Hedgebrook is a paradise for women and nonbinary writers working in all genres, set on an island near Seattle. If women writers are warriors, Hedgebrook binds wounds and stirs courage. Gloria Steinem, who serves on the Creative Advisory Council, describes Hedgebrook’s ethos of Radical Hospitality: “It’s as if women have taken their 5000 years of nurturing experience and turned it on each other.” Or as outgoing Executive Director Amy Wheeler put it in a typical off-the-cuff gem last spring: “At Hedgebrook, unconditional love sparks a revolution.”
A writer lives in her own cottage designed to be cozy (a desk, a windowseat, and a writing chair!) yet solo (tea makings for one!). All gather for dinner at the farmhouse, feasting on local foods prepared around individual needs while maintaining a communal vibe (Enjoy this salad from our garden! Tomatoes and other nightshades are in that bowl!). Masterful chefs bake daily, the fridge holds duck eggs and goat yogurt, and shelves of mason jars known as the Snack Pantry feed procrastination cravings. Hedgebrook is the only writer’s retreat I know that publishes a cookbook.
Like actual paradise, Hedgebrook is eye-of-the-needle exclusive – about fifteen hundred applications yearly for a few dozen spots. But every spring, Hedgebrook hosts the Women Playwrights Festival, in which five or six playwrights get to skip the line and attend as a group. So how do you get your femme self invited to that festival?
The good and the bad: a theater needs to bring you, usually because you are under commission. Bad, because many playwrights don’t have commissions. Good, because under the brilliant leadership of Wheeler, a playwright and Guild Member, the Women Playwrights Festival has become a a production parity machine, adding resources and devotion to existing partnerships, and accelerating plays to production. This works in a nifty triple move: 1) Hedgebrook rewards theaters that support women, by covering costs of a residency. 2) The residency time helps the writer complete her play. 3) The mix of excellence, bounty, and curiosity in the opening weekend creates a sense that nascent work is unstoppable.
This opening weekend (which I attended twice as a playwright and once as Cheryl West’s guest) is like an island garden party wrapped around a think tank. Staff members from each commissioning theater arrives, along with a guest invited by each playwright (a collaborator, director, or theater professional the writer wants to know better). These folks are fed and nurtured too. The schedule includes lots of breaks; it’s not a conference so much as a reset. Some go for beach walks. Some sip tea on the porch swing. Alignment and joy arise. Action and advocacy follow.
So: the Women Playwrights Festival can’t serve writers who are unconnected to theaters. If that’s you, you’re better off applying in summer with the general application. But women often get stuck in mid-career – a commission that goes nowhere, a residency that doesn’t yield production. If you are in this state, with a theater that has committed to you by commission, residency, writer’s group etc, perhaps suggest a getaway. You never know how love may bloom.
KAREN HARTMAN is a 2019/2020 Guggenheim Fellow.