Not all details of the 2015-2016 theater season are yet known, but a remarkable trend has already emerged in the Baltimore-Washington area -- a fresh emphasis on female playwrights to address longstanding gender disparities.
The effort starts with the Women's Voices Theater Festival, which will involve more than 50 companies and will take place in September and October, mostly in the Washington area.
This project was launched by artistic directors of Arena Stage, Ford's Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Signature Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and others concerned that too few plays by women were getting produced in this country (only 24 percent of productions for the 2014-2015 season, according to American Theatre Magazine).
One of the companies participating in the festival is Rep Stage, an Equity house as much in Baltimore's orbit as D.C.'s. The organization is not just doing its bit for the festival time period. The entire 2015-2016 Rep Stage season has been dubbed "The Year of the Woman." All of the plays on the lineup were written by women.
The season opens in August with "The Baltimore Waltz" by Paula Vogel and continues with the world premiere of "Technicolor Life" by Jami Brandli (October/November); the regional premiere of "The Antigone Project: A Play in 5 Parts by Tanya Barfield, Karen Hartman, Chiori Miyagawa, Lynn Nottage and Caridad Svich (February/March); and the regional premiere of "Hunting and Gathering" by Brooke Berman (April 2016).
Some Baltimore troupes have signed on to the Women's Voices Theater Festival. Single Carrot Theatre, for example, is expected to stage Jen Silverman's "Phoebe in Winter" (dates TBA). And Interrobang Theatre Company and The Strand Theatre Company are joining forces to produce the world premiere of Susan McCully's "Kerrmoor" (October/November).
Meanwhille, getting a jump on the festival, Cohesion Theatre Company and The Strand Theater Company will co-produce the Baltimore premeire of "The Pillow Book" by Anna Moench, June 25 to July 12.
Cohesion Theatre Company has also spearheaded ParityFest Baltimore 2015. This city-wide event, running at various venues July 1 to Aug. 9, will include readings of several dozen plays by female writers.
The Cohesion ensemble is working with the Los Angeles-based Kilroys, a group that is compiling a list of "the most recommended new and under-produced plays written by female playwrights." Plans call for readings of everything on that list during ParityFest's six weeks. Workshops and discussions are also being planned to address gender issues.
So far, participating companies include: Baltimore Annex Theatre Company, Baltimore Improv Group, Center Stage, Cohesion Theatre Company, EMP Collective, Federal Theatre Project, Fells Point Corner Theater, In Flight Theater, Interrobang Theater Company, Iron Crow Theatre Company, Nu Sass, Pallas Theatre Collective, Single Carrot Theater, Spotlighter's Theatre, Stillpointe Theatre, The Strand Theatre Company, UMBC, and Vagabond Players.
Note that Center Stage, the only Equity house currently on that list, just happens to have put together a female-centric season for 2015-2016. The already announced lineup includes a musical, "The Secret Garden," by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon; and two plays written by women: "X's and O's (A Football Love Story)" by KJ Sanchez with Jenny Mercein; and "The Night Watcher" by Charlayne Woodard.
Add in an all-female production of "As You Like It" and an adaptation (OK, by a man, but still) of "Pride and Prejudice," and Center Stage looks like it's out in front in the fight for parity.