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Esperanza America and Elia Saldaña in "Destiny of Desire" at Arena Stage in 2015. (Photo by Tony Powell)

A Season of Women-Powered Plays in 2015–16

Theatremakers across the country talk about exciting works featuring or created by female or transgender artists.

While U.S. theatres still have a long way to go before they reach an equal playing field for male and female artists, we wanted to do our part to redress the disparity and shine our spotlight on gender diversity in action. So we asked a wide variety of theatremakers what productions they were looking forward to in the coming season that are either created by, or will prominently feature, female or transgender artists. Their answers are below.

MARC ACITO, playwright, New York City:
Angel Reapers at New York City’s Signature Theatre (begins Feb. 2, 2016), directed by Martha Clarke, whose stunningly visual and highly theatrical Garden of Earthly Delights has stuck with me since I saw it in 1984; Daphne’s Dive, also at Signature

Anaïs Mitchell.
Anaïs Mitchell.

Theatre (performances begin April 26, 2016), written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Water by the Spoonful and the other plays that comprise the brilliant Elliot Trilogy; She Loves Me at Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City (Feb. 5–May 22, 2016), starring Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, and Gina Ferrall, three fantastic females who are sure to turn this chestnut into something delicious; Shuffle Along on Broadway (scheduled to begin performances March 14, 2016), starring Audra McDonald, the greatest living music theatre performer, starring in a new musical about the making of a little-known Broadway show that gave many African Americans, including Josephine Baker, their start; Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell at New York Theatre Workshop (May–June, 2016), directed by Rachel Chavkin, whose production of Three Pianos is one of my most memorable theatregoing experiences of the past five years.”

CLAUDIA ALICK, associate producer, community, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Ore.:
Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education (which ran this summer at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and whose next run is not yet scheduled), created, written, and performed by Anna Deavere Smith, is civic theatre, which is the most powerful form of performance today. I find the cross between performance and advocacy interesting.”

Anna Deveare Smith in "Notes From the Field." (Photo by Kevin Berne)
Anna Deavere Smith in “Notes From the Field.” (Photo by Kevin Berne)

NANCY BELL, actor/playwright, St. Louis:
“I can’t wait for the Every 28 Hours One-Minute Play Festival that Claudia Alick from Oregon Shakes, along with Dominic D’Andrea, is putting together (beginning performances Oct. 20). The events surrounding the murder of Michael Brown last year radically altered the national conversation about race and poverty and privilege. It’s hard to even express how intense last summer and fall were here in our city. It touched each and every person here. It was and is painful. But what an opportunity to change things—finally finally finally. When Claudia and her group came here during that time, her goal was to help, listen, witness, and collaborate. It was an emotional, sometimes defensive time here, and my impression is that her interest in making work about Ferguson (and beyond) was not entirely greeted with enthusiasm at first. But I want her to know that I and a lot of people I know welcome her voice and the voices she is mobilizing. We welcome the Every 28 Hours project, and all the oxygen and light it will bring from all over the country.”

BEAUFIELD BERRY, playwright/performer, Omaha, Neb.:
“I was blown away by the Kilroys list this year and really can’t wait to catch Ghosts of Lote Bravo by Hilary Bettis (at Cleveland Public Theatre March 3–19, 2016; Tucson, Ariz.’s Borderlands Theater April 14–May 1, 2016; and Kansas City, Mo.’s Unicorn Theatre, Apr. 20–May 8, 2016). I follow her; I think she’s doing great things. And The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe (as yet unscheduled)—whoever gets that many teen-girl thoughts on one stage is a brave and brilliant soul.”

SUE BIRCH, artistic director, Theatre Britain, Plano, Texas:
“The show I am most looking forward to seeing is Machinal by Sophie Treadwell, at Echo Theatre in Dallas in April next year. Written in 1928, it still speaks to us.”

ALAN BLUMENFLED, actor, Los Angeles:
“I am most looking forward to the Female Playwrights Initiative Los Angeles and the GLO (Green Light One-Acts) project. Both of these are committed to producing new works by women playwrights here in L.A. The next GLO festival will be at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica, Calif., Nov. 5–15, for eight performances and will feature the wonderful playwright, also an actor, Katherine James, whose work has been a part of these two festivals since they began.”

