A woman from Alabama had a spark of a thought. So she started a Facebook page which grew exponentially. It was about women writing about women. The spark grew till women all over the world started to join her.
I’m talking about 365 WOMEN A YEAR: A PLAYWRIGHTING PROJECT which involves hundreds of women who have written one-act plays about extraordinary women. The project’s goal is to write women back into the social consciousness with all the plays written and directed by women.
365 WOMEN A YEAR was founded by Jess Eisenberg and Gina Scanlon. This international playwriting project involves over 200 playwrights who have signed on to write plays about women in both past and present history.
One of the first champions of the project in New York was friend of The Happiest Medium, playwright Robin Rice. I’m lucky to be able to speak with both Robin as well as co-founder Jess Eisenberg about this wonderful Project.
Robin, tell me about your personal experience with the 365 Women a Year Project. When and how did your involvement start?
Robin Rice: In 2014 I noticed a new group forming on Facebook called 365 Women a Year: A Playwriting Project. Jess Eisenberg had started the page. She put a call out to women playwrights — a challenge really. She wanted plays about real women (past or present) who had affected our world. Real women with real stories in all walks of life. The goal was to write these women back into history, to raise consciousness about the contributions women have made. I had a short play that had just been produced in New York about Vanessa Bell (the painter) and her sister Virginia Woolf. I also had a full-length play about early environmentalist Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, one about the first woman photo-journalist Alice Austen, and shorts that involved Martha Stewart and Sasha Montenegro (a B movie actor married to a notorious former president of Mexico). So I signed onto the project.
Little did I dream how it would explode! None of us had any idea.
That’s wonderful synergy – and it looks like just as it was happening to you, many women around the country were having the same experience! Jess – is this what was hoped for/envisioned? And speak about how different regions – including NYC – are helping 365 Women a Year to expand.
Jess Eisenberg: We have been so thankful to have playwrights that are beyond dedicated and are not just writing pieces for the project, but are also organizing festivals around the world. It is beyond what I envisioned. Some of our playwrights are artistic directors as well, and have put a slot for a 365 festival into their season each year. Our European chair, Beatriz Cabur, has organized festivals in Spain and is now relocated to England. She is such a lightning rod that we went from a few UK participants to dozens signing up to write this year.
There are so many of our playwrights in NYC that we’ve had multiple festivals there and we all stay in touch via our Facebook group and twitter. Any time one of our playwrights is having a 365 show produced (or one of their other pieces) I tweet. The NYC playwrights definitely set a powerful example and inspired more playwrights to want to do the same thing in their region.
Robin, as a busy playwright, what excites you about this project? What makes THIS something you’re interested in, given that there are so many things going on in your life?
Robin: Not only do I know that the mission is very important, the energy of this purely female-driven movement (which is what it has become) can’t be ignored. Plus, I love challenges. Finding out about women who have made contributions to our world and yet have been buried by time has always interested me, and here was a reason to do some digging. Plus, it’s really not a big commitment. I contributed more plays in 2015, but most were already written and all I did was create monologues for the women or shape short plays from material in a full-length play that I had already written.
My plays for the project in 2015 were about (1) three pacifist Dominican nuns, (2) newscaster Paula Zahn and Mary Tyler Moore, and (3) the only play I’ve written specifically for the project, a monologue by an ancestor of mine, Alice Chase, who had the first baby born in Cornish, NH, back in the pioneering days of our country. This year I’m going to use material in LUST & LIES, a full-length based on the true story of Lucretia Winthrop Chapman who was one of the first educators with a school for young women, back in the early 1800s. Lucretia may or may not have murdered her husband.
Take me through a typical NYC run-through from conception to completion so readers can feel the energy of the project.
Robin: This is the part where I really got excited. I kept an eye on the Facebook page back when the Project first began. More and more women playwrights “claimed” their subjects (you can’t write about someone if another writer is already writing about that woman) — playwrights all over the country. I saw quite a few New Yorkers joining in, so on a whim I posed a question on the Facebook page: Anybody in New York or nearby want to get together and organize a public reading of our 365 plays? I named a time and date maybe a week away and said to just show up at my apartment. That night, 15 women playwrights showed up. We were strangers for the most part, but not for long!
Fifteen plays was a lot to handle, but we did it. Everyone took different jobs — finding a venue, looking for a producer, making the program, doing publicity, etc. We didn’t want to charge admission, and nobody had much money, so this was a huge challenge, especially in expensive New York City. But we did it. A couple of months later our event was held at The Sheen Center and it was a roaring success. We called ourselves 365-NYC-1. On the Facebook page I encouraged other groups to have readings. Two more groups formed in New York City in 2015, and many others popped up all over the country. This year I see that there is a lot of international activity. Obviously this Project had been waiting to happen!
A few months ago I got together with Barbara Kahn from the NYC-1 group and strategized. She was having a play produced at Theater for the New City and we could use the stage on the dark night. Yay! I emailed the NYC-1 writers and said the first 6 who got back to me with interest in doing this again would be part of NYC-4 (continuing the NYC numbering from last year). Within two minutes my inbox was overflowing. I wish it didn’t have to have a limited number, but 15 was really unweildy. On March 23, eight of us will have 365 plays read at Theater for the New City.
