“Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle-shells,
And pretty maids all in a row….”
Substitute Waco-based playwright Tiffany Antone for Mary and her national New Playwright Festival “Planting the Seed” for garden – the answer to the nursery rhyme becomes exponentially across the United States. In 2009 Antone lived in Los Angeles, where she was an active participant in the LA Female Playwrights Initiative. When Princeton scholar Emily Glassberg Sands published her provocative NY Times article, “Rethinking Gender Bias in Theater” (link below), documenting nation-wide gender bias against producing women-written plays, Antone decided to shake things up. “I was constantly writing new plays and sending them out but hearing nothing back. I knew I had to try something else to make a difference.”
She moved home to Prescott AZ and developed a relationship with the Prescott Center for the Arts community theatre. As a trial program, she created “Dirty Laundry”, a short new play festival featuring nine invited women playwright/ screenwriter participants. Any profits would go to support a local battered women’s shelter. It succeeded beyond expectation. One play ended up as a film; others moved on to larger play festivals at major venues, and another earned a full staging locally. Little Black Dress INK was born, with the specific goal “to create more production opportunities for female playwrights while also strengthening the female playwright network nation-wide”. In 2011, nine more plays appeared in stage reading format at the Prescott Arts Center venue, with the theme “From the Mouths of Babes”, drawn from a widening circle of female playwrights and an expanding range of submissions. In 2013, Antone moved to Waco TX, and the next phase of her Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project, “Planting the Seed” bears fruit this coming weekend: in Santa Barbara CA on 4/12, Waco TX on 4/13, followed by Ithaca NY and Sedona AZ on May 4 and Los Angeles on Sunday May 18. Online audiences can also tune in to http://www.HowlRound.com for a streamed presentation on May 18th at 12:00 p.m. PST. Over 100 female playwrights across the US submitted works for consideration. Antone and her selection panel chose twenty-eight plays for reading at the various venues with a designated producer managing each venue. After the readings, each producer will nominate shows for inclusion of a full staging of nine during fall 2014 at the Prescott Arts Center. Little Black Dress INK has put down roots.
Arts advocate/ journalist Alexandra Bonifield spoke with Antone leading up to the Waco reading on 4/13:
What are your submission criteria? First, all plays must be written by female playwrights. The playwrights must engage willingly in our on-going peer review process. The works need to run c. 10 minutes or less and can be monologues. Musicals and opera shorts are welcome. We tell playwrights ‘easier staging is better’ as this is a reading, about words and characters not special effects. And they have to fit within the stated thematic concept, somehow.
What sorts of playwrights have submitted? We haven’t done a demographic survey, but a wide array of writers has submitted. Some in their twenties just starting out, some mature with long production records, different ethnic groups and cultural perspectives. The aim of the ONSTAGE Project is to give voice to female playwrights of all ages and backgrounds and introduce their work to new audiences. So far, I am pleased with the diversity encountered. There is definitely something for everyone, and the plays are so short that audiences get to experience a lot of new writers in one sitting. In Waco this year all the plays are comedies. I expect to hear a LOT of laughter. From men as well as women!
Is there a standard performance format used from venue to venue? Every venue’s producer faces different challenges, but we focus on a traditional reading format with scripts on music stands at this semi-final phase of performance. In Waco, we have one ensemble of actors who will read all six plays, one director. In Sedona, there are five directors for seven plays, each with his/her own ensemble of actors. All the readings are free, with refreshments served at intermission and a donation bucket in the lobby to help defray production costs. As an added bonus, the public can follow the process along at www.littleblackdressink.org where the playwrights, directors, and other participants will blog prior to the festival. Patrons will also get the opportunity to interact with the playwrights in attendance following festival readings. There will be two playwrights at the Waco reading.
What lies in the future for Little Black Dress INK? More venues, maybe non-profit status and corporate underwriters, cash prizes for the nine produced finalist plays! We’ll see what happens as this year’s Festival unfolds. Partnering with HowlRound has allowed us to expand our reach in a way I could not imagine back when I first read the Emily Glassberg Sands article and decided to try to change the status quo. This is now my passion, along with writing plays. Please come enjoy “Planting the Seed” in 2014 and support female playwrights.
The plays in Waco 4/13:
THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS, by Marla Dean – Austin, TX
FANCY TOMATOES, by Tiffany Antone – Waco, TX
IT ALL STARTS WITH CELESTE, by Sharon Goldner – Batimore, MD
SEEDS OF REBELLION, by Kay Poiro – Great Mills, MD
SPECIAL DELIVERY, by Marj O’Neill-Butler – Miami Beach, FL
FLOWERS, by Jen Huszcza – Los Angeles, CA
More information? Tiffany Antone – 818-207-7821 or www.LittleBlackDressINK.org
Venue Details: Planting the Seed readings will take place in Santa Barbara, CA on Saturday, April 12th at 7:00 p.m. at Left Coast Books & Gallery; in Waco, TX on Sunday, April 13th at 2:30 p.m. at the Waco Civic Theatre; in Ithaca, NY on Sunday, May 4th at 7:00 p.m.at Acting Out New York; in Sedona, AZ on Sunday, May 4th at 5:00 p.m. at the Sedona Arts Center; and in Los Angeles, CA on Sunday, May 18th 12:00 p.m. at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Online audiences can also tune in to http://www.HowlRound.com on May 18th at 12:00 p.m. PST.
Be advised: Some plays do contain mature subject matter and language.
NY Times article from 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/theater/24play.html?_r=0