatre #theater #women #playwrights #interviews 

  • 05 Dec 2018 6:45 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    A posting from the blog of Hanna Akerfelt

    ICWP member in Finland

    For the first time in my life I’m in the incredible position of being able to write full time for the coming year and a bit. It’s thanks to both a commission and a grant from Svenska Kulturfonden. I’ve dreamed about this, to write full time, for almost fifteen years. It’s a privilege, no question. So, like a cold on the first day of the summer holiday I’m struck by doubt and questions and hopelessness. How am I ever going to do this? How am I going to get those ideas out of my head and onto paper in a form that anyone else understands? And why do I think that the stories that fascinate me are going to interest anyone else in the slightest? And it’s just Monday.   

    When I’m struck by these moods, because this isn’t the first time it’s happened it’s just worse this time, one of the things I do is look to other playwrights and writers. It feels comforting to read what they’ve said about their work, their processes, and their ups and downs. There’s a special section of my bookshelf dedicated to books with texts by and interviews with playwrights about writing. I listen to as well, among others to The Royal Court Playwrights Podcast as well, where Simon Stephens interviews playwrights. That’s where I turned this time, listening to interviews with a range of female playwrights. One of the questions he asks in at least a couple of the interviews was “Who do you write for?”.  

    I’ve never consciously formulated an answer to the question of who I write for, but right now it’s a great question to sink my teeth into. Because it’s not about me, the question is about something outside myself, and I really want to get out of my head. The interviewed playwrights give their different answers, which can lead to different discussions about how you think about writing, about theatre, about your audience. I start thinking about the last play I’ve written, a passion project I’ve worked on for over five years, in between jobs and projects. It’s a play that’s not going to be produced, not necessarily because it’s bad or irrelevant, it just doesn’t fit an easy model. Too small in its scope to be suitable for a big stage, but it needs too many actors to be done on a small stage. 

    So who is it I’m writing, and continue to write, this doomed play for? I do if for my own enjoyment, I can’t deny that. If I didn’t want to do it there would be absolutely no reason for me to do it. But. On another level I keep writing the play for the people in the story, so that they won’t be trapped inside my head, so that they can come out and exist in a world outside of me, even if that world is just the drawer of my desk. For my sins I have to tell their story, because nobody else knows them. If I don’t do it nobody else will. And I can’t have that. 

    As I continue listening to playwrights talking about why they write, how they got started and share their experiences of directors, rehearsals and life, the storm inside me starts to subside. Because I’m not alone with any of the things I’m struggling with. Everything you do or write isn’t great, not even after you’ve done fifteen drafts, not everything succeeds, not everything has to succeed, you can still learn from the work and the process. That thought feels good. It feels good to give yourself permission to fail, both as a writer and as a human being. So I’ll just keep writing. It’s the only thing I can do, the only thing that helps when it comes to doubts. 

    Take a deep breath and write.

    Hanna's blog can be accessed at:

  • 22 Nov 2018 11:57 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    By Coni Koepfinger

    Women’s History Month 2018


    Earlier this year there was lots of breaking news about sexual assault and misconduct in the film, television and radio industries, as well as in politics and blue collar work force.  #MeToo stories abounded but no one was talking about the theatre industry.  We have our own “casting couch” stories to tell!  I posted a tweet disclosing my own #MeToo story and wondered why weren’t other theatre people posting, or identifying themselves as theatre people.  I decided to organize an event specifically bringing out #MeToo stories from theatre women during Women’s History Month (March) 2018 and put out a call for  #MeToo tweets, scenes and monologues in the theater industry.  To my knowledge, I was the first to put out such a call specifically to the theatre community in New York, if not nationally.


    In response to my call for #MeToo tweets, scenes and monologues, I received not just stories from the theatre industry, but also dance, music, and visual arts.  Entries came from states outside of New York, as well as an anonymous posting about misconduct occurring at a theatre company that I spotted on Facebook.  Dominique Sharpton-Bright, daughter of Reverend Al Sharpton, contacted me asking if she could be a part, offering the National Action Network’s House of Justice to hold the event.  The event was live streamed for those who could not physically attend. 

