Jennifer Hale

Every play this season
is written by a woman.

Lydia Diamond

Jordan Hall

Several studies and surveys
point out that only a fraction
of theatre productions
across the country
are currently featuring
female playwrights.

Anne Washburn

Anne Washburn’s dark
comedy Mr. Burns, the Post
Electric Play
, takes place
nearly a century from now,
where members of a
post-apocalyptic civilization
sit around a campfire
and piece together the plot
of a Simpsons episode.

Lillian Hellman

Estrogen Almighty

by Julie Clay

THE 2015-2016 SEASON marks 22 consecutive years of thought-provoking, quality performances from Theatre Conspiracy, and this year there’s an interesting theme: Every play is written by a woman (with the exception of the New Playwright contest in May). The decision to take the season in this direction is based on the decidedly low number of female-penned productions in recent years, an anomaly happening not just locally, but elsewhere throughout the country.“If you were to look at the past few seasons of theatre in Southwest Florida you will see that less than 20% of the plays produced were written by female playwrights,” says Producing Artistic Director Bill Taylor, also referencing the 2013-2014 Broadway season that had no new plays written by women.

As an added commitment, Theatre Conspiracy will donate 50% of each opening night’s ticket sales to a local charity dedicated to helping women and girls. Beneficiaries are PACE Center for Girls, Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition, AFCAAM, and Human Trafficking Awareness. Also, as incentive to attract a younger audience, the Theatre is offering student-priced tickets for women under 41 years of age. Why that odd number? Taylor explains that someone who just turned 40 might feel a little younger paying the student price of $11.

“This year we will do our part to highlight some amazing plays by women both classic and new,” he stresses, adding that this is definitely not a ‘chick-flick’ type of lineup. “I’m trying to emphasize quality theatre”, Taylor explains, “We have a wide variety of it. The lighthearted type of show, a very serious show, a kind of off-the-wall type of show. It runs the gamut.”

A quick look at their season confirms his enthusiasm. Fresh off October’s Toys in the Attic, by Lillian Hellmann comes Anne Washburn’s dark Simpsons-based comedy Mr. Burns, the Post Electric Play in November and December. The futuristic story takes place nearly a century from now, where members of a post-apocalyptic civilization sit around a campfire and piece together the plot of a Simpsons episode. Jump to 75 years beyond that, and Bart & Co. have become the stuff of legend upon which new forms of performance are created.

Director Rachel Endrizzi says the play is a conversation starter. “It really looks at what happens to all of the things we love about pop culture when they’re not here, and what it turns into for the next generation’, she emulates, “The focus is more of a pop culture thing – Britney Spears, etc. – all mashed into a Simpsons episode, like when you play ‘telephone,’ but the end has evolved into something completely new from the beginning.”

January’s production is Kayak, by Jordan Hall, winner of the 2010 Samuel French Canadian Playwrights Contest. As doting suburban mom, Annie Iversen is stranded alone in a kayak on a vast stretch of water, she recounts the events that brought her here. Her son Peter has fallen in love with a passionate environmental activist, and Annie has taken it upon herself to keep him from falling ever deeper into his girlfriend’s dangerous world. In doing so, she unwittingly throws herself into the path of events larger than she ever could have conceived.

Theatre Conspiracy’s initiative to showcase the work of minority artists continues in February with The Bluest Eyes, by Lydia Diamond. The play is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Toni Morrison. This critically-acclaimed adaptation follows three girls in post-depression Ohio. Eleven year-old Pecola Breedlove despises her dark skin and prays for blue eyes, certain that love will follow. Claudia and Frieda McTeer are sisters who watch over Pecola when the rest of the community fails to do so. It’s a story of a young girl’s coming of age, the devastating events she endures, and the standards of beauty evident in this poverty-stricken, still-segregated time period.

March’s production at Theatre Conspiracy challenges our perception of the world with The Nether, by Jennifer Haley. Questioning the boundaries of reality, The Nether examines moral responsibility in virtual worlds. Opening with an interrogation scene taking place online, Detective Morris questions Mr. Sims about his activities in a role-playing realm so realistic it mimics life almost perfectly. The clash of wills that ensues leads to a consequence neither could have imagined.

The final production this season, in May, is the winner of Theatre Conspiracy’s 17th Annual New Play Contest. The winner has not yet been chosen and the decision will not be based on gender. Over 600 entries have been received from all over the U.S., Canada, England, France, and Australia. The winning play will be announced in November.

Taylor encourages theatergoers to enjoy the eclectic lineup for which Theatre Conspiracy is known, “This is nothing different than any other quality season that we put together,” he says, “just that we’re highlighting women’s contributions. It’s not the kind of thing that guys won’t like. These are fantastic, diverse kinds of plays.” •

Theatre Conspiracy performs at the Foulds Theatre on the campus of the Lee County Alliance of the Arts, located at 10091 McGregor Blvd. in Fort Myers. Call 936-3239 for more information.

November-December 2015