Jess, it must be incredible to hear that in NYC alone the numbers are “unweildy”. And it must be astonishing to see the orders of magnitude by which this has grown internationally. If you can keep dreaming big, what would you want?
Jess: Next on my dream list is to have a digital brochure that we can send to every theatre around the world to promote gender parity in their seasons through producing 365 plays. The first two years we accepted one acts only, this year plays can be any length. My first goal is representing as many historical women as possible, and that’s why we do not yet take duplicates. We write about 365 different women each year. I make sure that we are representing women of different religions, ethnicities, and cultures. I want to have women from every country in the world represented.
The second goal is getting more female playwrights produced and more female directors at the helm. We’ve definitely gone beyond what I envisioned in a very short time and we have our incredible playwrights to thank for that.
I would love at some point to upgrade our web site to having an actual search field for playwrights, historical women, and plays. Right now, I’ve done it all manually, so you can search by time period, keyword, alphabetically, etc. It would be lovely if it could be more streamlined. I think it would be incredible on our ten year anniversary to have a 365 Gala and honor all of our playwrights and get to all meet each other in person from around the world. Every time a list of plays get selected for a theatre’s festival, I recognize most of the female playwrights names. It makes the big theatre world seem much smaller and now when my name isn’t on the list, I’m not as bummed as I would have been, because I am filled with such joy to see a playwright I know on the list. It’s incredible to have such a supportive community of playwrights. The sky’s the limit dream, would be to actually have 365 theaters around the world where the plays are produced all season long with female directors at the helm.
I love these dreams! They’re amazing and lovely – and I wouldn’t be surprised if you cross half of them off your list sooner than you ever expected!
Robin and Jess – I’m going to ask the obvious question. Have you had anyone say “Why not a 365 MEN a Year Project”? If so, how do you speak to that?
Robin: That’s easy. Less than 20% of the plays produced in the U.S. are written by women, and that’s climbed in recent years because of a groundswell of activism on the part of women playwrights. It’s been a big movement. A lot of pressure has been applied to theaters with all-male seasons, to competitions and contests that have given awards to only male writers for decades, to short play festivals that produce lineups of only male-written plays. The guys have been running things forever. We women are pushing forward. This Project enables us to not only make our voices heard, the subject we are writing about is in league with our mission. I’m sure that’s part of why it’s exploded like it has.
Jess:We haven’t had any push back like that. We did get asked on a podcast if we think the reason less female playwrights get produced is because their plays just aren’t as strong. Mostly, we have has such amazing support. We have a handful of male playwrights that write with us as well. I have had it cross my mind to start a 365 Men of Color a year project, because I think there are many men of color’s stories that are lost and need to be heard. I’m just not sure I can take that on and my passion has always been women in history. It’s the lost women who have always haunted me. But no, no one has attacked us in that way. Most likely, because we are such a niche and the people who end up hearing about us are like minded individuals.
Jess, Robin – I want to thank you both for speaking to me about 365 Woman A Year. I’m excited to hear how this Project, and these international festivals, continue to grow!
If you’re in NYC and you’re interested in seeing the evening of readings:
March 23rd, 2016
Theater for the New City, Cino Theater
155 1st Avenue at 10th Street
(By subway: L to 1st Avenue; 6 to Astor Place)
The readings are free, but reservations are highly suggested. CLICK HERE TO RESERVE
JESS EISENBERG is a teacher, singer, actress, composer, and playwright. She has taught children’s theatre and music across the continent with Missoula Children’s Theatre, Pied Piper Players, and Piano Lessons in Your Home. She currently teaches voice and piano with Mason Music and loves getting to teach with Red Mountain Theater. Jess co-founded Prologue Theatre in Chicago and is the founder of 365 Women a Year, an international playwriting project.
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ROBIN RICE is a playwright whose work can be seen internationally. Select productions 2010-15 – New York City: PLAY NICE! (Off-Broadway), THE POWER OF BIRDS, NOT STILL LIFE, IN THE BEGINNING… BURYING ELEPHANTS, HAPPIWY EVER AFTER, ALLIE’S APPENDIX, EVERYDAY EDNAMAE (1-act), LOLA AND THE PLANET OF GLORIOUS DIVERSITY, THE OTHERSHOE. ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE (Louisville); LISTEN! THE RIVER (Edinburgh Fringe/London/South Africa); BLOOD SISTERS (CA); SECRETS ON A CHINESE BED (MA/South Korea). Hollywood: world premiere WOMEN w/o WALLS, 2015.
Most notably: *publication of PLAY NICE! by Original Works Publishing *premiere of WOMEN w/o WALLS in Hollywood with Broad’s Word Theatre last November-December; *upcoming Off-Broadway production of ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE with Looking for Lilith Theatre Company in August
Find out more at the Robin Rice website or follow on twitter: @RobinRiceWrites