GirlPlay, the Women’s Theatre Project’s (WTP) lesbian play reading festival, returns for a fourth year this weekend. The festival will feature 16 new short plays in three staged readings at the Wilton Manors Women’s Club.
Marj O’Neill-Butler, chair of the event, said the festival has grown consistently since its inception, attracting 110 entries from playwrights across the country and Canada.
“In our first year, we got 60 scripts,” explained O’Neil-Butler, a member of the WTP board, who will also be directing several readings, along with WTP Artistic Director Genie Croft and local actress and producer Kim Ehly. “Not all of our playwrights are lesbians — they just have to be women — but the plays must be about some aspect of the lesbian experience or have lesbian characters. Women’s voices are just not heard as much as men.”
A team of 27 local theater enthusiasts gathered on May 5 for a “read-a-thon.” Each script was read by three reviewers and rated before O’Neil-Butler, Croft and Ehly winnowed the final 16.
A team of 11 actors, both male and female, will present staged readings of eight plays each night on Friday, June 21 and Saturday, June 22. Audiences will be polled and the eight most popular plays will be reread on Sunday, June 23.
The format, which includes some movement, props and costumes, has proved popular with audiences, attracting a loyal following from both women and men. Five of the plays include male characters, but O’Neill-Butler feels it’s the authenticity of the subject matter that draws audiences.
“We were hoping we wouldn’t get the usual coming out stories… Most of the playwrights are older and speaking to their life experiences,” she said.
Croft, who has led WTP for more than a decade, has noticed an evolution as current events have unfolded, especially the marriage equality debate.
“I’ve definitely noticed a shift in writing (over the years),” Croft said. “Our playwrights are writing about being legally married, having children, extending a relationship to an entirely different level of commitment and even older women who must cope with a partner who is dying.”
Croft says theatre is an ideal medium to raise awareness and promote dialogue about these pressing societal issues.
While most of the playwrights hail from New York and the Northeast, Los Angeles and even Canada, this year’s festival features a play, Taste of Thai, from a local writer, Michelle Solomon, who normally reviews local theatre productions for Miami ArtZine and Florida Theatre on Stage. Croft says Solomon’s play is very funny and will be a highlight of the festival.
For a playwright who composes her work in front of a computer, readings can offer a valuable opportunity for the dialogue to finally be spoken and plays tweaked based on the reaction of a live audience.
The Wilton Manors Women’s Club is a small venue, accommodating only 75 people, but O’Neill-Butler and Croft agree the intimacy will contribute to the experience, drawing audiences into the action.
Before each performance, WTP will host Foreplay, a cocktail reception featuring music and art by local female artists. The reception will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday with the readings following.
If You Go
Fourth Lesbian Play Reading Festival
Presented by Women’s Theatre Project
Friday, June 21 and Saturday, June 22, 8 p.m. (Foreplay 7:30 p.m.)
Sunday, June 22, 2 p.m. (Foreplay 1:30 p.m.)
Art Gallery 21, Women’s Club of Wilton Manors, 600 NE 21st Ct.
Tickets $15 one show, $25 two shows, $35 series at 866-811-4111 or at WomensTheatreProject.com
Seating limited, reservations strongly encouraged.