Short Women's Play Festival brings national women playwrights to Columbia

Friday, March 9, 2012 | 7:49 p.m. CST; updated 6:14 p.m. CDT, Sunday, March 11, 2012

COLUMBIA — For most theater directors and stage managers, engaging an audience is the primary concern during a performance.

The directors and stage managers of the Short Women's Play Festival this weekend will have another factor to keep in mind — three of the four playwrights will be present during the performances.

Go to the festival

What: Independent Actors Theatre Short Women's Play Festival

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Where: The Bridge, 1020 E. Walnut St.

Cost: $8, available at the door or online.

"Usually, I just have to think about the audience, but now I have to think about what is going on in the playwright's mind as well, which adds a completely new energy," said Emma Squire, stage manager of two of the six plays being performed this weekend.

Squire said she's been more picky than usual about actors reciting their lines — no ad-libbing or paraphrasing. She's also adhering more to scripted stage directions.

"My thought is that what is on the page needs to happen on the stage," Squire said.

The fourth annual festival is being organized by the Independent Actors Theatre and will start at 7:30 p.m. Friday at The Bridge, 1020 E. Walnut St. The festival will continue with performances on Saturday and Sunday nights.

Emily Rollie, artistic director of the Independent Actors Theatre, said the presence of the playwrights supports the creative process, making the relationship between the director and the playwright more collaborative and engaging.

Several of the works in the festival have only been produced once, and others have never been produced before. 

"The playwrights get an opportunity to see their works embodied, and from there they can make changes if they need to — and that's a really enriching process for the playwrights," Rollie said.

However, many young women playwrights don't get a chance to be a part of this process — women playwrights are "drastically under-produced by theater companies," Rollie said. 

"I just picked up one of the playwrights from the airport, and we're looking at the drama section in a bookstore, and about 80 percent of the plays are written by men," she said. "We hope we're making a step forward towards a more balanced presentation in theater."

The festival has a unique approach to selecting the playwrights — one characterized by a willingness to take risks on new plays that have not been proven, Rollie said.

In the past, plays were picked through a national call for submissions. This year, however, the festival committee did a jury selection — the committee contacted up-and-coming playwrights based on recommendations.

Four playwrights were chosen:

  • Aoise Stratford, whose play "Elephants and Coffee" will be directed by Amy Darnell and stage managed by Christine Snyder.
  • Daniella Vinitski, whose plays "Estragon's Boot" and "Miranda's Tempest" will be directed by Cece McFarland and stage managed by Carrie Winship.
  • Claudia Barnett and Margaret Hoffman, whose plays "Lillie Meant Murder" and "Driving Home" will be directed by Elizabeth Braaten Palmieri and stage managed by Squire.

Independent Actors Theatre is also participating in SHINSAI: Theaters for Japan. The nationwide initiative was started by the Theatre Communication Group, and participating theater companies will present staged readings to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Japan.

The short scenes will be included after Sunday night's performances, and audience members will be able to donate money to benefit theater artists in Japan who were affected by the earthquake. 

Before the Friday and Saturday night performances, MU's women's a capella group The Naturelles will perform. Musicians Ruth Acuff and Jeff Mueller will perform before the Sunday night performance.

"After watching the community come alive during True/False Film Fest, I think that as a community we should keep pushing forward," Squire said. "There is a huge desire for art in Columbia, and I think it's time for theater to become a bigger part of our community."

Tickets cost $8 and will be available at the door or can be purchased online.

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