At the crest of a wave of writer-centered focus in Washington State are four Seattle organizations, overwhelmingly helmed by brilliant, collaborative women who epitomize the independent-yet-interconnected spirit of the Pacific Northwest.
Last March, Macha Theatre Works was poised to premiere The Fifth Wave by Jenn Ruzumna and Lisa Every when Washington State shut down. In response, Producing Artistic Director Amy Poisson did something revolutionary: She paid everyone what they would’ve earned during the run, including the writers. “I would have paid everyone out of my own account if I needed to. They were counting on that money,” said Poisson.
This season, Macha’s “fearless female theatre” – and that includes all women – launched Into the Unknown: 17-Minute Stories, a series of seventeen new solo works based around the question “How did I get here?” Professionally filmed with multiple cameras, excellent sound and lighting design, and simple sets that allowed for a minimum number of people in the theatre, the plays were livestreamed, giving the writers, nearly all local, world premieres that were actual productions. The series can be accessed for up to a year with ticket packages of five to seven plays for $50.
Plays include: Gasp by Claribel Gross; Ancestral Trauma & Healing for Dummies by Maddy Nibble & Christine O’Connor; Dancing Beyond the Veil by Parmida Ziaei; In the Crosshairs by Roz Cornejo; All the Tracys by Tracy Leigh; Letters I Never Wrote by Ana Maria Campoy; Somnolent by Marianna de Fazio; 357 Days by Nava Ruthfield; The Ties of Ropa by Kerry Jacinto; The Volcano by Joy McCullough; The Transcendence byAlma Davenport; Notes for my Daughter by Kathy Hsieh; Don’t Pray for Me by Rebecca Goldberg; Limbo by Tayo Talabi; Heritage Lost: Excavating a Purloined History by Susanna Burney; Smeared by Jenn Ruzumna; The Sum of Identity by Cassandra Leon. https://www.machatheatreworks.com/
Producing Artistic Director Alma Davenport co-founded Brown Soul Productions with her sister, Board President Alba Davenport, with the mission “…to provide a platform that nurtures and amplifies the voices of women of color through the development and production of new creative works.”
“I wanted to be in a space where we were really developing writers and not just developing craft, but creating a pipeline for next steps,” said Davenport. “Navigating that system is not simple. We have to take control, or nothing will happen.”
As the new stewards of The Slate Theater, BSP was set to premiere Bounce by Somnia Mari Feral last March but chose to shelve the production until it could be presented as it was intended: in the theatre. Instead, they focused on building community and developing writers, quickly discovering that, while Zoom isn’t a great place for productions, it can be a vital tool in the development of new work. Artistic Director Annie Lareau and Managing Director Cristin Miller of Seattle Public Theater approached BSP in an effort to partner with smaller BIPOC organizations and the result, in collaboration with The Hansberry Project, was the Hue Festival, a women-of-color playwriting festival leading up to Juneteenth. Two of the plays come directly from BSP’s playwriting students.
Plays include: The Rent Party Project by Valerie Curtis-Newton; Original Intent by Jasmine Mahmoud; Homecoming by Sandra Holloway; and The Third Party by Monifa T. Christian. https://www.brownsoulproductions.org/
New on the scene is SCRiB LAB, brainchild of Miriam BC Tobin. Free and open to writers of all genres, the organization answers writers’ need for community in a year of intense isolation. Laser-focused on supporting writers during the development process, offerings include Virtual Study Halls, silent writing sessions book-ended with fifteen minutes of chat; Scribble, where writers can talk about nascent ideas; online classes and mini labs where the teachers are actually paid; ScriptLab, a space dedicated to theatre writers; and the Virtual Café, an open-ended space for writers to talk about writing.
“As playwrights, I think we need to talk about our craft,” said Tobin. “Not always about a specific play we’re working on, but about playwriting. When I hear about other writers’ struggles and successes, it gets me going again. Alone, I don’t always know how to move forward.”
At the end of the summer, Tobin will launch playwriting groups through ScriptLab, beginning online and moving to an in-person or hybrid model as the landscape shifts. https://www.scriblab.org/
Rain City Projects, with a board led by Darian Lindle, Maggie Lee, Juliet Pruzan, Meghan Arnette, Kristina Sutherland-Rowell, and Anuhea Brown, has an open-armed approach to community-building that feels like an oasis in an industry overly populated with gatekeepers and a willingness to adapt to writers’ needs.
“We try to support playwrights in different ways: as human beings, as writers, with snacks, community, and an open heart,” says Lee. “Tell us what you need, and we’ll do it,” says Lindle.
This season, RCP launched New Plays – No Pants Required, weekly sessions where playwrights and theatremakers meet online to share new pages and give targeted feedback on areas including theme, stagecraft, rhythm, and voice. There are two 30-minute slots for writers, given on a first-come, first-served basis (overflow moves to a waitlist) with other participants signing up as listeners or readers. Playwrights can also opt into having the chat open to see how people react to their work in real time.
“We’re using Zoom in a way that serves the playwright,” says Brown, who coordinates the series. She favors pairing an experienced playwright with a new playwright, treating them with total equality during the talkbacks.
“When you first start out, you need that push of legitimacy,” says Pruzan. “It comes across that wherever you are in your career, you matter.”
RCP’s famous salons and brunches are on hold, but their (Re)Treats have shifted online: three to four hours of virtual community, alternating 50 minutes of silent writing with ten minutes of chat, with prompts provided for inspiration. RCP discovered real benefits to developing plays online including improved access, maximizing people’s time, no need for childcare, and complete avoidance of Seattle’s infamous traffic. (We already know how they feel about pants.) https://www.raincityprojects.org/