National Reports

New England – Southern by Charlene Donaghy

Photo of Laura Copland
Laura Copland (Photo by Michael Pressman)

New England – Southern by Charlene Donaghy

In just its second year, the Women Playwrights’ Initiative at the Ivoryton Playhouse has grown from the seed of an idea born of life changes, to one of the most respected series for women dramatists. I first heard of the Initiative from the Dramatists Guild Utah Regional Representative Kathleen Cahill whose play Henry, Louise, and Henri was featured in the Initiative’s reading series held this past March. Kathleen was so impressed she wrote “It’s run by Laura Copland who is passionately devoted to women’s writing for the theatre. She read 342 submissions this year, and wrote back to every single writer who submitted! I was so impressed.” Upon speaking with Laura, I second that.

After a wondrous and winding life, taking Laura from acting to law school (which she loved) to practicing law (which she likes a bit less), Laura landed at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at The New School in New York City, and moved her way up from assistant to Assistant Dean of Faculty Affairs. When her husband, Michael Pressman, decided to retire, she toyed with the idea of leaving Lang but decided she wasn’t quite ready to give that up. However, the theatre goddesses had other ideas.

In a whirlwind of events, Laura and Michael thought about selling their 1906 home in Tarrytown, NY, hesitated, but then fates conspired, and they sold, found Essex, Connecticut on the recommendation of friends, found a newer home, and bought it in 2015, leaving the quirkiness of the old home, and The New School, behind them.

Venturing to Ivoryton Playhouse for an evening of theatre, Laura and Michael met the Playhouse’s Executive Director Jacqueline Hubbard and her husband Norm Needleman. Imagine everyone’s surprise when they discovered that the Copland/Pressmans had purchased Norm’s son’s home. The theatre goddesses were playing their hand.

Laura’s theatre roots took hold in the community when she and Jacqueline agreed that a women playwrights’ festival could find a home at the Ivoryton Playhouse. Laura took on the task of creating the Women Playwrights’ Initiative and when I asked her why, her response was breathtaking: “When you come here to work on your play I want you to love it, be energized, be in love with your art and yourself and supportive of other women. I’m good at embracing people. My whole aim with WPI is to give women a place to know they are loved and supported and to know they will succeed.”

The first year of the Initiative saw 142 plays submitted, the second year that number rose by 200 plays with entries from around the United States, Canada, England, Italy, and Israel. And, yes, Laura responds personally to every dramatist.

Laura is a theatre goddess, herself, working for the Ivoryton Playhouse Women Playwrights’ Initiative to provide a safe, nurturing environment for women to work on their one-act plays with professional directors and actors in a week of workshopping, culminating in a staged reading for each of four chosen plays. The playwrights live together in a home and become a family. The Initiative provides a small stipend to the playwrights, directors, and actors, plus housing. Laura’s hope for next year is to raise enough money to pay for playwrights’ travel.

The mission of The Women Playwrights’ Initiative is to Inspire, Empower, Validate, and Celebrate women playwrights. They develop new one-act plays by and about women, and the issues that shape our lives: friendship, political and economic advocacy, sexual satisfaction, aging, gender equality, racial issues, marriage, singlehood, motherhood, careers, and power. The Ivoryton Playhouse Women Playwrights’ Initiative is impressive for what it gives to all dramatists. So, too, is its founder, the indomitable Laura Copland.

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