A week ago Friday night I ignored tornado threats and drove downtown to the Mass. Ave. theatre district of Indianapolis to see productions of two of the five winning scripts in the year-round Indy Fringe Festival’s first annual DivaFest weekend. According to the IndyFringe website, DivaFest is “a celebration of women playwrights.” Its purpose is “to shine a light on women writers as they tell their stories for the stage.”
“A jury of theater professionals” selected 5 scripts from 29 entries and IndyFringe provided rehearsal space and other support for presenting them on the stage of the IndyFringe building.
The five winning scripts were:
- “Alarmed,” by Bernadette Bartlett
- “Dash Thirty Dash,” by Amy Wimmer Schwarb
- “Madwomen’s Late Night Cabaret,” by Julie Lyn Barber
- “Moment of Impact,” by Julie Mauro and Jessica Strauss
- “Winter Solstice,” by Amy Pettinella
I had thought that DivaFest also focused on producing new scripts, but “Madwomen’s Late Night Cabaret” had been produced other places before DivaFest. I also thought that DivaFest focused on producing Indiana playwrights, but I could be wrong about that, too.
I do, however, know that the idea of DivaFest was born at the main IndyFringe festival in 2008. (See 8/28/08 Indy Theatre Habit post and scroll way down.) I admire IndyFringe Executive Director Pauline Moffat and her colleagues for making DivaFest a reality.
A Summary from the Executive Director
I will share my experiences of the two DivaFest shows I saw in separate posts – basically, I enjoyed both of them – but first I would like to share the email that I received from Pauline last Monday morning, after the first annual DivaFest was over:
Thank you for catching shows at DivaFest and for supporting the Divas.
Nationally, just 17% of the plays produced on America’s main stages are written by women.* We hope we have made a small dent in those statistics.
(*2009 stats from Women’s Playwright Initiative survey)
Total audience for the weekend was 787. A fantastic first time effort from our local playwrights.
Dash Thirty Dash was the top selling show. With guest appearances from Dennis Ryerson, David Zivan and John Ketzenberger we had sold out houses every night.
The shows in order of ticket sales:
Dash Thirty Dash
Moment of Impact
Mad Women’s Late Nite Cabaret
Thursday night’s panel discussion was lively and interesting. Sunday’s discussion with the DivaFest playwrights was smaller and gave us all a good insight into the development process they have been through over the past few months as they took their work from ‘page to stage’. The Divas all had great support from local directors such as Kate Ayers (Alarmed) and Matt Roland (Dash Thirty Dash) and from those seasoned actors who brought their skills to the stage for our first time playwrights.
Thank you again for supporting IndyFringe.
A Small Rant
I don’t give a hoot which show ranked highest in terms of ticket sales, and I am always surprised when the Fringe folks do. Sure, there is something to be said for letting the audience decide which show is “best” as opposed to, say, letting professionally trained theatre critics or other authorities decide. However, ticket sales are not the same as a vote taken by audience members who have already seen the shows. How fast can word of mouth influence ticket sales in one weekend or even one week?
But even if ticket sales truly did represent audience admiration, the “most popular equals best” thinking is what makes Broadway theatres cast TV celebrities instead of stage actors. It is also what makes other mainstream theatres produce “Annie” and “Joseph” over and over again. I enjoy those shows, but I would be depressed if they were all that were available to me, especially at a Fringe festival.
Shoot, for all I know, plays by female playwrights rank lower in terms of first weekend ticket sales than plays by male playwrights and that stat is being used as a reason not to produce women’s plays.
I do, however, agree that 787 is an impressive(!) first-year collective number of attendees, especially with tornado threats. Congratulations to everyone who helped to make the first annual DivaFest a success – both in terms of attendance and in other ways. I look forward to next year!
Blank Journals and an Upcoming Story Development Workshop
The man giving the curtain talks at DivaFest on Friday night (I’m sorry, I didn’t catch his name) encouraged woman audience members to each take one of the blank journals that were available on a table at the back of the IndyFringe space. The one I took is just a few pages of white cardstock folded in half but it is tied with a sparkly silver-and-green ribbon and there is a poem on the front called “What Is Your Story?” by Rita Kohn.
A paper inserted into the journal gives several writing prompts and encourages women to:
“…write during the month of May and June about places, events and people from your own life. Next attend the storytelling workshop presented by Celestine Bloomfield on Sunday, June 13 from 2-4 p.m. at the IndyFringe Theatre Building.
During the workshop, you will learn how to turn these memories into stories. Through the process of sharing these stories in pairs and small groups, your memories will become full-fledge stories that include plot, character, and place. This first step in eliciting stories from your own life will ignite your passion for writing and playwriting!”
The insert goes on to say that the cost for the workshop on “Recalling and Developing Your Own Stories” is $20 per person. To register visit www.storytellingarts.org, call Storytelling Arts of Indiana at 317-576-9848, or mail payment to Storytelling Arts of Indiana, P.O. Box 20743, Indianapolis, IN 46220.
‘See you at the theatres!
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com
Also follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com.