Not too long ago, D.C. had a glaring problem: Theater was still largely a boy’s club behind the scenes, particularly when it came to the number of plays written by women presented across the city.
“I mean, the numbers were so bad when we began,” says Nan Barnett of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. “I know that [the festival] has had an impact. Theaters are being questioned about their seasons. Artistic directors are having to really look at what they’re doing before they announce an all-male season.”
First launched in the fall of 2015, the festival and its push for greater gender parity came “early on this wave of the new power that women have of course always had, but are really claiming now,” Barnett says. Various movements have recently gripped the nation, including #MeToo and Time’s Up, and Barnett notes that “D.C. and the festival were on the early edge of that, and I’m so delighted that we’re doing it again in this really impactful time.”
This year, 30 theaters will each present at least one new play by a female or female-identified playwright as part of the festival, which, in its second outing, lands in the middle of the theater season. “There are fewer plays involved, but each of them are running longer,” says Barnett, the festival’s coordinating producer, who also leads the National New Play Network. In addition, the 2018 festival also includes stronger, or at least more developed, shows — not only the hyped but untested “world premieres.” “At NNPN, we’ve really pushed to make sure that both theaters and audiences understand that the one-and-done model does not really allow for a play to have a life,” she says. “So it was a personal crusade of mine to get subsequent productions included in the festival this year.”
As an example, Barnett highlights Familiar by Danai Gurira, this year’s contribution from Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. The production comes two years after the play had an extended run Off Broadway. “[Woolly is] letting [Gurira] have a chance, even after a major production in New York, to come in and look at the script again, to look at the new artists that are involved in the project, to make the play more rich, more impactful, more vital.”
Of the festival’s future, Barnett is plainspoken: “As much as I would love to think it wouldn’t be necessary to do another one, it probably will be. I really hope to see it spread across the country, because I just think, if what we’re doing has magnified the issue, then having five, or 10, or 50 of these could really draw attention.”
The 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival runs to Feb. 15 at participating theaters. Visit womensvoicestheaterfestival.org for a full lineup. A festival pass, priced at $15, grants a discount of 25 percent off all tickets to festival shows purchased through TodayTix.com.
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