A fes­ti­val born of fel­low­ship over cock­tails

The Washington Post Sunday - - THEATER - BY NEL­SON PRESS­LEY Pro­ject­ing their Voices The seven Women Voices Theater Fes­ti­val orig­i­nat­ing the­aters put to­gether: :14 nel­son.press­ley@wash­post.com

What ex­actly is it that the seven com­pa­nies be­hind the Women’s Voices Theater Fes­ti­val have in com­mon? Mar­ket­ing. And Mar­gar­i­tas. A monthly meet­ing over drinks has been an in­for­mal stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure for sev­eral years among the man­ag­ing di­rec­tors of Wash­ing­ton’s largest stand-alone non­profit the­aters: Arena Stage, Ford’s Theatre, Round House Theatre, the Shake­speare Theatre Com­pany, Sig­na­ture Theatre, Stu­dio Theatre and Woolly Mam­moth Theatre. This is more or less the same group that in­sisted on re­cent ma­jor changes in the He­len Hayes To­tal stages To­tal seats: More than 5,000 Shows to be pre­sented in 2015-2016 :53 To­tal num­ber of per­for­mances: More than 2,100 Cu­mu­la­tive bud­get: More than $70 mil­lion Award judg­ing process and that has teamed up for a sub­stan­tial in­ter­nal study about au­di­ence habits. (That study in­cluded Theater J, but not Round House Theatre.)

“It doesn’t need a name,” Arena Stage ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Edgar Do­bie says of the coali­tion. “We’re not that or­ga­nized.”

“I think we all con­sider our­selves lead­ers of the theater com­mu­nity,” says Ford’s di­rec­tor Paul R. Te­treault. “In the ab­sence of any­one else tak­ing charge, I think we’ve kind of jumped into that.”

Af­ter the man­ag­ing di­rec­tors started get­ting to­gether, the artis­tic di­rec­tors thought they would try it, too, which led to a brunch at Sig­na­ture artis­tic di­rec­tor Eric Scha­ef­fer’s house and the birth of the Women’s Voices Theater Fes­ti­val. Woolly man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Meghan Press­man says that the com­pa­ra­ble sizes of the or­ga­ni­za­tions mean they bring sim­i­lar con­cerns to the ta­ble. That’s one rea­son they joined to­gether for the de­tailed mar­ket sur­vey that was com­pleted last win­ter.

“It re­in­forced that the more we work to­gether, the bet­ter off we’ll be,” Press­man says.

Round House pro­duc­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor Ryan Rilette says, “It’s sim­plya de­sire to work to­gether to grow the pie, in­stead of try­ing to fight each other for in­di­vid­ual slices .”

Theater J and the Fol­ger Theatre are the next big­gest com­pa­nies in D.C., but both op­er­ate as part of larger in­sti­tu­tions (the D.C. Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter and the Fol­ger Shake­speare Li­brary, re­spec­tively). The Ol­ney Theatre Cen­ter has four stages( in­clud­ing a small out­door amphitheater) and a bud­get that would put it in the mix — if only it weren’t a full county away north of town.

So there is a kind of logic to the group­ing, though it isn’t strictly fixed, es­pe­cially as an­other city­wide event is be­ing contemplated for the near fu­ture.

“Maybe next time we’ll have a dozen orig­i­nat­ing the­aters in­volved,” Do­bie says. “I could see that hap­pen­ing.”

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