MOLLY BRENNAN, actor, Chicago:
“For American Idiot, the Green Day musical, at the Hypocrites in Chicago (Aug. 28–Oct. 25), director Steve Wilson has creatively cast it, reassigning songs and so forth to feature more women. St. Jimmy (the Billie Joe Armstrong part) is being played as trans by a trans performer. Power ladies Andra Velis Simon and Katie Spelman co-lead the production as music director and choreographer. And: Every Monday night at Beauty Bar, also in Chicago, is Jane Beachy’s Salonathon, featuring an outstanding array of performers, mostly women, trans folks, and queer artists. Jane is a hero. She provides a stage for extraordinary artists, in a safe, loving, welcoming environment. Her partner, Joe Varisco, hosts once a month, in addition to producing his ongoing ‘Queer, Ill, & Okay’ series.”

The cast of the Hypocrites' "American Idiot." (Photo by Evan Hanover)
The cast of the Hypocrites’ “American Idiot.” (Photo by Evan Hanover)

EVAN CABNET, director, New York City:
“Arin Arbus is one of my favorite directors, and her helming a repertory company at NYC’s Theatre for a New Audience, doing Wilder’s adaptation of A Doll’s House and a new translation of The Father, is really intriguing to me (May 4–June 12, 2016). I’ve loved Naomi Wallace ever since I saw One Flea Spare at the Public when I was a teenager, and cannot wait for Night Is a Room this winter (New York City’s Signature Theatre, Nov. 3–Dec. 13). Finally, there’s no one I find more inspiring than Marin Ireland. She’s coming back to the stage after too long, starring in Kill Floor at LCT3 (also in NYC, Oct. 3–Nov. 15). There is so much great work happening in New York this season, but these are the projects I’m looking forward to most.”

ELLAROSE CHARY, writer/performer, New York City:
“I’m excited to see Taylor Mac’s Hir at NYC’s Playwrights Horizons (Oct. 16–Nov. 29). I thought it was so cool how they managed to change the way Backstage advertises for auditions in that casting process (adding “unspecified” and “transgender” to the gender options). I also am looking forward to The Total Bent at the Public Theater in NYC (May 10–June 19, 2016). I am always excited for musicals with women composers (Heidi Rodewald, Stew’s cowriter).”

Jax Jackson and Nancy Opel in the world premiere of Taylor Mac's "Hir," directed by Niegel Smith, at Magic Theatre in San Francisco in February. (Photo by Jennifer Reiley)
Jax Jackson and Nancy Opel in “Hir”  at Magic Theatre in San Francisco. (Photo by Jennifer Reiley)

JEREMY COHEN, producing artistic director, Playwrights’ Center, Minneapolis:
“Carson Kreitzer’s Lasso of Truth, about the inventor of the lie detector and a major BDSM figure, who also created Wonder Woman, is finally coming to the Twin Cities (Workhaus Collective, April 15–May 1, 2016). We’re getting our writer home! Christina Ham, who’s an amazing fellow at the Playwrights’ Center, has a play happening at St. Paul’s Park Square Theatre (Nina Simone: Four Women, March 8–26, 2016), and then, Kira Obolensky, who’s the Mellon resident playwright at Ten Thousand Things, has a new adaptation of The Changeling there (May 13–June 5, 2016), and it’s going to be amazing. Also, at last year’s TCG conference, when Taylor Mac was being interviewed, one of the questions he was asked was, ‘What would you like to see happen next in your career?’ He said, ‘I would like Karen Hartman to write a play for me.’ She came up to him afterwards and said, ‘I’m Karen Hartman, and I will write a play for you.’ She got a commission from the Playwrights’ Center to write it, and it’s about the early days of the AIDS crisis during the 1980s, when blood transfusions were happening. It’s autobiographical, about her father, who was a pediatric hematologist during that time. It’s awesome that Taylor and Karen are making this incredible piece. It just finished its development at the Playwrights’ Center, and we’re hoping it’ll have a life in the next year.”

Nicholas Rose and Jessa Brie Moreno in Marin Theatre Company's production of Carson Kreitzer's "Lasso of Truth" in 2014. (Photo by Kevin Berne)
Nicholas Rose and Jessa Brie Moreno in Marin Theatre Company’s 2014 production of “Lasso of Truth.” (Photo by Kevin Berne)

KIMBERLY COLBURN, literary director, South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, Calif.:
The Moors by Jen Silverman at Yale Rep in New Haven, Conn. (Jan. 29–Feb. 20, 2016); Swimmers by Rachel Bonds at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, Calif. (March 3–27, 2016); Feathers and Teeth by Charise Castro Smith at the Goodman in Chicago (Oct. 29–Nov. 15); Cocked by Sarah Gubbins at Victory Gardens in Chicago (Feb. 12–March 13, 2016).”

A reading of "The Moors" at the William Inge Center for the Arts.
A reading of “The Moors” at the William Inge Center for the Arts.

