Washington stages will pull together next year for another citywide Women’s Voices Theater Festival of new plays and musicals. The groundbreaking 2015 event, with dozens of troupes launching world premieres to start their seasons, drew acclaim for actively battling the troubling national statistic that only one in five new works are by women.
“The Women’s Voices Theater Festival was a shot heard ’round the country,” says Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith. “And this isn’t an issue that’s gone away. So let’s do it again.”
The forward-thinking festival also is an easily branded event that’s unique to Washington, and the city’s top troupes have been quick to coordinate again. Nearly 30 theaters are on board for January and February 2018, including the Kennedy Center and — new this time — Baltimore’s Center Stage. The definition of “new” works is being opened up to include not only premieres, but also second and third productions, which Smith points out can be crucial in helping shepherd scripts to longer lives.
The seven originating theaters unveiled their selections Friday. World premieres include Mary Kathryn Nagle’s “Sovereignty” at Arena, “Noura” by “9 Parts of Desire” writer-actor Heather Raffo at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and at Signature Theatre, “4,380 Nights” by Annalisa Dias, a member of the D.C. playwrights’ collective The Welders.
U.S. premieres are Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Jefferson’s Garden” at Ford’s Theatre and Moira Buffini’s “Handbagged” at Round House Theatre. Regional premieres will include “The Wolves” by Sarah DeLappe at Studio Theatre and “Familiar” at Woolly Mammoth by “Walking Dead” star and “The Convert” playwright Danai Gurira.
“There will be a much more concerted effort to get plays out before and after the festival,” says the festival’s coordinating producer, Nan Barnett. An industry weekend is planned, with the aim of connecting writers with directors and producers visiting the festival from across the country.
Changes for this version include scheduling it for winter rather than fall and bringing on board the D.C. area service organization Theatre Washington (which runs the Helen Hayes Awards) to help with promotion and inter-theater communications. Ticketing details and a possible festival pass are being worked out, as is a website that Barnett — also the executive director of the D.C.-based National New Play Network — hopes will feature dramatically improved search functions.
Success stories from the last festival include Karen Zacarías’s “Destiny of Desire,” Jessica Dickey’s “The Guard” and Martyna Majok’s “Ironbound,” all of which are moving on to productions around the country (or the world, in the case of Yael Farber’s “Salome”). Barnett says there have already been roughly 20 subsequent productions of festival premieres from 2015; Smith counts that as a win for the city in terms of getting more works by women into national circulation.
“We understand the impact we had the first time was larger than we had anticipated,” Barnett says. “We want to harness that energy.”