Artemisia Invests in Women Playwrights
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Artemisia
Since its founding in 2011, Chicago’s Artemisia company has focused on plays with a clear feminist viewpoint. (Most of those plays have been by women, though male writers have also been represented occasionally.) Now artistic director Julie Proudfoot is making even more of a commitment to these writers with a new production model that allows for more developmental workshops and audience engagement over a longer period.
In the past Artemisia’s annual fall festival of six new plays in staged readings (running September 25-27 and October 2-4 at the Edge Theater in Edgewater) let audiences select one of the plays to go on to a full production with the company.
In the new model, Proudfoot will select the play and then offer the playwright a longer two-year development process that brings the audience in at nearly every step.
The first show selected for development in this new model, Traci Godfrey’s "Sweet Texas Reckoning," was part of the fall festival in 2016 and is slated for a full production in June of 2019. Last year’s selection from the festival, Caity-Shea Violette’s "Reap the Grove," will go up in a full production in 2020. Both of these were also audience favorites.
Proudfoot says “The initial ambition was to do the fall festival and the following year or so have a full production. What we discovered as I worked with playwrights was they got very excited about the development process.” 2016’s full production was Chewing on Beckett, written by Proudfoot’s husband, Ed Proudfoot, and selected after the audience favorite, Tira Palmquist’s "Two Degrees," ended up not being available for a full production due to other commitments.
“We worked on it longer and did something different. It really allowed us to develop the play more fully,” said Proudfoot.
Godfrey’s play is a bit of an outlier for this new model, as it has already undergone quite a bit of revision since its appearance in Artemisia’s fall festival. An earlier version received a production in spring of 2016 in Long Beach, California.
But Godfrey says “Julie was very instrumental in some of the revisions I made on this last part of the play. She called me and said ‘I want to run some stuff by you – you can say yes or no.’ She is a wonderful dramaturg and I am a sponge as a playwright.”
Set – as the title suggests – in Texas, Godfrey’s play concerns Ellie, an aging Baptist woman in a small town who wants to connect with her semi-estranged daughter, Kate, who moved to New York some years earlier to pursue a career as a dancer. But when Kate arrives for a visit with her African-American girlfriend, a “reckoning” is indeed in the works.
There will be further audience-participation readings in Chicago for the play. Godfrey, who is based out of New York, will be coming in for those. “My understanding is that it’s a meet-the-playwright kind of thing. Which can be developmental if there’s something to be done.”
Proudfoot notes that "Reap the Grove" is already receiving informal “table readings” with the company and that more public workshops will be in the pipeline for that play as well.
How does she define a feminist play? For Proudfoot, the answers can be found in the two questions audiences are asked to consider after each reading in the fall festival: Did the play empower women? Did it challenge you to see women differently?
“Women fall into these stereotypes,” says Proudfoot. “There’s the moral model of the nun, the lascivious woman, the nagging wife. We don’t necessarily have feminist three-dimensional fully complex characters with all the flaws and virtues and complexities of great male characters.”
Proudfoot, who once worked as a story analyst for HBO, says the key for a good feedback session is “focused questions on what the playwright is trying to do, rather than asking the audience generic questions, I am a stickler for specificity. I’m not trying to put the audience on the spot. They really, on a gut level, have the sense of the truth of a story and let us know whether or not it’s believable and whether or not it’s interesting.”
Artemisia charges no submission fees for Chicago-based writers, but after receiving 700 submissions in 2014, with “90 percent of them male-driven,” according to Proudfoot, they realized they needed to streamline the selection process by focusing on writers with whom they had “a working professional relationship,” as Proudfoot notes, or by reaching out to agents and other literary managers for suggestions.
Proudfoot’s ambitions for Artemisia (which is named for the Italian Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, famed for her portraits of strong women in myth and Biblical stories) aren’t small. “I have always wanted to add to the canon of great feminist plays,” she says. “I want them to go up on the shelf and people to say ‘This is a fabulous play and it needs to be done and done and done.’ Women make up more than half the population of the world. What about their stories. How many have we really heard?”