From WAM Artistic Director, Kristen van Ginhoven
In the fall of 2018, I was faced with a very tough decision: Could we hire a white male director to helm our next Mainstage production?
The first part of our WAM mission is to engage with our community by producing theatrical events for everyone, with a focus on women theatre artists and/or stories of women and girls. When I attended a reading of Anne Undeland’s LADY RANDY last year, I knew it was a perfect WAM play — it shared the story of an incredibly interesting woman, Jennie Jerome Churchill, in an empowering way, and it was written by a local female playwright.
WAM has a strong history of collaborating with other regional arts organizations and LADY RANDY began its life in a Berkshire Playwrights Lab (BPL) workshop. Director Jim Frangione was an early champion of the work. In fact, he was the one who invited me to the reading.
After that reading, WAM and BPL began discussing a possible co-production of LADY RANDY. It would be a world premiere of a play written by a local female playwright, something that was very exciting and closely aligned with WAM’s mission. As time went on WAM was offered the opportunity to produce the play on our own, with BPL’s blessing.
But while it was indeed exciting to have that opportunity, it was also VERY HARD to say yes, because it meant that the director of the first show of our 10th anniversary season would be white and male.
We had many conversations about it at the WAM office, and I spent many hours mulling it over. Ultimately, we really believed this was the right play to follow our production of ANN last fall. We really believe in the playwright. And we really believe in the power of collaboration: Collaboration with a local colleague from a partner theatre organization who was championing a work by a female playwright; Collaboration between a playwright and a director; Collaboration between local artists.
When I consulted with Anne on this matter, she spoke passionately of Jim’s support of her work, of his confidence in the play, of their fruitful work together on the play so far and of her deep belief that their collaboration was essential for the success of this world premiere.
As the WAM Team grappled with this question, we referenced our recent decision to evolve our Girls Ensemble into our Teen Ensemble, which came about after the incredible learning experience of working with trans students in our summer ensemble in 2018, and with young men in our pilot in-school ensemble program this winter. We felt clearly called to be more inclusive and to acknowledge the full spectrum of genders represented in that group.
Male-identified artists have always been a part of the WAMily and they always will be. As with all our work at WAM, together we will continue to proudly devise our work through an intersectional feminist lens, in our ensembles and on our Mainstages. And everyone who works with us knows that and, we trust, is proud to be part of our work.
In the end, it was clear that producing the world premiere of LADY RANDY, while preserving and supporting the collaborative bond Jim and Anne had formed, was the right decision. They are a terrific pair and they will bring this play to life in a way that will make our WAMily proud.
They are surrounded by valued members of our WAM artistic family. As with all of our Mainstage productions, the majority of the LADY RANDY creative team is woman-identified. Together, we are proud and excited to bring this story to life for the first time as we continue the deep thinking and learning around working at the intersection of arts and activism.