BETH DEMBROW, managing director, Stella Adler Acting Studio, New York City:
Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee at Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles (Nov. 20–Dec. 20), and Ghosts of Lote Bravo by Hilary Bettis (a National New Play Network rolling world premiere that will run at Cleveland Public Theatre March 4–19, 2016; Tucson, Ariz.’s Borderlands Theater April 14–May 1, 2016; and Kansas City, Mo.’s Unicorn Theatre, April 20–May 8, 2016).”

TIMOTHY DOUGLAS, director, Washington, D.C.:
“Throughout my career as a freelance director, I have benefited from ‘repeat business’ at several regional theatres around the country, and by luck of the draw these past several seasons, I seem to have (happily) become a bit of a staple in the D.C. market. And in the coming season it is there that the productions I’m most eager to catch will be performing.

“I’ve been a fan of the works of Karen Zacarías for some time now, and I’m already tickled with anticipation for the premiere of her ‘telanovela comedy’ Destiny of Desire at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 11–Oct. 18).

“Also at Arena Stage, I’m very much looking forward to the world premiere production of their co-commission with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the much anticipated newest work from Pulitzer Prize–winning Lynn Nottage. Sweat has already been hailed as ‘a blazingly well-acted production’ by the New York Times.”

Marian Licha, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, and Oscar Ceville in "Destiny of Desire" at Arena Stage in 2015. (Photo by C. Stanley Photography)
Marian Licha, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, and Oscar Ceville in “Destiny of Desire” at Arena Stage in 2015. (Photo by C. Stanley Photography)

ROBERT J. FARLEY, artistic director, Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Roswell, Ga.:
“I’m looking forward to Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The Troy Davis Project (April 7–May 1, 2016) by my friend and daring colleague, Lee Nowell, and directed by producing artistic director Rachel May, at Synchronicity Theatre here in Atlanta.”

LARISSA FASTHORSE, playwright, Los Angeles:
“I’m looking forward to Straight White Men being in L.A. (Center Theatre Group, Nov. 20–Dec. 20), because Young Jean Lee is not known on the West Coast as well as she should be. It’s shocking how many people on the West Coast, when I tell them I’m working with her [on her next project, which doesn’t yet have a title], say, ‘I think I’ve heard of her.’ Are you kidding me? She’s an institution. I’m also really excited about Ann Carlson’s Animal Dance at Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis (March 22–May 1, 2016), a piece that involves live animals and dance onstage. It’s so hard to get people to stand behind dance-theatre work, and on top of that, to add something crazy like live animals—to be willing to take a leap that crazy and out there. As a choreographer/writer myself who never gets to combine the two, it’s really exciting that they’re doing that.”

ANN FILMER, artistic director, 16th Street Theatre, Berwyn, Ill.:
“The premiere of Into the Beautiful North by Karen Zacarías at Milagro in Portland, Ore., (April 28–May 28, 2016). I am so in love with this joyous road-trip book by Luís Alberto Urrea, and Karen has created a lively, theatrical adaptation of the book, which is about two young girls and their friend Tacho leaving their town of Tres Camarones to find and bring back home seven men, à la The Magnificent Seven. Illegally crossing the border not for a ‘better life’ but to bring back their men to repopulate and defend their Mexican town, these characters show us another side. I’m also looking forward to My Mañana Comes by Elizabeth Irwin at Teatro Vista in Chicago (Oct. 3–Nov. 8). Chay Yew directed the Off-Broadway debut for the Playwrights’ Realm last fall. I am looking forward to seeing this play, which takes place in the kitchen of an upscale New York restaurant, focusing on the men who bus the tables of the entitled.”

Jose Joaquin Pérez, Jason Bowen, Brian Quijada, and Reza Salazar in "My Manana Comes," produced by Playwrights Realm in New York City in 2014. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
José Joaquín Pérez, Jason Bowen, Brian Quijada, and Reza Salazar in “My Mañana Comes,” produced by Playwrights Realm in 2014. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

ROBERT BARRY FLEMING, director of artistic programming, Arena Stage, Washington, D.C.:
“Dominique Morisseau’s The Skeleton Crew at the Atlantic in New York City! Can’t wait to see this stunning play by a brilliant artist. And Lydia R. Diamond’s Smart People at Second Stage in New York, which I saw at the Huntington in Boston and blew me away. Lydia is at the top of her game with this incisive sociopolitical commentary with its complicated themes of race and class in America.”

JACQUELINE GOLDFINGER, playwright, Philadelphia:
Sagittarius Ponderosa by MJ Kaufman at New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco (Jan. 22–Feb. 28, 2016), Local Girls by Emma Goidel at Azuka Theatre in Philadelphia (Feb. 24–March 13, 2016), and the company Tinder & Ash. While these artists create work of wildly different aesthetics, all are uniquely theatrical and speak unafraid from the souls of the stories that others don’t dare tell. They make us think about the world in new ways.”

