Tennessee Women’s Theater Project is now in the Looby Theater with its seventh annual Women’s Work festival of performing and visual arts created by women that runs through May 19. The festival cuts a broad swath across styles and genres to offer ten completely different programs: poetry and essays; one-woman shows; new plays including a world premiere commissioned by the company; dance, music, film and a display of visual art works in the theater lobby.
Women’s Work was born in 2007 when Maryanna Clarke, the company’s founder and artistic director, suffered a back injury: “My ‘back attack’ happened in January, and after many weeks with my walker and my pain pills, I realized I was in no shape to direct the play we had booked for May that year,” says Clarke. “I sent emails to every woman artist I knew, offering our stage for their plays, poems, films – all varieties of performing arts.” Women from Nashville and across the country responded, and the showcase has grown every year since.
Women’s Work 2013 opened Friday with the debut public reading of the company’s second commissioned play. Clarke describes the inspiration: “Most people are aware of the explosive growth in the immigrant population of Nashville and our region. Native-born residents are encountering people from all over the planet, and it’s not necessarily a comfortable thing. I want to explore Nashville’s immigration experience from the point of view of these new Americans, as a way of introducing neighbors to neighbors – as humans, not strangers or intruders.”
Clarke engaged local playwrights Sara Sharpe and Christine Mather along with the company has been working with immigrant support and outreach groups on the project. Christine and Sara crafted the script after conducting a number of interviews over recent months. The fruit of their work went onstage Friday under the working title Voices of Nashville: Immigration and Community with an audience discussion following the reading.
Other highlights of Women’s Work 2013: Lauren Braddock Havey’s one-woman play A Journey to the Son, with music written and performed by the playwright and hit songwriter Don Henry. Waiting for Pierrot, created and performed by Noel Williams and Allison Latta, is a response in commedia dell’arte form to the Samuel Beckett estate’s refusal to allow women to perform in his most famous play.
North Carolina playwright Marilyn Barner Anselmi returns with a play entitled Found Object. From Canada by way of Delaware, Belynda Cleare brings a one-woman show called Staying on the Right Side of Sanity, the Diary of a Dirt Road DNA, which, among other stories, recounts her childhood experience as the only black girl in a rural Nova Scotia fishing village.
Saturday, May 11 brings Dance Night, always one of the festival’s best-attended shows. This year features returning favorites Erin Rehberg with Core Project Nashville, …Reasons contemporary dance ensemble choreographed by Marci Murphree, hooper Kinetic Kristen, Elaine Husted and Husted Dance, Heritage Dance Project and Jen-Jen Lin with Chinese Arts Alliance. The program is rounded out by first-timers Salsa Fierce, Valerie Hackworth and Holly Cannon-Hesse.
A program of short plays and films on May 17 features Tigers, a play by four-time presenter Robyn Brooks; Just Grate, a film by Wendy Keeling that’s been touring the festival circuit; Love and Loathing in Nashvegas, a play by Tiffany Grand; I MADE This, a film by Colette Divine; Conversations With My Mother, a play by Myra J. Stephens; Life on the Moon, a play by Mandy Ray-Jones and Katie’s Story, a reading by Greta McClain.
Wrapping up this year’s festival is a singer/songwriter matinee on Sunday, May 19 featuring Katy Kinard, Ginger Sands and others. This year’s visual art display will feature works by Linda Schlanger, Rebecca Davenport and Birgit Hein.
Single tickets to Woman’s Work are $5 each; a $35 Festival Pass is good for admission to all shows. The Looby Theater is adjacent to the Looby Branch Library at 2301 Rosa L. Parks Blvd. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. For reservations and information call (615) 681-7220, visit Tennessee Women’s Theater Project’s Facebook page or web site (www.twtp.org).
*Logo and photos of Maryanna Clarke, from Waiting for Pierrot, of Kinetic Kristen and Robyn Brooks courtesy Tennessee Women’s Theater Project.