    #MeToo Theatre Women Share Their Stories was a reading of tweets, monologues, music and scenes on the subject of sexual assault or sexual misconduct within the theatre industry. Some notable stories include those of Tedx’s Amy Oestreicher; (James Toback victims) Karen Sklaire Watson, Shani Harris, and Selma Blair (one of the “Silence Breakers” and Time magazine’s People of the Year).  Rounding out the writers sharing their stories were: Raquel Almazon, Anonymous, Nora Cole, Farzana Datta, Emma Goldman-Sherman, Yvette Heyliger, Prudence Wright Holmes, Penny Jackson, Coni Koepfinger, Martha Patterson, Jane Schlapkohl, Susan Shaffer, and songwriter Germaine Shames.  These readings on the subject of sexual assault or sexual misconduct within the arts industry were followed by a power point presentation on harassment prevention in the artistic workplace, as well as preventative action steps led by Akia Squitieri of Creating Safe Spaces.  Rehearsal space was made possible by a grant from League of Independent Theatre.

    At the National Action Network's House of Justice


    The response was tremendous and immediate.  All who were gathered seemed bonded together in a common concern and desire to create safe spaces. As a result of the success of this event, I was invited to present a workshop at National Action Network’s National Conference at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel held during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April).  #MeToo: From Testimony to Prevention featured selected monologues written by yours truly, Raquel Almazan, Anonymous and Janet Schlapkohl; a power point presentation about sexual harassment in the workplace by Aimee Todoroff of League of Independent Theatre; a distinguished response panel including: Rachel Dart of Let Us Work Project, Jenna Chrisphonte of the Dramatists Guild and Lillian Gallina of Actors Fund of America; followed by open sharing from the audience, a Q & A, and handouts with contact information of agencies and service organizations working in the area of harassment in the workplace. 

    At National Action Network's National Conference at Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel


    I have been invited to participate in New York City’s first #HealMeToo Festival founded by Artistic Director Hope Singsen and presented, in part, through Kori Rushton and IRT Theater’s Residency Season. “From March 27 to April 14, 2018 (Sexual Violence Awareness Month) the #HealMeToo Festival will present multi-disciplinary works in development, creating an intersectional space for conversation, learning and laughter that sparks resilience and growth. Workshops and live panel podcasts will raise critical questions about cultural change and explore many approaches to healing: from activism, to bodywork, to the latest therapeutic advances, to creative writing, art, music and dance.”  Contact me (Yvette Hiliger) for more information about this festival which answers the question, “What’s next?”


    Bridge to Baraka, my solo show was selected for the United Solo Theatre Festival, “the world’s largest solo theatre festival” Emboldened by the 1960s Black Arts Movement yours truly, Yvette X, stakes her claim as a female dramatist coming of age during the ongoing fight for parity for women in the American Theatre. The play empowers artists of all stripes to tell their own stories their own way, and to get those stories to the masses “by any means necessary.”  One audience member sent me an email saying, “Good job!  The combination of your fine craft of writing, your open-hearted and captivating delivery...  the performance had me engaged from start to finish”.   I received such a great reception to the show; I decided to try my hand at setting up a tour!  To this end, I enrolled in Theatre Resources Unlimited (TRU) Producer Development and Mentorship Program’s Master Class with Broadway producers Jane Dubin and Rachel Weinstein.   A long-time producing artist, my actionable goal for the class is to set up a viable tour of Bridge to Baraka to begin during the 2019 – 2020 season. 

    What a Piece of Work Is Man! Full-Length Plays for Leading Women, a collection of plays written by yours truly and edited by Alexis Greene, delivers a power-packed collection of plays for leading women (and the leading men who love them!). Ideal for professional actors, directors, designers and producers seeking new projects, as well as students of the theatre and lovers of politics, drama and activism! Artistic essays, critical reviews, production cast lists, as well as selected photographs and lead sheet music by composer Larry Farrow, illuminate the work of this producing artist and educator. The book is available in paperback or e-book from your preferred bookseller.  Mine is the Drama Book Shop which has signed copies!

    And finally, I am pleased to announce that I have been named the official representative of the Founding Alumni of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a premiere performing arts high school in Washington, DC.  This is a full-circle moment for me, as I was honored to server as senior class president and was valedictorian of the first graduating class (1977) during the school’s formative years. 