Tinder & Ash (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
Tinder & Ash (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

ADRIEN-ALICE HANSEL, literary director, Studio Theatre, Washington, D.C.:

“There’s a true embarrassment of riches with the Women’s Voices Theater Festival in D.C. (Sept. 3–Nov. 22): Sheila Callaghan, Jessica Dickey, Julia Jordan, and Sheri Wilner (with a full-length musical, Cake Off, based on one of the world’s most perfect 10-minute plays), Martyna Majok, Jen Silverman…not to mention D.C. talents Allyson Currin, Christine Evans, Karen Zacarías (the world knows her but we claim her), and about 50 more. But the riches are embarrassing nationwide. I’d go anywhere to see Anne Washburn’s latest, and Playwrights Horizons in New York City gets her (Antlia Pneumatica, March 11–April 24, 2016). Lydia R. Diamond’s Smart People is in New York (at Second Stage this winter, dates TBA), which I missed at the Huntington in Boston, a mistake I hope not to repeat. Yale Rep is doing peerless by Jiehae Park (Nov. 27–Dec. 19), as well as Jen Silverman’s loopy, heartbreaking The Moors (Jan. 29–Feb. 20, 2016). These are only the premieres. I have to bet that wherever you’re reading this magazine, there’s a play to be seen by a female or trans* writer. Can TCG get a deal with Amtrak to get its members to more of these?”

McKinley Belcher III and Miranda Craigwell in "Smart People" at the Huntington Theatre Company in 2014. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
McKinley Belcher III and Miranda Craigwell in “Smart People” at the Huntington Theatre Company in 2014. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

LUCAS HNATH, playwright, New York City:

“I’m especially looking forward to Anne Washburn’s transadaptation of Iphigenia in Aulis (Sept. 10–27 at NYC’s Classic Stage Company); Sybil Kempson’s Elevator Repair Service show at New York Theatre Workshop, Fondly, Collette Richland (Sept. 11–Oct. 18); and the program of three one-acts that the Signature in New York City is putting on that includes Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro and María Irene Fornés’s Drowning, directed by Lila Neugebauer (May 3–June 12, 2016).”

"Fondly, Collette Richland" at New York Theatre Workshop in 2015 (Photo by Gene Pittman)
“Fondly, Collette Richland” at New York Theatre Workshop. (Photo by Gene Pittman)

RICHARD HOPKINS, artistic director, Florida Studio Theatre, Sarasota, Fla.:

“I’m following three new plays by women; all are unique, interesting, and insightful. The first is Ugly Lies the Bone by Lindsey Ferrentino (Roundabout Theatre, New York City, Sept. 10–Nov. 22). We look forward to working on it further here in Florida. Lindsey’s work is hugely emotional in this play. The second is Luna Gale by Rebecca Gilman (it premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2014, and is scheduled for Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, Sept. 8–27; Kentucky’s Actors Theatre of Louisville, Oct. 6–25; Cleveland Play House, Feb. 27–March 20, 2016; and Seattle Repertory Theatre, March 4–27, 2016). On the surface the play reveals the tug and pull of the custody battle between a druggie mom, well-meaning relatives, the dopey father, and a social service agency. The play takes a scalpel to the ineptness and innate insensitivity of governmental bureaucracy, leaving us to wonder how to care for those in need when the safety net fails, and further questioning: Does the net really work?

“Last but not least, Deborah Zoe Laufer’s play Informed Consent is a new work to watch for (it premiered in New York in August and is scheduled for Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, Fla., Jan. 9–31, 2016). It’s questioning: Who has the right to interfere with another’s mythic culture? Does truth trump myth?”

Karron Graves, Mamie Gummer, and Caitlin O'Connell in "Ugly Lies The Bone" at Roundabout Theatre Company in 2015. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Karron Graves, Mamie Gummer, and Caitlin O’Connell in “Ugly Lies The Bone” at Roundabout Theatre Company. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

MARA ISAACS, producer, Octopus Theatricals, Princeton, N.J.:

Ameryka by Nancy Keystone and Critical Mass Performance Group. Nancy is a multi-hyphenate: writer-director-visual artist/designer. I am always knocked out by her combination of big ideas, language, physical spectacle, and arresting beauty. No doubt this newest work will be another theatrically stunning event. It opens in Los Angeles in October.

“I’ve always been drawn toward Lydia Diamond’s ability to take the most thorny topics and infuse them with wit and intelligence. Smart People (New York City’s Second Stage, winter 2016) is the latest demonstration of this, as she takes on questions of identity and racial bias in its many guises.

