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by Hedgebrook Guest

One year ago I boarded a ferry headed for Whidbey Island, for the beginning of a two-week stay at Hedgebrook, for their annual Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival. I was invited by the Goodman Theatre, which had commissioned me to write a new play KING OF THE YEES for them. Today, one year later, I have a co-production of the play scheduled for 2017 at the Goodman and Center Theatre Group, a Canadian premiere of the same play, and two additional commissions that are almost certainly connected to my time on Whidbey Island. Hedgebrook has certainly been one of the most helpful vehicles for creating momentum around my work, and since Hedgebrook, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how this exactly happened and how to replicate this in everyday life.

Just to back up for a moment: what exactly is the Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival? For the past several years, Hedgebrook has partnered with regional theaters around the country and invites them to bring their female commissioned writers to the island for the residency. The two weeks kick off with a pre-retreat weekend, where we shared our work with each other, the dramaturgs-in-residence, and a dozen or so invited industry professionals from all across the country. The next two weeks were spent in writing mode, each writer in a little cottage, and breaking bread together each night, before the residency culminated in a public presentation of excerpts from each play for the Whidbey Island and Seattle communities. This residency so expertly tows the line between solitude and community, creating a strangely magical atmosphere with its communal dinners, straight-from-the-garden salads, and contemplative woods.

In thinking about how Hedgebrook achieves all this, I came back to this simple idea: to me, theater is all about love. There is so little money to be made that any production is/must always be an act of love. Artistic directors, producers, and literary managers read so many technically brilliant, very good plays. Great plays, even. But it takes more than that to make the leap into production–and this is the step where many female playwrights get shut out.

So perhaps the best question on how to achieve gender parity (or any kind of parity) boils down to “How do you fall in love with someone?” What does it take? First off, it takes meeting them under the right circumstances, with the right introduction, the right people around you, the right atmosphere to receive their work in the most open, most generous way possible. Or it may take several meetings for them to finally see what you’re working towards. It’s hard to get to know someone on the page. That’s why as a playwright, the first play of yours that a theater reads will probably not be the one they produce. They are just getting to know you. They want to know what’s next before they take the leap.

Hedgebrook tackles this spirit in a variety of ways, first in how it curates the slate of women playwrights, who are invited via the theaters that commission them. While this creates a barrier to entry for some artists, having a big theater like the Goodman or Denver Center stand behind your work and say, “We believe in this writer,” is a phenomenal help. Hedgebrook’s informality–from the way the work is casually presented, cold, just around the table to the way that dramaturgs are invited into the process–puts you in a more generous frame of mind when experiencing the work. I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone to the theater in New York, rushed, flustered, and with the attitude of “impress me,” which is perhaps the worst way to receive a new story. Plays are their own planets, with their own languages, ways of working, and inhabitants. Audience members are anthropologists as much as viewers and the more we are ready to be curious and persistent, the better.

Some of the most successful new play initiatives today also focus on fostering love and momentum. The Kilroys List, an annual list of the top recommended plays by female and trans writers, seeks to foster gender parity by allowing you to spend some time with compelling new work that others in the industry also love. The National New Play Network also capitalizes on the energy of a multitude of theaters, through programs like the Rolling World Premiere program and the National Showcase of New Plays. Like Hedgebrook, NNPN gets producers in the same room together and harnesses the energy and momentum that emerges when exciting new work is presented.

This fall, I get to come back to Whidbey Island, this time with One Coast Collaboration, to develop a brand new play. I’m excited to put these theories into practice and see how else we can create a more equitable theater culture based on love and championing.


About the Author:

Lauren YeeLauren Yee’s play KING OF THE YEES will premiere at the Goodman Theatre and Center Theatre Group in 2017. Other plays include CHING CHONG CHINAMAN (Pan Asian, Mu Performing Arts, SIS Productions, Impact Theatre), CREVICE (Impact), THE HATMAKER’S WIFE (Playwrights Realm, The Hub, Moxie Theatre, AlterTheater, PlayPenn), HOOKMAN (Encore Theatre, Company One), IN A WORD (SF Playhouse, Cleveland Public Theatre, Strawdog, The Hub), SAMSARA (Victory Gardens, Chance Theatre, O’Neill Conference, Bay Area Playwrights Festival), and THE TIGER AMONG US (MAP Fund, Mu). Her work has also been developed at Lincoln Center/LCT3, The Public Theatre, Second Stage, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, Center Stage, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Kitchen Dog, the Magic Theatre, and others. Former Dramatists Guild fellow, MacDowell Colony fellow, Public Theater Emerging Writers Group member, Women’s Project Lab playwright, Second Stage Shank playwright-in-residence, and Playwrights Realm Page One resident playwright. Her play SAMSARA has been a nominee for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the L. Arnold Weissberger Award. Her play THE HATMAKER’S WIFE was an Outer Critics Circle nominee for the John Gassner Award for best play by a new American playwright. She is currently a member of the Ma-Yi Writers’ Lab and a Playwrights’ Center Core Writer. Lauren is also under commission from the Denver Center, Lincoln Center/LCT3, Mixed Blood, Portland Center Stage, South Coast Rep, and Trinity Rep. BA: Yale. MFA: UCSD. www.laurenyee.com



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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.


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