ICWP member Connie Bennett lives in Eugene, Oregon, where she’s just announced her retirement from her position as director of the public library. She is very much looking forward to an abundance of creative time and new business cards which will identify her as simply: “Playwright”!
Connie still considers herself an emerging playwright, as she began writing plays eleven years ago, relatively late in life. Although she was active in theatre in college, she had never heard of ten minute plays until her friend Paul Calandrino showed her the book “Take Ten.” Inspired, she began trying her hand at writing ten minute plays, as did Paul and Connie’s theatre professor emeritus husband, Richard Leinaweaver. A year later, with a number of scripts in hand, the three of them founded a regional ten minute play festival “Northwest Ten!” at the old Lord Leebrick Theatre in Eugene. The festival continues to this day (the tenth annual show slated for March 2018 at Oregon Contemporary Theatre) with Connie and Paul continuing as founding co-Executive Producers.
Connie soon discovered that writing for the theatre let her connect disparate ideas, layers of meaning and metaphor, and explore personal transformation in a way that was extraordinarily satisfying. With her undergraduate major in Philosophy, minors in Theatre and Mathematics, and her Master’s in Librarianship, Connie’s interests are nothing if not eclectic! And with her background in library management, as well as experience in all aspects of theatre gleaned in college, in dance troupes, and as the wife of a theatre professor, she also got involved in the producing side of theatre from the beginning. She enjoys finding a balance between the solitary act of writing and the intense comradery of theatrical production.
Connie joined ICWP early in her writing career, as soon as she discovered it. Not only is she an active feminist, she considers herself an “international” having lived outside her native United States during her teen years (in Zambia and what’s now Zimbabwe) and also for a year as a young wife and mother (in Costa Rica), plus she’s visited more than 50 countries. Most of her plays explore themes of female identity and cross-culturalism. For example, her play “Gray Reflections,” which was a finalist in the Actors Theatre of Louisville 2010 National Ten-Minute Play Contest, is about a teen struggling with gender identity and an older professional woman ambivalent about retirement. Her play “What Price an Orange?” was inspired by the dissonance of cultural and economic differences on a trip to Morocco; it’s been produced in Eugene and by Island Theatre in Bainbridge, Washington.
One of the joys of playwriting for Connie is connecting with other theatre people, particularly other women playwrights. Through ICWP, she connected with Paddy Gillard-Bentley, and has had several plays performed as part of the annual She Speaks in Kitchener, Ontario. Connie’s also had a play in the site-specific Kitchener festival, Asphalt Jungle Shorts. “Assigned Blessing,” a comedy about the ethics of playwriting, was performed in a bar! She very much enjoyed being hosted by Paddy and son Sam one wintery weekend in Kitchener, despite her ridiculous shoes! Connie also relished traveling to New York for an equity reading from her first full length play “Hungry Hearts” (based on the novel by Francine Prose), which was a finalist for The David and Clare Rosen Memorial Play Contest at the National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene.
Also through Paddy and ICWP, Connie connected to Jess Eisenberg’s 365 Women a Year Playwriting Project during 2014, its very first year, for which she wrote “Mother/Tongue” about La Malinche, the Native American woman who was translator for Cortez during the conquest of Mexico. Subsequent 365 plays have included such diverse women as anthropologist Mary Leakey, Black activist Bree Newsome, author Eleanor H. Porter (who wrote Pollyanna), socialite Alma Mahler, and Maud le Vavasour, who was the original Maid Marian. With her librarian training, she enjoys researching these amazing women almost as much as writing plays about them. Connie has produced an annual SWAN Day (Support Women Artists Now) reading of 365 plays written by Oregon-based playwrights since 2015, at Oregon Contemporary Theatre.
