A Call to Art
Why We Need Independent Women’s Theatre
Fifty years ago I was born in Washington, DC. It's been incredible to grow up with the Smithsonian as a field trip destination during the end of bussing and amid great movements of social integration. Art was accessible and everywhere. No matter what was happening in the world I always had permission to play, and I just never stopped doing that. My company, Venus Theatre, now stands among the longest running women’s theatres in the world.
I believe in small, immersive theatre, and that the disappearance of the black box—which is happening all over—means devastation to the form. When we package theatre up and market it like dollar store pregnancy tests, we lose the power of the form.
It’s essential for women to have access to black boxes and storefronts because we have been smashed into silence for so long that we need time to stretch and safe spaces to explore our ideas without being held to larger theatres’ budgetary standards.
Women make up 50 percent of our world, so without the contemporary voices of women on today’s stages, audiences are only getting half of the story. Humanity cannot afford this. Especially not now. Theatre is a vehicle of empathy. We need it in our neighborhoods; we need it with tiled brown carpet in the lobby, in addition to the decadent red. We need it everywhere right now.
Producing women's voices takes experience, patience, and trust. In my experience, in order for the true female voice to be embraced she must dive deeply and find it within a safe and effective process. This process should be more important than the result. Process cannot be marketed without also being exposed and destroyed. This is why black box independent theatre is critical. It’s essential for women to have access to black boxes and storefronts because we have been smashed into silence for so long that we need time to stretch and safe spaces to explore our ideas without being held to larger theatres’ budgetary standards.
As I’ve been working on this essay, the world has been shifting under our collective feet. The first woman became the Democratic nominee for the President of the United States of America, and then we lost the great Mother of American Theatre, Zelda Fichandler.
Archetypally, this is a time of the loss of the artistic mother, it seems to me. As the daughters, we must honor her by building further the incredible structure she began. That means taking risks and trusting ourselves and each other. We, who dare to produce works by women. We, who dare to pay whatever we can afford in the form of stipends to artists, even if it means foregoing advertising. We, the sisters of now, must join hands and create.
It’s difficult to find one another. The isolation feels incredibly depressing. It’s terrifying. I know.
If you are reading this now and you are daring or have dared to set flight to voices of women, I know! You’ve been ignored. Discredited. Diminished. Disregarded. But I tell you it’s still worth it. Even if you only ever produce one play. Even if you only ever get a table reading in front of five other people, it’s worth it.
It’s worth it because it changes the nature of our collective experience. What we know now is the canon of male writing is different than the way women tend to express. This is so often discussed in universities and so rarely explored in any professional theatre. There is a grave difference between intro/climax/denouement and the swirling spiral of contraction and release.
Each time you feel the contraction of darkness it is a call to get still and internal. It’s a call to cultivate the vision you are here to create. And when the release comes back around again, and it always does, let it go out into the world. No matter how terrifying it seems, know this: it will become internal and personal again. Everything is in motion. The idea that we are rooted in the linear storytelling format is simply not true. Round and round this artistic life spiral will go—as it does and has always done—for women. This is what my fifty years has taught me.
This style of female expression is waiting to be acknowledged. We need to find the courage to go out and meet it. We need to honor the women who have created before us by summoning a fraction of their courage and stepping out into the risk zones during times of release. This is where the birth happens. Every time.
Live it. Trust it. Release it out into the world.
And let me know when you do, because your courage feeds my courage.