On a beautiful fall day in 2013, several artistic directors from the Washington theater community met for brunch. Over coffee and eggs (maybe even a mimosa or two?), they talked shop and brainstormed ways to collaborate. “We wanted to find a way to highlight the deep and strong Washington theater scene,” said Kristin Fox-Siegmund, Deputy Director and Director of Programming at Ford’s Theatre. Deciding they wanted to coordinate a city-wide theater festival, the group explored different possible themes. The conversation naturally turned to the difficulty women playwrights have getting their work produced. “There are only five or six women at the top— the decision-makers in U.S. theater,” Fox-Siegmund said. “Only 20% of plays produced in America are written by women.” Ironically, more than 60% of theater audiences are women in this country. The idea presented itself in big bold letters—resulting in this fall’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival. More than 50 of the Washington, D.C. region’s professional theaters joined together to produce plays by women.
The organizing group is made up of Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, Ford’s Theatre Director Paul R. Tetreault, Round House Theatre Producing Artistic Director Ryan Rilette, Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn, Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, Studio Theatre Artistic Director David Muse, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz. Together, they put out a call to theaters in the region, and a surge of energy and excitement crackled in the community. In just two years, this enormous undertaking took shape, and now more than 50 women are seeing their words come to life. Each theater was charged with finding and developing plays that fit within their mission, all by women. Some are first-time playwrights while others are seasoned favorites.
The companies are each presenting a world premiere, highlighting both the scope of plays being written by women and the range of professional theater being produced in and around the nation’s capital. The Women’s Voices Theater Festival is the largest collaboration of theater companies working simultaneously to produce original works by female writers in history. First Lady Michelle Obama serves as honorary chair of the festival.
The event has received attention from the national media and sparked other U.S. cities to start planning their own Women’s Voices festivals—with advice from D.C. organizers. There are currently no plans to recreate the festival in Washington. It’s been so successful, Fox-Siegmund explained, because “part of the magic is this moment in time.”
For the festival, The Writer’s Center’s resident company, Quotidian Theatre Company, commissioned Maytag Virgin, a play by Audrey Cefaly. The story follows Alabama school teacher Lizzy Nash and her new neighbor Jack Key over the year following the tragic death of Lizzy’s husband. The play explores the ideas of inertia and self-enlightenment and the bridge between the two. The show runs through November 1. Tickets are $15-$30 Get them here: http://quotidiantheatre.org/tickets.htm
“Audrey Cefaly has penned an old-fashioned slow-burn romance in Maytag Virgin.”
—The Washington Post
—The Washington Post
“Maytag Virgin is a witty and earnest meditation on how people connect even when they feel they’re not ready, and what it is to move on while honoring and remembering the things, and people, who came before.” —Jennifer Clement, DC Theater Scene
The festival runs through the beginning of November and includes readings and panel discussions, as well as an “industry weekend” from October 24-26, during which playwrights, actors, directors, and other theater folk from out of town are invited to experience as many of these plays as possible in three days. For a list of plays, events and playwright bios, please visit www.womensvoicestheaterfestival.org.
—Vanessa Mallory Kotz