By Karen Isaacs
Politics, love, betrayal, power and powerlessness, redemption, coming of age, motherhood. These and more were the subjects of plays submitted for the new Ivoryton Playhouse Women’s Playwright Initative.
Ivoryton Playhouse is undertaking the new program to help women playwrights develop new works. As Jacqui Hubbard, the Playhouse’s artistic director said, developing new plays was “something I always wanted to do.” She added that the typical Ivoryton audience is more comfortable with more familiar works.
The idea of the women’s initiative came because she believed that women often feel a need for empowerment. She had recently met with Laura Copland, a former actress, college professor/administrator and a lawyer who recently relocated to Ivoryton, and discussed ways Copland could become involved. From that meeting, the Women’s Initiative was born.
“We thought it would be a good idea, so we put out a call for submissions through the League of Professional Theatre Women and the call was quickly spread,” she said.
While Hubbard and Copland, the newly appointed director of play development at the Playhouse, expected maybe 20 or 30 submissions and mostly from nearby, they were amazed when 183 scripts arrived. They came from all over the country – and Canada and even one from Israel.
Copeland said she read every single script. In addition to her reading the scripts, a group of actors, other playwrights, directors, critics and other theater professionals were each asked to read between 5 and 20 scripts.
The 183 scripts were finally narrowed down to 14 finalists, Copland said. A final selection committee read the finalists and chose the four plays that will be rehearsed and presented, Friday March 3 and Saturday March 4. The final committee included Copland; Hubbard; Ivoryton box office manager Sue McCann; director, theatre critic and academic Brooks Appelbaum and Margaret McGlone Jennings, a director, teacher and actor.
Due to limitations of time and funding, Huibbad said, there are two one-act plays and two very short plays (10-20 minutes). “We had really almost no money for the expenses of this initiative.” They were unable even to provide travel money for the playwrights to attend; yet, Hubbard said, all four are attending, one from California.
In addition to the subjects mentioned above, Copland said, the submissions dealt with “Beauty, aging, sex, sexuality, the military, need and yearning. The passion rippling through all these works was astonishing. Reading them was a gift.”
This first iteration of the initiative will include one week of rehearsal for each play, workshops for the playwrights plus a semi-stage reading of the work in front of a live audience. In addition, there will be “talk-back” after the performances so the audience can provide more feedback to the playwrights.
Lauren Yarger, critic and co-founder of the newly formed Connecticut chapter of the League of Professional Theater Women, has organized a panel discussion for Saturday, March 4 prior to the evening’s productions. The panel will feature a discussion with the four women whose works were selected for the iniatitive.
Moderating the panel discussion is Shellen Lubin, co-president of the Women in the Arts & Media, as well as vice president for programming for the League of Professional Theater Women. Lubin who has extensive experience as a director, songwriter/playwright, and vocal/acting coach, will be directing one of the plays.
Brooks Appelbaum, PhD who is both a member of the Quinnipiac University English Dept., stage director and theater critic, served on the final selection committee and will direct one of the plays.
She said that of the group of plays she read, some “shared the overtly feminist theme of women who were oppressed. Others were female-centered comedies.” But she added while the themes varied, most contained “strong female characters.”
Directors applied and were selected to direct. Open auditions were held to find actors for the various roles.
Appelbaum will direct Apple Season, one of the two one-act plays presented. The play by Ellen Lewis from California. Copland described the play as “to make arrangements for her father’s funeral, Lissie returns to the family farm she and her brother fled 26 years ago. Billy, a neighbor and school friend, comes by with an offer to buy the farm. As memories, needs and passions are stirred, we learn what happened to the siblings as children, and of Lissie’s startling price for the farm.”
“What immediately drew me to the play was the subtle delicacy with which the playwright handled the plot’s disturbing elements and the beautiful theatricality she employs in revealing, through flashbacks, the characters’ struggles at different ages,” Applebaum said.
She went on to say that this one of the few scripts she read that pulled her in immediately. “I forgot I was reading to assess it; I was completely in the Apple Season world.”
While it is not a finished work, Applebaum said the play “is, to my mind, at the perfect stage for a workshop such as ours. All the important script elements are in place.”
Apple Season will be the longer piece on Friday, March 3. The shorter play is Guenevere by Susan Cinoman. Copland described that play thusly: “Guenevere and Arthur are best friends—a fierce competitor, she always bests him in sword fights. What will be the outcome when confronted with Excalibur in the stone?”
“My play is the first part of a full length play called, Guenevere about a fictional character of my own, inspired by the Arthurian legends. In my play, Guenevere pulls the sword from the stone, and though entitled to the leadership of England, she must overcome many obstacles to try to claim her place,” Cinoman said. “It’s something of a political allegory but also a personal story about love and sacrifice. And comedy.”
Like most of the playwrights attending, Cinemon, who lives in Woodbridge, hopes to get ideas for the play’s development. She has extensive writing credits writing plays, films and for TV (The Goldbergs). The play will be directed by Hannah Simms who works with HartBeat in Hartford.
On Saturday, March 4, the evening will open with Buck Naked by Gloria Bond Clunie directed by Lubin. This works is described: “Two daughters are thrown into a tizzy when they discover, Lily, the 60+ year-old mother has decided to spice up life by tending her backyard garden, au naturel!”
Clunie who is travelling from Illinois, also have extensive credits as well as multiple awards.
The final work will be Intake by Margot Lasher. It is described as “an arrogant young psychiatrist meets and 80 year-old woman for what he assumes will be a routine examination. During the course of their relationship, he comes to realize how little he knows; as she reveals her deep love and understand of her two aging dogs, both doctor and patient learn about life, love and hope.”
Lasher is from Vermont. Her play will be directed by Sasha Batt, literary manager of West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park.
Tickets are available for each evening or a package for both days. Call the box office at 860-767-7318 to book the 2-day pass. Individual evening tickets can be purchased at ivorytonplayhouse.org. Each evening begins at 7 p.m.
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