    YVETTE HEYLIGER is a playwright, producing artist, educator and activist. She is the recipient of AUDELCO Recognition Award for Excellence in Black Theatre’s August Wilson Playwright Award and Dramatic Production of the Year.  She received Best Playwright nomination from NAACP’s Annual Theatre Awards. Author of What a Piece of Work is Man! Full-Length Plays for Leading Women, she has also contributed to various anthologies including, Performer’s Stuff, The Monologue Project, Later Chapters: The Best Scenes and Monologues for Actors over Fifty and 24 Gun Control Plays. Selections from her play, Autobiography of a Homegirl, appear in Smith and Kraus’ The Best Women’s Stage Monologues 2003 and The Best Stage Scenes 2003.  Other writings: The Dramatist, Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance, Black Masks: Spotlight on Black Art, HowlRound, and a new blog, The Playwright and The Patron. After many years in front of the footlights, Heyliger returned to the stage as a solo-artist in her first one-woman show, Bridge to Baraka. From this one woman show came two spin-offs, The Pen Instead of the Gun and I Am That Bear. Memberships: Dramatist Guild, AEA, SDC, AFTRA-SAG and League of Professional Theatre Women.  A partner in Twinbiz™, now celebrating its 30th year, she is the co-recipient of the first National Black Theatre Festival Emerging Producer Award. She has a BA and MA from New York University; an MFA in Creative Writing - Playwriting from Queens College; and a Master of Theatre Education from Hunter College (pending). She was an Obama Fellow and is a founding member and longtime volunteer with Organizing for Action.  As a citizen-artist, she has worked on many issues including: gun violence prevention, equal opportunity and pay for women artists, and most recently, the #MeToo movement.  Yvette lives in Harlem, USA.

  • 08 Nov 2018 3:16 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    Amy Drake talks about theater with playwright Patricia Rumble

    What inspired me to become a playwright?  I was pregnant with my son, talking to the head of the children’s theatre program at Main Street Theater in Houston.  I mentioned that I was reading some folktales and one that interested me in particular was a Russian folktale “Go There I Know Not Where, Fetch That I Know Not What.”  He said, “That would make a great children’s show, can you write that?”  I said, “sure.”   Of course, I had never written a real play in my life.  But I was interested in writing.

    Although I had no official training in writing plays, I had taught German and wrote stuff for my students.  In fact, the first thing I ever wrote was in German, “Goldilocks und die drei Baeren.”  My students got first place for the German competition with the Goldilocks sketch.  It was also my first time directing, which I discovered is not something I really like to do. 

    Back to Main Street Theatre. So, I turned in my play, which now was called The Archer and the Princess.  Main Street said yes that they would produce my play but not for nine more months.  Three days after Main Street said yes, I had my son and while waiting those nine months for my second child I wrote A Mother Goose Comedy and Aesop’s Funny Fables.

    My degree is in Biology and German, but I have read many, many plays and gone to the theatre often. I taught myself how to write comedy sketches by taping the Carol Burnett show and then transcribing the funny sketches in a teleplay format.   For a year I wrote for the late Comedy Workshop in Houston in 1988.

    How did I get my work to the stage? A lot of cold calls in the beginning, which meant I was always on the outside looking in. In order to motivate myself to finish a project, I would find competitions and use the deadline for the competition as my deadline for writing the piece.   I won a few children’s play competitions in the beginning of my writing career.

    I don’t think of myself as a woman playwright, I think of myself as a playwright.  I also think of myself as a business person. Go where you’re not.  By that I mean, join business groups.  You will be the only playwright and people will be intrigued. Do readings of your work but work with good actors. Enter competitions and submit to competitions and workshops.  Also, help others. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. I hope that helps.  This is my sage advice from my thirty years of writing.  Break a leg.

    Patricia’s play, BREAKING OUT OF SUNSET PLACE, runs Jan 24 and runs thru Feb. 10, 2019 at the Queensbury Theatre in Houston. Tickets are available at She also has five published plays and five works in progress: Stuck in RV Land to premier in Port Arthur Texas at the Max Bowl August 16 and 17, 2019, Crazy the Musical premiering in San Angelo TBA in 2019 A Shamrock in Vietnam premiering at the Bastrop Opera House TX in March 2020 Cowboy and Cajun drama Au Revoir Cher Bébé (Goodbye Sweet Baby). In 2019 her publishing and production company Check out Patricia’s PlayItStore here:

    (Images above are 1. Patricia Rumble with Donna Cole; and 2. Patricia Rumble with one of the staff at Dramatic Publishing)

    You can contact Amy Drake at:

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