In 1974 I had the great good fortune to be present at the birth of The Women’s Project, along with my dear friends, Joan Vail Thorne and Julia Miles. The video shows some of the highlights from last Monday’s New York gala for the theatre, which I attended with the sense of astonishment old accomplishments, always brings me. Did I really help to birth and to sustain this baby, now decades old?
We were fearless back then, as we have continued to be—the three of us founders and the hundreds of more recent supporters—fired by knowing that women playwrights represented only something like 17 percent of the playwrights produced in New York, on and off-Broadway.
The women’s movement—whatever phase it was supposed to be in—was simmering and then boiling away, and there was general public support for our sense of injustice.
All those talented playwrights, like me and many others, all those talented directors, like Joan Vail Thorne and many others, toiling in obscurity?
My first play was just then being produced in the basement theater of the old American Place Theatre, once a beacon for imaginative plays, now corporatized into something entirely different.
My play was called “Milk of Paradise” and I had no idea how difficult it would be to produce: a two level stage (the parents appeared on the top level, children and servants on the bottom), five African-American actors, and the appearance of a Kotex on the stage, never done before or since as far as I know but essential, I felt, to the story of a girl careening into adolescence. The play was set in the fifties, before tampons and all the other devices that make the old Kotex advertisement—or was it Modess?—“because…” seem the most obvious and unnecessary evasion.
My play evoked gasps, laughter, maybe somewhere a few tears. And sitting in the back row in the dark, I knew I’d found my métier. A few years later, I realized that the theatre is too tough for me, too collaborative, expensive and closed—but fortunately I didn’t know it then.
And so, all these years later, the gala—and my baby has grown up and could even be called middle-aged, now the oldest and largest theatre for women’s work in the country. Under the expert direction of Julie Crosby, it is at last on a secure financial footing, and while the percentage of produced plays written by women has only risen a couple of points, no one will ever be able to say that we are not there.
I’m glad I started out ignorant and hopeful enough to take a risk I didn’t even recognize as one.