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by Hedgebrook Guest

Now that the Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival is in its 19th year, I find that I’m in the past and in the present all at the same time. As I walk up the road from the Farmhouse toward the cottages, I hear echoes of laughter and snippets of conversations past, the deep reverberations of the playwrights who’ve been here before. Even as I greet the 2016 Hedgebrook playwrights for the first time—and they’re an astonishing group of women: Kristiana Rae Colón, Virginia Grise, Dawn Renee Jones, Madhuri Shekar, and Regina Taylor—I simultaneously recall the sound of Dael Orlandersmith telling rock ‘n’ roll stories, the image of Danai Gurira hunched over her laptop, and a walk to Double Bluff beach with Sarah Treem. I remember laughing till we cried and crying till we laughed with Kathleen Tolan. I remember the “whoosh” of Theresa Rebeck slipping new pages under my door at 7:00 a.m. I remember playing poker with Tory Stewart, collecting rocks on the beach with Lydia Stryk, and attending mass with Julia Cho. I think of hanging out in the farmhouse after dinner and hearing Tanya Barfield read the first scenes of what would become Blue Door, Lynn Nottage sharing the exquisite beginnings of what would become Intimate Apparel, and Caridad Svich reading an early draft of Magnificent Waste (“B-b-b-boy in a box.”). Each memory conjures up ten more. Alice Tuan, Lenelle Moïse, Tanya Saracho, Karen Hartman, Rosanna Staffa, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Karen Zacarías . . . so many extraordinary women who’ve gathered here over time to dig deep into their writing, share generously of their lives, and create the plays that, one by one, are transforming the American theatre.

How can a place that’s so deeply familiar, so steeped in joyful exchange, daring exploration, and, well, history, be new every time? That’s the great magic of Hedgebrook. And let’s get real: it’s not magic. It’s the labor of a small but mighty group of chefs, gardeners, and others who make sure that every detail is in place for the support of the writers. When a playwright enters her cottage, it’s clear that someone has considered what she needs before her arrival. She’s got a desk with a view into the woods, an armchair with just the right lumbar support, a windowseat to curl up in when she wants to read, and a woodstove to stoke for crackling fires. She can bike over to Double Bluff beach when she needs to work out a problem, or venture into the woods to Cedar Deep for quiet contemplation. At dinnertime, she joins her circle of playwrights to swap stories over beautifully crafted, locally sourced meals. Her only real responsibility is to write. And she’s reminded that her voice matters.

But by itself, a lovely place does not a fruitful retreat make. It’s all about the people. Over the past several years, Hedgebrook has partnered with regional theatres across the country to invite women playwrights who are working on commissions. This year, the conversation over the dinner table has been particularly rich. Chicago’s Goodman Theatre introduced us to Kristiana Rae Colón, who’s writing florissant & canfield, a play about the fight for justice on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting. Oregon Shakespeare Festival brought us Virginia Grise, who’s adapting Helena Maria Viramontes’ arresting novel Their Dogs Came With Them, the story of young Mexican-Americans in East LA during the tumultuous 1960s. Dawn Renee Jones, winner of Southern Rep’s Ruby Prize, is working on Bufkin Beauties, a new play that asks what happens to creative gypsies as they enter old age without pensions, assets, or domestic partners. Seattle Repertory Theatre invited Madhuri Shekar, who is working on Queen, a play about Ph.D candidates Sanam and Ariel, who have spent the better part of a decade exhaustively researching vanishing bee populations around the globe. And Regina Taylor returns to Hedgebrook to work on a commission from Denver Center Theatre Company, a play about Aesop, the Ethiopian slave in ancient Greece who won his freedom with his skills as a storyteller.

Everybody’s working hard, but the work is joyful, too. Last night we stayed up late to play bocce, drink rhubarb margaritas, and watch the stars at Vito and Dorit Zingarelli’s Whidbey Island home. Today, Kristiana is watching orcas on the waters of the Puget Sound as part of the research for her upcoming play, Tilakum. Liz Engelman, one of my partners-in-dramaturgy, is stretched out in the sunshine alongside Hedgebrook’s beautiful organic gardens, making phone calls to actors as she finalizes casting for our public readings. And I’m at the writing desk in Meadow House, looking out over the trees to Useless Bay, with majestic Mt. Rainier floating above the horizon. I’ve got sunshine, a stack of reading, and a deep sense of connection to playwrights and dramaturgs across time and space. I’ve come to see that this time at Hedgebrook is about being alone and together, embracing the solitude that feeds the work and deriving strength from the community that supports it. And whether we’re feeding logs into the woodstove or helping each other find our way home in the deep, deep dark of the woods at night, none of us is ever truly alone. The connections made here make a difference.


About the Author:

Christine Sumption

Christine Sumption has served as a dramaturg for Sundance Theatre Lab, the New Harmony Project, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Icicle Creek Theatre Festival, and Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival, with which she has a 19-year affiliation. She has worked with playwrights Tanya Barfield (Blue Door), Leanna Brodie (The Book of Esther), Sarah Ruhl (The Clean House), Kathleen Tolan (Memory House), and Cheryl L. West (Pullman Porter Blues), among many others. Her directing credits include productions at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Tacoma Actors Guild, and DARTS/Company Subaru in Tokyo, where she served as Resident Director for three years. She was on the artistic staff of Seattle Repertory Theatre for nine seasons, where she served as dramaturg/literary manager, edited publications, and produced the annual Women Playwrights Festival in partnership with Hedgebrook, a Whidbey Island writers retreat. She is now a Festival Dramaturg at Hedgebrook and teaches at Cornish College of the Arts. Hedgebrook Plays, Volume 1, which she co-edited with Liz Engelman, was published by Whit Press in November, 2012.



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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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1 Comment

  • Kelly Clayton
    12:21 PM - 12 May, 2016

    Beautiful. Thank you for writing this.

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