Theatre Unbound - In the News

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In the News:

A stage of their own

By Nancy Hedin and Michele St. Martin
Minnesota Women's Press
August 8-12, 2007

Although 60 percent of theatergoers are female, the numbers of women who write, produce, design and act in theater are much lower. Locally, several women-dominated theater companies are trying to change that.

It was 1999, and the three women actors were talking in a dressing room at Penumbra Theatre, where they all had roles in "for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf." Shá Cage said, "We had a colorful conversation about what the work was like, and what we thought it should be like." The discussion, which centered on what theater written, produced and acted by women of color would look like, continued by email. Cage, Jeany Park and Signe Harriday decided that as women of color from different backgrounds, they shared an important vision. They formed Mama Mosaic theater company, with Cage as the artistic director.

The same year, a group of seven women directors, actors and playwrights gathered to talk about what they saw as the lack of opportunities for women in theater. "We were tired of what we were seeing on Twin Cities stages," said Stacey Poirier. The women wanted an opportunity to prove themselves, so they founded their own theater company and named it Theatre Unbound. Today, Poirier is its artistic director.

Behind the footlights: a tale of three theater companies

"The play is the appetizer"
Shá Cage wants you to know two things: Mama Mosaic is all about community. And after a two-year hiatus from performaing plays, "We are the healthiest and 'clearest' we've ever been."

That two years was speng "Dig[ging] our feet deeper in community work and formulat[ing] a new vision." In the past, Cage said, "We were aggressive about putting up shows. We'd spend a year writing a script, then would mount that script. One new structure is amazing, and unlike traditional theater structures [with a yearly theatrical season and proscribed number of shows per season]. If it takes two years [to write a script], that's how long it takes." Part of what's ahead: "We have been writing and developing our upcoming play, "Women and War," for a year now and plan to mount it in the fall of 2008. One week in Minneapolis and two in New York."

What hasn't changed is their community focus. "We're really about the community work - community development. We take taboo subjects to workshops and salons. They are sort of the glue ... we use the play as the point of departure. The play is the appetizer; the real meal deal is the workshops, dialgoues and discussions that precede, and more importantly, follow the play."

Success on a shoestring
It's hard to keep up with Theatre Unbound. In its seven years of producing theater, it's mounted an impressive 23 productions plus a dizzying array of "24 hour plays" and "director's gyms." It's clearly a leader in the women's theater community and has received some good critical reviews and media attention, yet "We struggle to make magic with no money," said Artistic Director Stacey Poirier.

According to its vision statement, Theatre Unbound is decidated to producing the work of women playwrights, directed and designed by women, with challenging roles for women actors.

In touch with the grassroots
When 20% Theatre Company - Twin Cities stages its play reading of "Standards of Care," a play with a transgender theme, the members were overwhelmed by the audience reaction. "We staged it at the Acadia ... it seats 85 and we had to keep bringing in chairs," said Artistic Director Claire Avitabile. The play was embraced by the transgender community who had yet to see their experience taken seriously on the stage. "The audience asked what would happen next; when would it come to the stage as a full production?" Because of the communtiy response, 20% changed its production timetable; it will present a full production in May or June of 2008.

In its 14 months of operation, 20% has staged five readings, three one-woman shows and one mainstage show. Though some comany members and associates have experience, others do not, or are trying out new roles. "We are doing the undone! And we are giving underrepresented people with and without formal experience a chance to make theater!" Avitabile said.