What do women theater artists want? Space to create, community of artists, opportunity for production. What do women audience members want? To see themselves, and the world they recognize, on stage. Who's been listening, and delivering, for eight years now? New Georges.
In the way paved by the old Georges, Madames Sand and Eliot, the Obie-winning New Georges theater company has become "ground zero for smart new theater by women," producing over 12 new plays--and countless short works, festivals, readings--written and directed by women. Meanwhile, they've created a community of over 100 affiliated artists, who just happen to be women who just don't feel the need to work behind a man's nom de plume.
Their latest production, number 13, is the world premiere of Juliann France's Imagining Shadows, playing now through March 11 at the Ohio Theater in Soho. Directed by New Georges veteran Jessica Bauman, the play is a lyrical portrait of a family in 1950s Memphis after the death of the family matriarch, all told through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl.
According to Artistic Director Susan Bernfield, New Georges started back in 1991 when a smart group of women actors couldn't find any smart roles for themselves. "It was impossible to find a play by a woman," she explains. "And the reason why I wanted to find a play by a woman was so that I could have something to be in that didn't make me feel really stupid. I thought, 'Well, there must be people like me, who write about things that I care about.'"
New Georges first production was Caryl Churchill's Vinegar Tom, the only non-new play they've ever done. "But as soon as I started talking to artists and dealing with playwrights, I realized that we're not going to find plays of any [particular] ideology and I don't necessary want to look for plays that are strictly of an ideology," Bernfield says. "I'm much more interested in the women that we work with for who they are and what they want to say much more than I feel like their stories have to make a statement that's bigger than, 'Hey, we're producing these women.' I'm interested in getting their voices out, creating opportunities for them."
And their efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 1996 New Georges was awarded an Obie citation for "finding ways to connect one work to another, process to product, and most importantly, artists to each other and their audience," a recognition of company's mission as a whole rather than any specific production. What makes New Georges stand out among downtown theater companies, besides their focus on women artists, is their commitment to artist and play development--from their very beginnings--as much as to production.
"The thing that was wonderful was that I was very welcomed as a young emerging artist," says Cusi Cram, who has been an affiliated playwright with New Georges for six years. "I had written a solo piece [Bolivia] and I called up Susan, and she said, 'OK, let's do a reading of it.' They liked it, and then produced it in a festival the following year." For young women artists, that kind of open-door attitude ("It's not a mysterious process," says Bernfield) is how work, and growth, happens.