Down in Sarasota, Tampa Bay’s chronically unappreciated little sister, Urbanite Theatre’s planning something big for women: the Modern Works Festival. Over 12 days, female and female-identifying theater artists will run the shows — literally. Three plays will have four staged readings each. The festival also includes four panels: Playwriting with Martyna Majok; Women in Technical Theatre; Women in Leadership, featuring Stephanie Gularte; and Women in Leadership, featuring Linda DiGabriele. Play submissions came from across the country, and three finalists hail from Chicago, Brooklyn and Rhode Island. A panel of Urbanite artists, one guest playwright and audience members who have seen all three plays will choose the winner, who will receive $5,000 (runners-up get $500 each).
It’s the first festival of its kind in... well, we checked and couldn’t find one south of North Carolina. Urbanite’s co-founding artistic director Brendan Ragan says its time is long past due.
“I think the vast majority of plays that are produced in the country right now are written by men, and more needs to be done to level the playing field. Often that simply means giving more opportunity to women to get their foot in the door so that they can be considered equally,” Ragan says.
The Modern Works Festival “helps tilt the scale back towards even. Half the plays we’ve done have been written by women; they’ve been every bit as successful and well-received as the plays written by men. It only serves to help theaters to lift up female writers,” he adds.
But is this for only women? No. Is it only for playwrights or theater people? No. What’s it all about, then? Excellent question, and to answer it, we turned to a woman — Summer Dawn Wallace, Urbanite’s co-founding artistic director.
What is the Modern Works Festival, and why is it different than other festivals?
The Modern Works Festival is a reading for female and female-identifying playwrights. It is also a celebration of women in the arts, as besides our play readings of our finalists there will be several free panels, which gives the opportunity to meet women in theater leadership, playwriting, and technical theater. We received over 100 submissions from across the country and it’s exciting to be able to get to know new female writers and provide opportunities for female artists.
What motivated Urbanite to produce this type of fest?
Urbanite strives to include female playwrights in our seasons and provide equal opportunities for women within our company, but we thought we could still do more. The Modern Works Festival gives us a chance to not only produce more female work, but get to know more female artists as a whole, and help get their work noticed.
What should theater patrons expect?
Theater patrons should expect an exciting evening of theater, and get to see three very different plays in regards of theme and style. [They can] participate in talkbacks, which gives valuable feedback to the playwrights. Audiences often come to the theater to see a polished show or script that has been developed, had readings [and] rewrites; this is an opportunity for patrons to participate in the process of getting a play ready for a full production.
How did you select the plays in the fest — who judged them and using what criteria?
We put together a group of six diverse women with backgrounds in theater as our reading panelists. They read over 100 plays, and had several meetings in which they discussed the material, narrowed down the plays to the top 20, then 10, then five, and gave suggestions for the their top picks.
Tell us about each of the plays and why they’re worth seeing.
The Space in Between [by Mercedes White] is written by a young playwright from Chicago, and the play is a love story [told] across different cultural backgrounds, and a coming-out story that is refreshing.
Stalking [by Jayne Hannah] is a thriller, and [a] mystery piece that will keep you guessing until the very end. We meet the character of George who has been released from prison, but is his slate now wiped clean because he served his time?
The Violet Sisters [by Gine Femia] takes place right after Hurricane Sandy has swept through, and [the sisters] are reconnecting, dealing with the storm of their past, [their] current relationship, and where they go [next].
What excites you the most about the fest?
Working with the playwrights, getting into rehearsal and having the chance to work with so many wonderful women.
What will the panels be like — are they intended for playwrights?
The panels are an opportunity for the community to get to know more about the women behind the art. We will learn more about our panelists’ backgrounds, success and challenges, and I have no doubt they will inspire others into the profession — and I’m looking forward to learn from them myself.