An unprecedented seven new works by Manitoba female playwrights are being premiered this season. This "Group of Seven," as they've been dubbed, is being supported and promoted by all of the presenting theatre companies who have joined together to form Theatre ++ Winnipeg.
"It's great company to be in," said Trish Cooper, whose play Social Studies is currently on at Prairie Theatre Exchange. "It's a really remarkable year for local playwrights as well as female playwrights."
'I think it's really important that women's stories are being told.' - Debbie Patterson, playwright
Cooper is one of four female playwrights coming out of PTE's Playwright's Unit and this is her first full-length professional production.
"There's a community of playwrights helping each other and I think there's a lot of people responsible for the making of this play," she said.
Cooper benefited from workshops and feedback from people with lots of experience, including Debbie Patterson, who is assistant directing the play, and Alix Sobler who is playing a leading role. Both Patterson and Sobler are also part of the PTE Playwright's Unit and are members of the Group of Seven with premieres coming up in 2014.
"They are fantastic, intelligent writers and it just happens that they're all women and it just happens that they're all getting shows on this year. How great is that?" enthused Robert Metcalf, artistic director of PTE. He said it's a wonderful thing for all the theatre companies to come together to celebrate and support.
"In a city this size with this many theatres, to have seven premieres of local plays is notable enough, but when they all happen to be women, too, that gives it another kick up the ladder in terms of interest," he continued.
"It's not just to be fair, it's because 85% of my tickets are purchased by women and there's a storytelling that comes out of women's experiences that's important. So it seemed like a wise decision more than a fair decision."
It may be a coincidence that seven out of nine new plays being produced in Winnipeg are by women, but Alix Sobler, whose play The Secret Annex will be premiered by the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in February, hopes it's more than a fluke.
"I think it's a tipping point. It's super exciting. The inequity of the representation of women in theatre and entertainment is terribly unfortunate and it will be so wonderful when we don't have to call attention to women being produced in the theatre, when it's just a given, when it's just totally equal, when we just accept that genders are equally represented," she said.
"But in the meantime I think it's great to celebrate it. I think it calls attention to just how great women writers can be and that we can attract audiences and be as much of a draw as men and that the talent's there, that women's stories are compelling to audiences and that we should be looking to have more equal seasons throughout the city and the world. I say 50% is really a great goal to strive for."
Debbie Patterson, whose play Sargent & Victor & Me will be produced by Theatre Projects Manitoba in February, also hopes this will not be a one-off.
"I think it's really important that women's stories are being told," she said. "The majority of audience members are women and yet the majority of plays produced are written by men. And so women are constantly being given the world from a male point of view and I think it diminishes us. I think it limits our sense of what we're capable of and what our place is in the world.
"It's not just about giving more work to women artists," she added. "It's about telling women's stories and enlarging women's sense of who we are and what's possible."
Earlier this season Jessy Ardern's Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests was premiered by Sasasvati Productions as part of FemFest, the bastion of female-produced theatre. As well, Carolyn Gray's The Miser of Middlegate was produced by Theatre Projects Manitoba with zone41 theatre and Ginny Collins' Good Intentions was mounted by Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. At the end of the season, Winnipeg Jewish Theatre will present Shiksa by Cairn Moore.
Back at PTE, Robert Metcalf feels the Group of Seven female playwrights is something exciting to promote collectively by Theatre ++ Winnipeg.
"The pool of female playwrights has shown itself to be deep and wide," he said. "The different types of work that we've got on the stages and the range of experience of the writers is wide and they're all really intelligent writers, too. They're really artists in the sense that they're wanting to speak as well as just entertain.
"Trish (Cooper)'s play is a great example. People are laughing their heads off but it's so much more than that. Her play is selling really well. What I like about that is that it proves that new and untried and local can work."
Cooper is thrilled by the outcome. "I think I'm feeling a lot of love and a lot of support from the other companies in the city as well as PTE," she said.