The Strong Female Character: you’ve seen all the submission opportunities clamoring for more of them. But what does “strong” mean? Is it the loudest, the biggest, the baddest? Do they have to punch someone? Or do they just have the most lines?
This question speaks to the heart of the mission of Seattle’s Macha Theatre Works, a female-led, non-profit company dedicated to making Fearless Female Theatre. The company began as Macha Monkey Productions, cofounded in 2001 by Kristina Sutherland Rowell and Desiree Prewitt. The quirky name was chosen in memoriam to their friend who adopted a spider monkey in the wild. In 2017, under the leadership of Amy Poisson and Kyna Grace Shilling, the name changed to Macha Theatre Works under the symbol of Macha, a Celtic warrior goddess. The company now produces a three-show season and recently became the artist-in-residence at West of Lenin performing arts space.
Macha accepts full-length play submissions for its Distillery New Work reading series, with public readings from January–June, and the plays are often considered for Macha’s main season. They prefer unproduced work but will also consider plays not produced in the Seattle area. The plays must either have 50% or more female characters, 50% or more lines spoken by women, female characters central to the narrative, a female perspective to the story, or the play empowers women in some way. Also, no arbitrary violence against or abuse of women; however, if this is important to the narrative, it must be addressed intentionally in ways that do not perpetuate rape culture.
I was fortunate to have the world premiere of my play Sheathed with Macha in 2019, preceded by two Distillery readings to develop it. The play was inspired by the Old West, medieval fantasy, and samurai films. I am a huge fan of plays with swords, but it often frustrated me that the obligatory “woman with a sword” character was usually some voluptuous Valkyrie in a metal bikini, whose power sprang from her capacity for killing. So instead, I wrote a play featuring a swordswoman who shows her strength through restraint, keeping her deadly blade sheathed through her own understanding of the lasting consequence of violence.
It made for an odd show pitch: “This play is about being strong enough NOT to use your sword.” But that is the extraordinary thing about Macha. Rather than telling you what a strong female character is, they allow you to ask what it means to you. And, as Macha’s past productions have shown, strong female characters are everywhere. They are a mother trying to keep her family together, a Muslim choosing to wear a veil, an Italian Baroque painter speaking up against her abuser, or even a warrior who sheathes her sword. Strong female characters are not just one thing, but many different voices. And the core of Macha’s strength is embracing all these glorious connections and contradictions, resulting in a fascinating kaleidoscope of Fearless Female Theatre.
For more information, visit machatheatreworks.com.
MAGGIE LEE is a Seattle playwright who creates diverse, imaginative new worlds in genres like science fiction, horror, and adventure. Recently, her play Sheathed won the 2019 Gregory Award for Outstanding New Play. Her work is available on NPX and published by Mneme Press (mnemepress.org).