Connie had also been thrilled to participate in the first two years of the William Inge Festival PlayLab in Independence, Kansas. Her play “Amanda Transcending” (365 Women a Year play in 2015) was workshopped there in 2016, and has been rewritten into a full-length version which will be read in Eugene, Oregon as part of the NEA Big Read (Joy Harjo) in February 2018. This play interweaves two historical stories: a blind Native American woman, Amanda DeCuis, who was separated from her family and incarcerated in a reservation in 1864, and the contemporary woman, Joanne Kittel, who was inspired to build Amanda’s Trail as a way to begin healing the community’s historical trauma. The second Inge PlayLab (2017) workshopped Connie’s play exploring rape and informed consent: “Rouge + Noir” which will also be part of the Northwest Ten! festival this year. The Inge PlayLab is a rich opportunity to meet other participating playwrights and learn from the likes of Lee Blessing, Lauren Gunderson, Beth Henley, Alice Tuan, and David Henry Hwang.
One unusual project Connie’s been involved in is very short plays published within the stairwells of a parking garage! She curated and produced the original “Step into Theater” stairwell in 2012, which featured her “Shall We Play” and this year will be back for the updated stairwell with an Augmented Reality enhanced play, “Hex Le Key,” inspired by Eugene’s 20x21 international mural project.
Connie has tremendous appreciation of her playwriting colleagues in Eugene, particularly writing buddies Barbara, Nancy, and also Cai. She’s learned so much from fellow students in Paul’s classes, from co-teaching workshops with him, from reading hundreds of scripts over the years as a festival producer, and from her buddies at NewPlayWriMo! And of course, this article wouldn’t be complete without mention of her amazing children Jessa, Alexa, and Jeff, and her awesome grandchildren Marisa, Leo, and Olivia!
New ICWP Officers & Board
Patricia L. Morin, President
Karin Williams, Vice President
Rita Barkey, Treasurer
Sharon Wallace, Secretary
Sithokozile (Thoko) Zulu
Wendy Marie Martin
Welcome New Members
Jeanette Bent, USA
Author and playwright Dr. Ronni Sanlo is the Director Emeritus of the UCLA Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center (LGBT) Center and a frequent keynote speaker and consultant on LGBT issues in Higher Education. Now retired, Dr. Sanlo was the Senior Associate Dean of Students and professor/director of the UCLA Masters of Education in Student Affairs. In a previous life, Dr. Sanlo was an HIV epidemiologist in Florida. She earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Florida, and a masters and doctorate in education from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Ronni is the originator of the award-winning Lavender Graduation, a commencement event that celebrates the lives and achievements of graduating LGBT college students. Ronni continues to research and write with a focus on LGBT history which is the foundation for the award-winning documentary Letter to Anita. Her memoir is The Purple Golf Cart: The Misadventures of a Lesbian Grandma. Her most recent publication is The Soldier, the Avatar, and the Holocaust, an historical novel about the last five months of WWII. Her next project is an historical novel of lesbians in Key West. She has written and produce her first readers' play, Sing Meadowlark, and is working on new plays with LGBT themes. She lives with her wife, Dr. Kelly Watson, in Palm Springs, CA and Sequim, WA. Ronni’s website is http://www.ronnisanlo.com
Nancy Temple, USA
"Truth Against the World: The Life and Loves of Frank Lloyd Wright" written and directed by Christine Toy Johnson (conceived by Alan Campbell and Christine Toy Johnson) will have its world premiere on April 2-3 at North Carolina State's Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre in Raleigh, NC. The play stars Tony-nominee Alan Campbell (SUNSET BLVD.) as Mr. Wright. The Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre is located at 2241 Dunn Ave, Raleigh, NC 27606. For details and tickets, please visit https://tickets.arts.ncsu.edu.
"Till Soon, Anne" (book and lyrics by Christine Toy Johnson, music by Bobby Cronin) will have a concert presentation on April 23 in NYC at Shetler Studios, PH1, 244 W. 54 Street, starring Abby Mueller (BEAUTIFUL) and Wade McCollum (ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME), directed by Lisa Rothe. The performance is being done with support from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Creative Engagement Fund. For more details and to RSVP, please email email@example.com.
Lynne S. Brandon has a workshop production coming up May 18-20 at Boston Playwrights Theatre in (guess!) Boston, MA of her full-length play,"At the Line." It is about Division 1 college women’s basketball, and how a Black lesbian head coach was “outed” by an assistant coach and forced to resign. It is based on true events, with a healthy dose of fictionalization to round out the bare details that became public. An early version of "At the Line." was a semifinalist for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. All shows are free, and we’re hoping for a good turnout of women athletes!