It was the 1980’s and the three of us—Julia, Joan and I—were possessed by the spirit of the times—that energizing, reckless, laughing spirit that was born of the modern women’s movement.
We could do anything.
Even stir up trouble.
Then as now, women playwrights in and out of New York were seldom produced. Commercial and off-off Broadway theatres, often run by men, never gave our scripts the time of day. We went on writing, and submitting, and now and then an assistant director, usually a woman, gave us a chance at a reading and even at a production.
Julia Miles, who was Winn Handman’s assistant producer at the old American Place Theatre on the west side in New York, picked my first play out of the slush pile and liked it. I’d sent it in without even the confidence to add my contact information, and so it was a while before Julia and her assistant Gayle could track me down.
Finally, at a gathering somewhere, Gayle was introduced to me and asked, with astonishment, “Did you write ‘Milk of Paradise?’ Julia wants to give it a reading.”
And what a reading.
When a play ignites the interest of a director, a producer, and eleven talented professional actors, the result is a house a fire. “Milk,” a gentle memory tale with a sting in its tail, went on to a full production in the small basement theatre at the American Place.
It’s probably still the only time a Kotex has appeared on the stage. My play is about a girl growing up, after all.
We were all stunned, delighted, inspired by the response. Harold Clurman wrote what must have been one of his last theatre reviews. Audiences gasped, giggled, and cried. On our tiny stage, we were a hit in the tradition of the Sondheim show tune: “We’re a hit, we’re a hit, we’re a palpable hit…”
But where to go from there, after we closed? The American Place, like all theatres, was still not producing plays by women. “Milk” was still the exception that proved the rule
We started our own theatre.
With Julia Miles and Joan Vail Thorne’s years of experience in the theatre, with a gift of money from me to get it started, we began what has turned into thirty-five years of workshops, training, readings and professional productions of plays written and directed by women.
Some are bad. Some fair. Some astonishing.
A lot of women have found their voices writing, directing and performing in plays that don’t feature hellish mothers or back-biting spinsters or mad harridans.
Instead, women, and of course some men, as we know we are in all our complexity.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written a play, or seen it produced after struggling with cuts, rewrites, and the pains of group work. I’m a non-fiction writer now, and delighted to be in a calmer space where I can work—mostly—alone.
But the Women’s Project has endured, through good times and bad times, due to the precious support of a group of women who must now number in the thousands—writers, directors, actors, critics, donors, board members and especially…ticket buyers.
Who says women don’t support women’s work?
If they don’t today, they will tomorrow. It’s where the action is.
Visit the Women’s Project website.