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Preview: ‘Pandora’s Box Fest’
Local women directors ‘think inside the box’ and create evening of innovative theater
Think of it as a variation of the old adage, “Don’t get madÉget even.”
Frustrated by the lack of directing opportunities for aspiring directors – especially women directors – Maureen Biermann and Shannon Camara Sanville didn’t pack their bags and leave the state. Instead, the two young women did what generations of innovative Americans before them excelled at: They created their own opportunity!
“Looking around at most of the professional theaters, very few shows going up this coming season are directed by women,” Biermann recently told Curtain Calls. “Even though there are so many women artists, they’re primarily actors. And for whatever reason, there are not a lot of female directors. So we want to promote that as much for our own sake, as for other women’s sake.”
To do that, Biermann and Sanville decided to stage an evening of black box theater featuring a series of 20-minute plays directed by local women. They invited every woman they know to pitch ideas – and six were eventually accepted.
“We were open to anything, basically,” Biermann said. “We both wanted to direct and figured it would be easier to rent space together and then give other people the opportunity [to direct], as well.”
So they secured a space – Ann Arbor’s Blackbird Theatre – set the dates – Aug. 26 through 29 – came up with a title of their project – “Pandora’s Box Fest” – and with the other four directors, went about casting their shows.
“We have some really amazing people involved,” Biermann said, including directors Alana Dauter, Lynn Lammers, Carolyn Hayes and Wendy Wright. Two of the scripts were written by local playwrights Joanna Hastings and Matthew Phenix.
“The more women who get into positions of directing maybe the more accepted we will be.”
Biermann is hesitant to guess why there are few women directors working in the area. One reason, she believes, is ingrained in the traditions of the business.
“Historically, there are more men playwrights than women, so maybe part of it is women are less interested in the subject matter that many plays deal with. And maybe they’re just not motivated to direct the plays that do exist because a lot of them are more masculine in perspective and have more masculine characters, which is fine.”
That started to change a few decades ago as more women entered the business as playwrights. But for some, the change hasn’t come fast enough.
“I’m definitely more motivated to deal with plays with central female characters because I’m a woman and that’s what I know,” she said.
Biermann, who grew up in upstate New York and was graduated from Northwestern University in 2001 with a degree in theater, arrived in Ann Arbor after spending two years teaching in Austria. She had no plans to stay long, but came to love the acting opportunities and the community she discovered there. And it was only this past April that Biermann directed her first professional production – “Unnatural Acts,” a late night production at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant.
“It’s something I know I want to continue to do just as much as acting,” she said. “It was like I was in the right time at the right place. I had this idea, they liked my idea, so I ended up doing it. It was a fluke.”
Fluke or not, it was successful enough that she’s been invited back to stage another late night production early next year.
And it’s that type of opportunity that Biermann believes is necessary if young, up-and-coming women directors are to make headway in the local community.
“It’s hard to start out as a director. You have from one to 20 actors in a production, but there’s only one director. So there’s less director positions available. But there’s got to be opportunities presented for people who want to direct, and that’s exactly what Shannon and I are trying to do.”
“Pandora’s Box Fest” Staged Thursday through Sunday by Think Inside The Box Productions at the Blackbird Theatre, 1600 Pauline Rd., Ann Arbor, Aug. 26 – 29. Tickets: $10. 734-332-3848.
Tidbits: News from Around Town
GM supports Detroit Rep; Wharton’s E-Club; Youtheatre gets grant
ITEM: General Motors has once again proven why its one of Detroit’s best corporate citizens by sponsoring this year’s Black Tie Awards Night Benefit for the Detroit Repertory Theatre.
Kathy Wagoner, wife of GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, and her husband will co-chair the event, while former WDIV anchor Amyre Makupson will serve as Mistress of Ceremonies.
“We applaud the Detroit Repertory Theatre’s work over the past 47 years, and the vision it holds for the city of Detroit and its neighbors,” said Kathy and Rick Wagoner. “It is a tremendous asset to the community, and we strongly support this important cultural institution. A visit to the Rep is a great experience.”
The event will be held at the theater on Saturday, November 13. A champagne and hors d’ouevres reception begins at 6:30 p.m., followed by the annual Subscriber Awards for the Rep’s best plays and actors. Then attendees will be treated to a performance of the Midwest premiere of “Coming to Life” by June August.
Tickets for the event are $200 per person. Funds raised benefit the theater’s Capacity Building Program.
For more information, call the Maryl Kacir at the Rep at 313-868-1347 or go online to www.detroitreptheatre.com.
ITEM: Lansing’s Wharton Center is now offering a special benefit for patrons who love the performing arts: The Wharton Center E-Club.
Members of the free service will have access to exclusive online content, special discounts and presale offers.
“It is an opportunity for those who enjoy the performing arts to get the very latest information on what is happening at Wharton Center, and also save time and money,” public relations manager Bob Hoffman said.
Simply log onto www.whartoncenter.com and fill out a short form – and membership will be yours. And if you do so by August 20, you’ll be able to purchase tickets online to the entire 2004/05 season before they go on sale to the general public!
ITEM: Southfield-based Youtheatre is the happy recipient of a $30,000 grant from the McGregor Fund that will allow the continuation of the theater’s Disadvantaged Youth and Field Trip to Broadway Programs. Together, the two programs serve more than 100,000 children across Southeastern Michigan every year.
Youtheatre, now celebrating its 40th season – has it really been THAT long already? – can be reached at 248-557-7529 or online at www.youtheatre.org.