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Article Published February 20, 2018
Women Playwrights’ Initiative Returns to Ivoryton Playhouse
Rita Christopher, Senior Correspondent

The Women Playwrights’ Initiative will return to the Ivoryton Playhouse on Friday, March 2 and Saturday, March 3, building on its successful debut season last year. Organizer Laura Copland and a team of play readers she assembled chose four one-act plays from more than 300 that were submitted. Two will be performed in staged readings on each night.

On Friday, March 2, the two featured plays will look at marriage from different perspectives. Henry, Louise and Henri, by Kathleen Cahill, is about the way a viewing of the paintings of Henri Matisse changes the relationship of a long-married couple. To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This, by Jennifer Lane, is about a couple attempting to use a generic list of 36 questions, advertised to repair any relationship, to fix their own troubled marriage.

On Saturday, March 3, the offerings include one more look at marriage, The Gentleman’s Pact by Karen Howes, which examines the tangled consequences that take place when a college professor tells one of his colleagues he wants to marry the colleague’s wife. The other featured play, Blood by Yael Haskal, is a tense drama about the unexpected aftermath of a well-intentioned offer to donate blood.

The audience has a role in the upcoming productions, beyond applauding. Because these are playwriting workshops, each evening will end with a talkback session in which audience members can comment on the plays, offering their own suggestions and critiques.

Last year, Copland said she thought some people had incorrectly envisioned the programs as evenings of militant feminism. That, she emphasized, was not the case.

A Different Perspective

“I think they were pleasantly surprised,” she says. “The program was a success.

Still, she feels there is a distinct difference of outlook between male and female playwrights.

“Women see the world through a different perspective. Any of the subject matter in these plays could have been written by men, but they would have been very different plays,” she says.

She added that featuring women playwrights does not mean that the evening will appeal only to women.

“Men are interested, should be interested, in what women have to say,” she says.

Copland said that although she had asked all the playwrights submitting plays also to send a résumé, she didn’t even look at résumés, only at the plays, while considering them.

Still, the four authors of the featured works have accumulated an impressive list of accomplishments. Cahill, playwright in residence at the Salt Lake Acting Company, has won grants from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, the Massachusetts Arts Foundation, and the National Endowment of the Arts. Lane has won the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans One Act Play Contest and the Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Drama Award at the San Diego Fringe Festival. Howes was the winner of the Maxum Mazumdar New Play Competition in 2011 and the winner of both the Six Women Playwrights Festival in Denver in 2013 and the Ten by Ten One Act Festival in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the same year. Haskal, the youngest of the group, is a junior at Vassar College, who acts as well as writes. She has had internships at the well-known La Mama Experimental Theatre Club and the Manhattan Theatre Club.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of such an exciting festival that celebrates women. Though I’m definitely nervous about being the youngest writer there, I think it’ll be a great opportunity to learn from women who have been working in this field professionally for years,” Haskal notes.

‘It’s All About The Details’

Copland recruited professional actors who auditioned for roles in the four plays. Still, her responsibilities went far beyond casting. She was in charge of everything from selecting the plays to finding homes where actors and directors could stay for rehearsals and the productions themselves.

“It’s all about the details: Do they have cars? Do they need to be picked up at the station? What train are they taking?” she says.

This year, Copland was able to find more financing through private donors and two foundations, the Community Foundation of Middlesex County and the Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut, to underwrite the production. She also credits the ongoing help of Jacqueline Hubbard, the executive director of the Ivoryton Playhouse, and the staff of the playhouse for their ongoing support of the Women Playwrights’ Initiative.

Copland has arranged more promotional appearances this year to publicize the festival. On Wednesday, Feb. 28, there will be a discussion with several playwrights and directors at R.J. Julia/Wesleyan bookstore in Middletown at 7 p.m. and on Thursday, March 1, the playwrights and directors will participate in a panel discussion at the Essex Library, also at 7 p.m.

Women Playwrights’ Initiative

Friday, March 2 and Saturday, 3 at the Ivoryton Playhouse at 7 p.m. For tickets call, 860-767-7318 or follow the links on the Ivoryton Playhouse website Panel Discussions are free and open to the public, with playwrights and directors, and they take place on Wednesday, Feb. 28, at R.J. Julia/Wesleyan Bookstore, 413 Main Street, Middletown, at 7 p.m. and Thursday, March 1, at the Essex Library Association, 33 West Avenue, at 7 p.m.