What exactly is it that the seven companies behind the Women’s Voices Theater Festival have in common?
Marketing. And Margaritas.
A monthly meeting over drinks has been an informal standard operating procedure for several years among the managing directors of Washington’s largest stand-alone nonprofit theaters: Arena Stage, Ford’s Theatre, Round House Theatre, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Signature Theatre, Studio Theatre and Woolly Mammoth Theatre. This is more or less the same group that insisted on recent major changes in the Helen Hayes Award judging process and that has teamed up for a substantial internal study about audience habits. (That study included Theater J, but not Round House Theatre.)
“It doesn’t need a name,” Arena Stage executive producer Edgar Dobie says of the coalition. “We’re not that organized.”
“I think we all consider ourselves leaders of the theater community,” says Ford’s director Paul R. Tetreault. “In the absence of anyone else taking charge, I think we’ve kind of jumped into that.”
After the managing directors started getting together, the artistic directors thought they would try it, too, which led to a brunch at Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer’s house and the birth of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. Woolly managing director Meghan Pressman says that the comparable sizes of the organizations mean they bring similar concerns to the table. That’s one reason they joined together for the detailed market survey that was completed last winter.
“It reinforced that the more we work together, the better off we’ll be,” Pressman says.
Round House producing artistic director Ryan Rilette says, “It’s simply a desire to work together to grow the pie, instead of trying to fight each other for individual slices.”
Theater J and the Folger Theatre are the next biggest companies in D.C., but both operate as part of larger institutions (the D.C. Jewish Community Center and the Folger Shakespeare Library, respectively). The Olney Theatre Center has four stages (including a small outdoor amphitheater) and a budget that would put it in the mix — if only it weren’t a full county away north of town.
So there is a kind of logic to the grouping, though it isn’t strictly fixed, especially as another citywide event is being contemplated for the near future.
“Maybe next time we’ll have a dozen originating theaters involved,” Dobie says. “I could see that happening.”
The seven Women Voices Theater Festival originating theaters put together:
Total stages: 14
Total seats: More than 5,000
Shows to be presented in 2015-16: 53
Total number of performances: More than 2,100
Cumulative budget: More than $70 million