Photo Flash: Dorset Theatre Festival Closes With Celebration Of Women Artists, Leaders
Dorset Theatre Festival, under the leadership of Artistic Director Dina Janis, closed its 41st Festival Season at the beginning of September with a sold-out special engagement of Holland Taylor's play ANN at the Dorset Playhouse. As part of the closing weekend, Dorset presented a special post-show panel discussion featuring local female politicians and hosted the third annual Women Artists Writing Group retreat.
The limited special engagement, ANN, about former Governor of Texas Ann Richards, was directed by Kristen Van Ginhoven and starred two-time Tony nominee Jayne Atkinson. A co-production with WAM Theatre in Lenox, MA, the play will also run at the Tina Packer Playhouse (70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA) October 19 - 28, 2018.
Dorset Theatre Festival hosted a free post-show panel after the August 31 performance highlighting women in politics. The panel was moderated by Artistic Director Dina Janis, and participants included local female leaders including 2018 candidates for State Representative, Kathleen James and Ruth Hardy (who is also the Executive Director of Emerge Vermont) and current State Representatives, Kiah Morris (D-Bennington), Cynthia Browning (D-Bennington), and Linda Joy Sullivan (D-Bennington-Rutland). Jayne Atkinson, who played the role of Ann Richards in ANN, also joined the panel to contribute her experience working in film and television as a female politician on "House of Cards," "Madam Secretary," "Criminal Minds," "Law and Order," and "24."
"What spoke to me so much about this role when I read it was what Ann [Richards] said about fairness," Atkinson said during the panel. "Her whole tone and what she created in Texas - I just fell in love with her, and this is my way of being an activist."
The panel discussed their views on the current political climate as female leaders, disparity female politicians have encountered, the value of diversity and balance in leadership, and the importance of stepping up and getting involved. Part of Dorset Theatre Festival's PlayTalks Series, the event was sponsored by the Vermont Humanities Council.
As moderator, Janis asked the panel participants about their motivation for running for office. "I think many women feel this is not working - I don't think these policies are going to work, this is not what I want for myself, my family, and my children's future, and I need to try to fix it," said Representative Cynthia Browning. "Women are great at building things, analyzing things, and nurturing things. They're really good at relationships, so if they don't see somebody else doing it, they are going to step up and do it the way they want it done. I really see that happening and it's really important that it happen at the local level."
NYC-based Women Artists Writing Group travels to Dorset for writing retreat
Following the closing performance of Ann, Dorset Theatre Festival hosted a weekend retreat for its Women Artists Writing Group. Now in its third year, the WAWG is a diverse group of mid-career female actresses and theatre artists who are expanding their artistry through writing.
"This group has been curated over a couple years," said Mary Bacon, who co-founded the group with Heidi Armbruster in 2016. "Though some in the group may have had a lot of development on their pieces, others in just beginning stages. Everyone had not heard one another's plays beginning to end."
During the retreat, the Women Artists Writing Group shared their works in progress with other group members and invited guests at various locations around Dorset, VT. Over the course of three days, the WAWG read eleven plays and writing projects and shared feedback with one another to assist in the development of their work and individual artistic voices.
"The message that we received from Dorset was that each of us has a powerful voice that is deserving of time, attention, and development space," said Armbruster. Her modern drawing room mystery was the final play reading of the weekend. "It was an extraordinarily powerful message for an early career writer," she said.
When Armbruster and Bacon first thought of starting a writing group, they said they knew they wanted institutional support behind the effort, and Dorset's Dina Janis was among their first calls. "The best way to empower women is to celebrate their accomplishments and listen to what they have to say," said Janis. "By doing so, we are able to experience our shared humanity. That is the power of all great theatre for me, and gets at the heart of what we mean we say we produce 'theatre that matters.'"
Dorset Theatre Festival's Women Artists Writing Group meets twice monthly at Primary Stages' Einhorn School of Performing Arts in New York City and has a an annual writing retreat in Dorset, VT. Co-founded in 2016 by Heidi Armbruster and Mary Bacon. The group includes Carolyn Baeumler Bost, Michelle Beck, Laura Gómez, Mariana Newhard, Elizabeth M. Kelly, Donna Eis, Sharahn LaRue, Maggie Diaz Bofill, and Mathile Dratwa.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Dorset Theatre Festival