Get a bunch of theater aficionados together and ask them to name the industry’s top 10 directors, and the one thing that will become immediately clear is their gender: Most will be men. That’s true even locally. Because for every Gillian Eaton there’s a Guy Sanville, a Tony Caselli, a Gary Anderson and a John Manfredi.
Yet ask those same theater-lovers who Jen House is, or Chelsea Sadler or Wolanda Lewis, and you’ll more than likely get nothing back but blank stares.
But not for long, if the women producing “Box Fest 2007” this week at Planet Ant Theatre have any influence in the matter.
“There are so few female directors out there,” explained Shannon Ferrante, artistic director of the annual event. “It’s definitely an area that’s very hard to break into, and this is a great place for them to start.”
And that’s true. With but a few notable exceptions, most theater executives, directors and playwrights until recently have been men. “There’s just no way to show your stuff unless you’re given a chance,” Ferrante said.
Or you create you OWN opportunity, which is what Maureen Biermann and Shannon Camara Sanville did four years ago when they conceived “Pandora’s Box Fest” and staged it at Ann Arbor’s Blackbird Theatre. The festival, which showcased the work of both new and established women directors, has since moved to Hamtramck, and since last year, been guided by Ferrante.
And she’s living proof that Box Fest serves its purpose well. “I started directing at Box Fest three years ago, and now I have a main stage (production) at Planet Ant this year. So it works,” Ferrante said.
This year’s festival has been greatly expanded, thanks to the efforts of a dynamic team of women who see a need to nurture women in all areas of the arts. So this year, female participants include directors, playwrights, actors, improvisers, technicians, musicians and two-dimensional artists. Even a few men are participating, mostly as playwrights and actors. “But that’s the only way that we’ve involved men,” Ferrante said.
Another woman who has seen her fortunes change as a result of Box Fest is executive director Kelli Rossi. “Last year was my first experience writing, and it was fantastic,” Rossi said. “If it wasn’t (for Box Fest), I don’t think I would have written anything. And now it’s like a really main focus.”
For this year’s event, Rossi has written three monologues and will appear in one 10-minute play. And later this season, another play, “On Parenting,” will be staged as a Late Night production at Planet Ant.
The four-day festival will feature cocktail parties, an art exhibit, one-act plays, 10-minute plays, improv teams and presentations by local women artistic directors. Each night will conclude with music provided by local talent.
Ferrante believes that the biggest draw for many of the participants are the prizes that will be awarded to three lucky women. A Late Night slot at Planet Ant will be awarded to the director of a 10-minute play, while the director of a one-act will be offered an opportunity to stage a play produced by The Abreact. The final award will be a scholarship to be used to further the recipient’s development and training. “I think this is why we have so many women participating this year. They want these opportunities.”
The money to fund the scholarship will come from ticket sales. The greater the box office tally, the larger the scholarship. And, according to Rossi, the organizers have no idea how many people the event will draw. “We’re all scared half to death that nobody’s going to show. But I think it’s going to end up surprising all of us.”
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘Box Fest 2007’
Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. Thu.-Sun., Aug. 9-12. Tickets: $10/day; $30 weekend pass. For information: 313-365-4948 or http://www.myspace.com/boxfestdetroit.