“And I’m excited to see Julia Cho’s newest play, Aubergine (California’s Berkeley Rep, Feb. 5–March 20, 2016). Julia’s distinct voice is delicate, lyrical, yet entirely grounded in practical truths. Her work cuts right to my soul.”

JESSICA JACKSON, artistic director, Creede Repertory Theatre, Creede, Colo.:
Denver Center Theatre Company will premiere Fade by Tanya Saracho in Feb. 5–March 13, 2016. I had the pleasure of attending the reading at the Denver Center’s New Play Summit, and it blew me away. This two-hander is so deftly written and manages to address cultural appropriation, class division, and entertainment politics—all the while being incredibly funny.”

Tanya Saracho, whose “FADE” was among the featured summit plays. (Photo by John Moore)
Tanya Saracho. (Photo by John Moore)

TORI KEENAN-ZELT, playwright, New York City:
“Portia Krieger is directing a play by Caroline V. McGraw with Lesser America this fall (at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York City, Nov. 7–29, 2015). The play is called The Bachelors; it’s three dudes in their 30s living life as if they were still undergraduates, but with a sinister, theatrical, very feminist twist. It’s also hysterically funny. The official tagline is: ‘Three bachelors live an endless boyhood on fraternity row—until tonight, when their bad behavior finally catches up with them.’ Excited for that one!”

JULIANA FRANCIS KELLY, actor, New York City:
“The brilliant dancer Wendy Whelan is collaborating with Jock Soto, David Neumann, and director David Michalek on a performance titled Hagoromo. The show also has singers, a contralto and a tenor, and puppets. It’s at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival Nov. 5–8 (also running Oct. 23–24 as part of Rockville, Md.’s ADI Incubator series). I am going to see this even if I have to stand in the way back.”

VINCENT LANCISI, founding artistic director, Everyman Theatre, Baltimore:
“I’m really looking forward to seeing Atlantic Theater Company’s current production of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine (Sept. 16–Nov. 1). I’ve become a big fan of the Atlantic over the past few years, and it’s exciting to see them take on a revival of this iconic Churchill piece. I feel like this particular show is what put Churchill front and center as an important contemporary voice in the theatre. It will be fascinating to see how her groundbreaking play holds up and resounds anew with current issues around the topic of sexuality.”

ROBERT O’HARA, playwright, Brooklyn:
Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom by Jennifer Haley at the Flea in New York City (Nov. 9–Dec. 21) and Women Laughing Alone with Salad by Sheila Callaghan at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 7–Oct. 4, then at L.A.’s Center Theatre Group, March 6–April 3, 2016).”

"Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom" at the University of Washington's Undergraduate Theater Society.
“Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom” at the University of Washington’s Undergraduate Theater Society.

JOANNA SETTLE, director of the Ira Brind School of Theater Arts, Philadelphia:

“I’m very excited to see Familiar at Playwrights Horizons (Feb. 12–March 27, 2016) and Eclipsed at the Public Theater (Sept. 29–Nov. 8), both in New York City. Danai Gurira is such a great writer, and the women directing those premieres (Rebecca Taichman and Liesl Tommy) are wonderful, too.”

Alena Arenas, Leslie Ann Shepard, and Tamberla Perry in "Eclipsed" at Northlight Theatre.
Alena Arenas, Leslie Ann Shepard, and Tamberla Perry in “Eclipsed” at Northlight Theatre.

JONATHAN SILVERSTEIN, artistic director, Keen Company, New York City:

“Sarah Ruhl’s For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday (Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky., March 8–April 20, 2016, and California’s Berkeley Rep, May 20–July 3, 2016). The amazing Kathleen Chalfant starring as Peter Pan in a Sarah Ruhl/Les Waters collaboration? A certain must-see. And Lauren Gunderson’s I and You (New York City’s 59E59, Jan. 19–Feb. 28): a fascinating, honest, and surprising play. I’ve only read it, so I am very curious to see what a production would look like and to be with an audience experiencing it to for the first time.”

Thaddeus Fitzpatrick (Anthony) and Rachael Tice (Caroline) in "I and You" at the Olney Theatre Center in Olney, Maryland. (Photo by Stan Barouh)
Rachael Tice and Thaddeus Fitzpatrick in “I and You” at the Olney Theatre. (Photo by Stan Barouh)

PRESTON WHITEWAY, executive director, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Conn.:
Indecent by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman at Yale Rep in New Haven, Conn. (Oct. 2–24). Two of the most innovative creative artists working in the American theatre, and both have a deep connection to teaching and passing the art forward.”

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