On July 12-14 at several locations throughout downtown Raleigh, the Women’s Theatre Festival will be hosting events such as workshops, staged readings and shows in hopes of increasing representation for marginalized genders in theater.
With locations including NC State’s Thompson Hall, Burning Coal Theatre, HQ Raleigh, The Wicked Witch, Ruby Deluxe and Artspace, the Women’s Theatre Festival will be showcasing the work of female-identifying and nonbinary playwrights, directors and actors.
According to Rachel Kasten, the festival’s community outreach coordinator and a Ph.D. program coordinator for geospatial analytics at NC State, the festival has three categories of events. The first is WTFCon, which is focused on professional development and will include workshops on improving auditions, panels on improving inclusivity in theater and sessions on disability theory in theater.
The second category is WTFringe, which will showcase fully staged experimental works such as one-woman shows, and the third category is Occupy the Stage, which is staged readings written by female-identifying or nonbinary playwrights.
“We have 36 hours of programming of staged readings of plays,” Kasten said. “That’s been going on for a few years. It used to be an overnight thing that was 24 hours straight. It grew out of this idea of local people saying ‘Well, we can’t produce more plays by women because there aren’t any.’ We’re saying that if we can find this many, then so can you.”
Kasten explained that the festival is working toward equal representation in theater in the Triangle.
“We joke that we have ‘binders full of women,’ that line that Mitt Romney said,” Kasten said. “We have literal binders full of women who are trained directors, lighting directors, sound designers, stage directors, actors, people who are not men who are trained, so that when people say ‘We only hire men because that’s the only people who are qualified,’ then we can say ‘Well, actually, we have all of these people in the community that you could be choosing from.’”
There will be a WTFCon panel on July 14 at 1:30 p.m. at HQ Raleigh, entitled “Why Are Theater Critics So Critical?” This event is free for anyone with a student ID and will focus on theater criticism and how it is changing in the age of the internet. The panel will feature prominent theater critics of the Triangle, including Roy C. Dicks, a longtime critic for The News & Observer, Lauren Van Hemert from RDU on Stage, Katy Koop, who has written for Indy Week, and Dustin K. Britt, the managing editor for Chatham Life & Style. Britt said that this panel breaks down the mystique of theater criticism.
“In any area of arts criticism, wherever you go in the world, there’s questions about what is arts criticism,” Britt said. “That’s the thing that’s most confusing to people; people don’t know what it is that we do. Why do we do it, and why do we need to do it? It’s one of the most misunderstood facets of the arts, and it is a facet of the arts process. It isn’t separate from the arts; we are part of the same process. I am hoping that this panel is an opportunity for people to see where we fit into the art making process.”
Britt said he hopes this panel makes a panel of all female-identifying critics possible in the future.
“There aren’t a lot of critics in the area whose names are known,” Britt said. “Some of the ones in the area whose names are known are white cisgender men, primarily Roy Dicks, Byron Woods and myself tend to be the ones who probably have the most readership, and the three of us will be the first to tell you that that is an enormous problem. More women on the panel is better. As many women as possible is better. If it could be a whole panel of women, I would be thrilled, and I would sit in the audience and I would learn... I agree that a panel of men or primarily men is not ideal, but unfortunately that’s the situation that we’re in right now statistically.”
Tickets to events at the Women’s Theatre Festival must be purchased prior to the event and range anywhere from $5 for a single show to $150 for a festival pass. Tickets and a full event schedule can be found on the Women’s Theatre Festival website.