Supporting theatrical work written, directed and/or designed by women.
The Culture Project‘s Women Center Stage 2011 is taking the New York boards by storm this month. Since 1996 WCS has launched seminal work, including Heather Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire (2003); Sarah Jones’ bridge and tunnel (2004), which went on to a sold-out Broadway run and special Tony Award; Staceyann Chin’s Border/Clash (2005); Geraldine Hughes’ Belfast Blues (2005); and Lynn Redgrave’s Nightingale (2005).
Opening March 5th, the 2011 edition offers 33 performances by 40 artists over 29 days at the Living Theatre (21 Clinton Street in New York City). Works by Women will interview four women — a producer, director, a playwright and an adapter — involved with Women Center Stage over the course of the next month.
Today, we turn the spotlight on Manda Martin, an Associate Producer at The Culture Project, which has been honored with Drama Desk, OBIE and Outer Critics Circle Awards. For the company, she is also the Producer of Women Center Stage.
Manda is a force of nature, in the best possible way. In addition to her work with The Culture Project, she is the co-founder of Vicious Bear Productions with the tagline “a fierce work by women of conscience.”
Now she opens up about why she produces, what challenges women in American theater face and the Women Project’s Producer Lab.
1) What draws you to producing? What kind of work are you most interested in?
I initially trained as an actor, but realized towards the end of college that I was much more interested in influencing what was onstage than I was in actually being onstage myself. I’m fascinated by the transformative experiences audiences can have with a play, and the way that theater–this ancient, ritualistic art form that always feels on the brink of irrelevancy–provides a forum for communities to share and explore new ideas and information.
2) Women Center Stage is a massive, month-long festival. Why is it important to have a festival like WCS?
I’m torn on how to answer this. On the one hand I want to say that we need an even more massive, city-wide Women Center Stage with companies all over town presenting work by women together. And on the other hand I think all of us want to reach a place where women are being produced and presented solely on the quality of their work, and not also because we’re consciously trying to combat a disparity by drawing attention to gender. I don’t know if I want to make the argument for WCS to become totally obsolete, because I think the celebratory aspect of this festival is just as important. But until things level out for women in this industry, the important thing is to create opportunities to just do the work. And that’s what WCS is doing.
3) WCS takes place at the Living Theatre and features a tribute to the legendary company’s co-founder Judith Malina. What is special about performing at the Living Theatre?
Aside from the fact that we’re working with a legend, and a woman who has lived her politics and her art form for over 60 years? The Living Theatre is the most egalitarian theater company in this city–there’s such a strong sense of community, acceptance, and shared responsibility among the members of the company. They’ve been so supportive and excited about Women Center Stage, and totally ready and willing to jump in and help us make it happen.
4) You are a current member of the Women’s Project Lab for producing. Why is this lab so important?
It is such a privilege to meet once a month with a group of vibrant, amazing women hungry to work. Everyone needs a posse of co-conspirators! From a producing perspective, it’s so beneficial to be included in the Lab (which is unique to a lot of similar labs in the city)–I so appreciate the ability to have candid conversations with playwright and director peers about how we approach and pursue this work together. I think we learn so much from the dialogue of our individual experiences–playwrights should know how to think like a producer about their plays, producers should be able to rally production teams like a director, etc. Being part of the Women’s Project community is really tremendous, and WP should be getting more credit for the contribution they’re making to the field through the lab.
5) What advice do you think is crucial for a producer new to New York?
Don’t get intimidated.
6) What do you think is the greatest challenge facing female theater artists?
There are a lot, but I think they’re ultimately not different from what the rest of the country is facing–doing more with less and creating our own opportunities. I think women generally are facing serious threats to the jurisdiction over our bodies, and women artists should see this as a call to action both politically and professionally–the need to tell our own stories is greater than ever.
[Editor’s Note: Here’s a short piece about this issue on Manda’s production company’s blog: http://www.viciousbear.org/2011/02/connecting-the-dots/]
7) What gives you hope for women in American theater?
There’s a lot of us, and we’re really fucking talented.
For more information and tickets, visit the Women Center Stage 2011 web site.