Women’s Voices Theater Festival Returns to D.C.

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Felicia Curry, who plays Susannah in "Jefferson's Garden" at Ford's Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller. Courtesy Ford's.

They’re back — and not a moment too soon.

The Women’s Voices Theater Festival, the big, groundbreaking festival of original plays by women playwrights that opened the 2015-16 Washington theater season, has returned. A citywide collaboration, the 2018 edition comprises 13 world premieres and 10 American or regional premieres.

Performances have already started and will run through February (some shows continue into early March). For the full schedule, visit womensvoicestheaterfestival.org.

“Voices” comes with a big capital letter.

“The emphasis is on this big collaborative effort, but also to point out the problem, which is so dire … the lack of gender equity for women playwrights and producing the work of women playwrights, not to mention women artists across the board in theater,” said Amy Austin, president and CEO of Theatre Washington. The organization is lending its support to the festival, which is being produced by Nan Barnett of Flanagan Theater Projects.

In conjunction with the festival, the first International Women’s Voices Day will take place Jan. 21, in partnership with National New Play Network and New Play Exchange. The one-day event echoes the 2018 festival content, which — if the plays being staged are any indication — is decidedly global.

“That’s true,” said Austin. “There’s a real international flavor to the festival, plays from all over the world, and about issues and characters that resonate internationally, as well as issues familiar from our own backyard, careening through the world. There’s a very universal tone among the plays being produced. The need for gender equality in the theater, the possibility of having new plays by women playwrights staged, is of course not just an issue here in the United States, but all over the world.”

The first festival, in 2015, was the brainchild of a number of Washington artistic directors and theater heads. The originating companies were Arena Stage, Ford’s, Round House, Shakespeare, Signature, Studio and Woolly Mammoth.

Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, one of the festival founders, is directing “Sovereignty” by Mary Kathryn Nagle, a play about a young Cherokee lawyer fighting to restore her nation’s jurisdiction.

Other founding-theater productions include: “Jefferson’s Garden” by Timberlake Wertenbaker, which explores the ideals and contradictions of the nation’s founding fathers at Ford’s; “Handbagged,” Tricycle Theatre’s Olivier Award-winning comedy about Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth at Round House; the Guantanamo-set “4,380 Nights” by Annalisa Dias, directed by Kathleen Akerley at Signature; “Noura,” an Ibsen-flavored play by Heather Raffo at Shakespeare; “The Wolves” by Sarah DeLappe at Studio, about girls’ soccer, and “Familiar” by “The Walking Dead” actress Danai Gurira at Woolly Mammoth, in which an immigrant family prepares for a wedding in Minnesota.

The participating theaters range widely in size and the shows vary in the length of their runs. Among the others are: “The Trojan Women Project” at Brave Spirits Theatre, “Digging Up Dessa” by Laura Schellhardt at the Kennedy Center, “Queens Girl in Africa” by Caleen Sinnette Jennings at Mosaic Theater Company, Julia Cho’s “Aubergine” at Olney Theatre Center, “No Word in Guyanese for Me” at Rainbow Theatre Project and the world premiere of “All She Must Possess” by Susan McCully at Rep Stage.

More participants: 4615 Theater Company, Ally Theatre Company, Baltimore’s Center Stage, Convergence Theatre, Dog & Pony DC, Folger Theatre, Nu Sass Productions, Pointless Theatre, Rapid Lemon Productions, Strand Theater Company, Spooky Action Theater Company and Taffety Punk Theatre Company.

“The core is new work by women playwrights, and creating opportunities for staging, but it’s also about new plays in general. All of the work is new, and that’s always a risky but challenging thing,” Austin said.

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