TWTP's Women's Work 2012 Festival to Open With WITNESS By Regina Taylor


The first public reading of a new play by noted actress/playwright ReGina Taylor-the first play ever to be commissioned by Tennessee Women's Theater Project-highlights the company's sixth annual Women's Work Showcase, a three-week celebration of the arts.

TWTP returns to the Z. Alexander Looby Theater for the start of Women's Work 2012, which begins Friday, May 4, and continues through Sunday, May 20. The sixth annual Women's Work festival shines the spotlight on performing and visual arts created by women.

According to TWTP founder Maryanna Clarke, the 2012 festival "cuts a broad swath across styles and genres to offer eleven completely different programs: poetry and essays; one-woman shows; staged readings of new plays including Taylor's latest work commissioned by the company; dance, music and a display of visual art works in the theater lobby.

Founded in 2007, the annual festival was born in adversity. Maryanna Clarke, the company's founder and artistic director, remembers the aftermath of being sidelined with a back injury: "After six weeks with my walker and my pain pills, I was forced to give up on directing the play we had scheduled for May that year," she explains. "I emailed every woman artist I knew, offering our stage for their plays, poems, films- any creation we could accommodate."

That initial email was forwarded far and wide, and women from Nashville and across the country submitted their work. The showcase has grown every year since.

Women's Work 2012 opens with the debut public presentation of Witness, a new play created for TWTP by Taylor. The company's first commissioned work came about after Clarke learned that African American women are more than twice as likely to die of breast cancer as Caucasian women.

Taylor, author of Crowns, Oo-Bla-Dee and The Trinity River Plays, responded to the company's request to consider exploring this untold story, and researched her script in part by interviewing survivors of breast cancer. A creation grant from the Metro Nashville Arts Commission helped get the work to the page.

Following the first reading May 4, Witness will tour churches, community organizations and schools in the region. Grants from National Endowment for the Arts, Susan Komen for the Cure Nashville and corporate sponsorships will underwrite the cost of many performances, which will also feature health education and outreach activities. Taylor will be on-hand for the May 4 presentation.

Saturday May 5 brings Dance Night, always one of the festival's best-attended shows. This year features returning favorites Rachel Flores and Blue Moves Modern Dance Company, hooper Kristen Teffeteller Leophard, belly dance with Reischa Feuerbacher, and an ensemble choreographed by Marci Murphree. Among the first -time performers are Renata McGraw, Erin Rehberg with Core Project Chicago and Elaine Husted and Husted Dance.

Opening weekend concludes with a Sunday matinee staging of . . .and then God created woman, a performance piece by returning artist Thandiwe Shiphrah that blends poetry, music and dance.

This year's theater readings include Hunger in Paradise, by Mary McCallum; You Wouldn't Expect, a play by Marilynn Barner Anselmi that explores North Carolina's sterilization program for "mental defectives;" Janet McMahan's musical Once Upon a Time (Not); Between Lives, by the multi-talented returning presenter Judy Klass, The West Bank Zoo, by Christine C. Mather and The House, by three-time presenter Robyn Brooks of Berkeley, California.

On May 13, it's the Sixth Annual Mother's Day Poetry Reading, featuring returning favorites Amy E. Hall, Raziya and Jan Bossing, and first-time presenters Patricia Alice Albrecht, K. Danielle Edwards and Ashley Mintz. The company distributes free roses to all mothers in attendance.


Plays and one-woman shows on the slate include Growing Up Baptist, Busty and Bookish, written and performed Joy Tilley Perryman; Ponder Anew: A WWII Warrior's Story, by Carol Ponder with Robert Kiefer; first-time presenter Janet Schlapkohl in her play called Childbirth Methods/LaLeche League and an eclectic evening of stories, essays and monologues by Lisa Berryhill, Edith Costanza, Karen Trotter Elley, Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz and Heidi Petak and Pamela Stansberry.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.

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