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Where to see female artists and women's stories on stage
According to the Broadway League, women make up 66% of Broadway audiences, and we tend to be the overwhelming majority of theatregoers wherever shows are being performed. However, when you look beyond the house, our representation plummets. Although the number of professionally produced plays by women has been climbing over the past few years, gender parity in the industry is still a ways off. The most recent Women Count: Women Hired Off-Broadway study reported that, save for costuming and stage management, few women are getting work as directors or designers. And the stats are even worse on Broadway.
But there are a handful of New York City theatres where women always dominate the spotlight, on and backstage. Founded by women to expand opportunities for their peers, these five companies complement the work of advocacy organizations such as the League of Professional Theatre Women, The Kilroys, Parity Productions and The Lilly Awards, as they fight to bring equality to theatre.
1. WP Theater
McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway at 76th Street
The oldest company in the country championing new plays by women, WP Theater was founded by producer Julia Miles in 1978 to address the lack of support and opportunity for female artists. Today, work by female-identifying and trans dramatists is also highlighted. Formerly known as the Women's Project, the nonprofit company mounts two mainstage productions a year, and often collaborates on additional shows with other local troupes. To date, WP has produced more than 600 plays and projects, as well as its annual Parity Plays Festival, presented in partnership with Colt Coeur. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, playwright Theresa Rebeck, writer-director Emily Mann, Tony-winning director Pam MacKinnon, MacArthur "Genius Grant" Fellow Dominique Morisseau and Tony-winning director Diane Paulus are just a handful of WP's celebrated alumni. The company also offers artistic development for playwrights, directors and producers through its WP Theater Lab and Trans Lab.
What's next? WP's recently announced upcoming season includes the world premiere of Alexis Scheer's Our Dear Dead Drug Lord (September 11-October 20), co-presented with Second Stage Theater, and Donnetta Lavinia Gray's Where We Stand (February 1-March 1, 2020), coproduced by Baltimore Center Stage. Can't wait? The theatre's 40th anniversary reading series features staged readings of past WP plays every Monday night, directed by recent graduates of its Directors Lab. Tickets are FREE but an RSVP is required.
2. New Georges
Founded in 1992 by playwright-performer Susan Bernfield, New Georges highlights boundary-pushing work by women and gender-nonconforming artists. The company usually produces two world-premiere plays each season, and has won three Obie Awards. Nurturing new, cutting-edge work is a key part of its mission through programs such as the collaboration-based lab The New Georges Jam and the year-long The Audrey Residencies. A company alum just made it to Broadway: Heidi Schreck, whose autobiographical almost solo show What the Constitution Means to Me is currently running at the Helen Hayes Theater. New Georges coproduced her very first New York play Creature back in 2009.
What's next? The New Georges supported production of Bailey Williams' "mostly true crime story" I thought I would die but I didn't runs at The Tank May 9-23. Then from June 16-30, the company will present the world premiere of Leap and the Net Will Appear by Chana Porter at the Flea Theater.
After working on a Shakespeare production where they felt their creative talents were underappreciated, six women founded Spicy Witch in 2012. Every season, the company pairs a classic with a contemporary work to inspire conversations about the evolution of gender and identity across different eras. Some of the new plays come from the company's Writer-in-Residence Program, which supports female or nonbinary dramatists interested in creating original adaptations of classics. The cheeky themes for past repertory lineups include "The Cuntry Wife," "Reigning Women" and "Tragislasher."
What's next? Spicy Witch's upcoming season pairs Shakespeare's "problem play" Measure for Measure with the world premiere of Gina Femia's The Virtuous Fall of the Girls from Our Lady of Sorrows, a story of teenage rebellion inspired by a Measure for Measure sequel. The two plays run in rep May 17-June 1 at The Flea Theater.
4. The Hearth
After graduating from Kenyon College, director Emma Miller and performer-playwright Julia Greer founded The Hearth in 2016 because they were appalled by the gender statistics in the industry. The company is dedicated to nurturing female, trans and nonbinary theatre artists, not just playwrights and directors but designers, too. So far the troupe has premiered two full-fledged production: Beth Hyland's For Annie, a play-within-a-play about violence against women, and Athena about a pair of competitive teenage fencers written by Relentless Award winner Gracie Gardner. The company also holds readings and developmental workshops.
What's next? A workshop of Leila Teitelman's Baby Cakes, an examination of loneliness, motherhood and loss, runs at Theaterlab April 25-27, and a number of new plays are in progress. Sign up for the theatre's email list for more info as it becomes available.
Since 2000, The Queen's Company has subverted the centuries-old custom of all-male casts by presenting classical plays performed only by women. Sarah Bernhardt would be so proud! Founded by Rebecca Patterson, who directs all the productions, The Queen's Company has presented many of Shakespeare's works, including Macbeth, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra and The Taming of the Shrew, as well as John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal and Sir Patient Fancy by Aphra Behn, one of the first female playwrights.
What's next? Aphra Behn's The Feign'd Courteseans, a Restoration comedy of romance and mistaken identities, will have a reading in October. Sign up for the theatre's email list for more info as it becomes available.
Carey Purcell writes about pop culture and politics for Vanity Fair, Politico and other publications, and blogs at CareyPurcell.com.
Top image: Kate Wetherhead, Michelle Beck and Danielle Skraastad in Hurricane Diane produced by WP Theater and New York Theatre Workshop. Photo by Joan Marcus.
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