By Bridgette Redman
Something Something stages a season of women’s voices
Since its inception in 2015, Something Something Theatre Company has sought to bring “better than parity” women’s voices to their seasons.
This year, the plays in its season are all written by female playwrights, and four of the five plays are new to Tucson.
Joan O’Dwyer, the company’s founding artistic director, and Whitney Morton Woodcock, the founding director, spend a lot of time each year reading plays and seeking out works by women, nonbinary playwrights and transgender women.
They always find more works than they can use. Their focus, though, isn’t just on the playwright’s gender, but on the stories and characters that they write.
“We try to make it about (each play) being an exciting story,” Woodcock says. “This is going to be a moving story and thought provoking. Of course, a lot of people do like that it is women playwrights. We try to pick the best ones and the best stories. We know from having done this, what kind of plays people like to see.”
For the upcoming 2019-2020 season, they chose three plays they really wanted to do and then had two plays brought to them that were compelling and they were eager to produce.
The season opens with a comedy by Lauren Gunderson, one of America’s most-produced playwrights whose name isn’t William Shakespeare. “The Revolutionists,” directed by O’Dwyer, will run September 12 to September 19 at City High School’s Center for Collaborative Learning (37 E. Pennington).
It tells the story of the French Revolution from the perspective of four women — a playwright, an assassin, a spy and an empress. It might also involve guillotines. Three of the four characters are historical figures — playwright Olympe de Gouges, assassin Charlotte Corday and Marie Antoinette. The fourth, Haitian rebel Marianne Angelle, a former Caribbean slave, is a composite character.
“Often what attracts us to a play is that it has a fresh take on something,” Woodcock says. “‘The Revolutionists’ is a new take on the French Revolution. Theater people know it from Les Mis, but this is the women’s perspective on that historical event.”
Their second play, “TransFormations,” is one that came to them. Martie van der Voort created a one-person play about 12 characters, their close relatives, and significant others at a group therapy session. She has performed the show in one-night engagements around Tucson and elsewhere, but this will be its first full run.
Van der Voort’s a fantastic actor, Woodcock says, and she has come up with clever staging using costumes and chairs to differentiate the characters and help people follow the show a little better. That show runs October 31 through November 17.
“Apples in Winter” was brought to them by someone who wanted to direct it. The one-woman play by Jennifer Fawcett focuses on a woman baking an apple pie. Her son has spent 22 years on death row for the murder of a young couple when he was coming off withdrawal. In seven hours, he will be executed and for his last meal has asked for a slice of his mother’s homemade apple pie.
“The script was very compelling, and we wanted to work it in,” Woodcock says.
It will run November 27 through December 15.
The fourth show was actually where Woodcock and O’Dwyer started putting together their season. Woodcock had read “Cry It Out” by Molly Smith Metzler and knew that she, as a new mother herself, wanted to direct it for Something Something’s season.
“I just felt I really needed to do this,” Woodcock says. “It’s an interesting and important subject matter. That was one of my selections.”
“Cry It Out” focuses on three new mothers who are different in everything except for their new motherhood. Two of them are on maternity leave and they struggle with who they are, how to cope with new motherhood, what does it mean for their marriage and how to make life work now that they have a child. They are joined by a third woman who has a full-time nanny and all that money can buy, but she suffers from post-partum depression.
Woodcock says the play especially spoke to her because of its earnestness and that it stayed away from the cheap humor of a sitcom that made fun of new motherhood. She hopes it will speak to other new mothers, if they can find a way to get to the theater amid the demands of caring for newborns.
“It is just a very rich tapestry of motherhood shown in the show, but not in a preachy way,” Woodcock says. “That’s one of my criteria. I don’t like plays that are a lecture. It’s about these really human characters and their real problems. That’s a way to get people to think about an issue, not to just tell them how they should feel.”
That show will run February 13 to March 1.
The season’s final show is “The Aliens” by Annie Baker. The Something Something team had wanted the show in its last season, but they ended up choosing a different play. It is a story about two angry young men who end up telling a high school student everything they know. It is a play fraught with silences that has won national recognition.
It will be running March 26 to April 20.
It is proof that they don’t just do shows about women and by women. They’ll also do plays by men or about men, they just have to be really good and stand out.
“We have favorite playwrights by men as well, if there is something really good that we like,” Woodcock says.
They do like to choose shows that are new to their audiences, which is why they have a season filled with plays that haven’t been seen in Tucson.
“There are some plays you see a lot,” says Woodcock. “A lot of companies do ‘Steel Magnolias’ or ‘The Fantasticks,’ which are great shows, but we want to do something a little different that people haven’t seen before. They like to see things they know, but I think people also like to take chances on new things. They’re tired of the same old stories. It’s working out for us so far.”
There are certain things that they avoid when choosing plays. They won’t select a play that is preachy or tells an audience how to feel. They avoid the mainstream media clichés that are often found in romantic comedies or plays that show women being scheming or lying about assault. The plays need to go beyond typical stereotypes.
Woodcock says they cast all their shows locally and they are committed to never pre-casting. They want everyone who shows up to know that they can read for any role. As someone who is also an actor, Woodcock says that is important to her.
“There is a really great talent pool in Tucson,” Woodcock says. “It really is a big theater town.”
It all comes together in a philosophy that has worked well for Something Something, a company that has enjoyed a continually growing subscription base that is supportive of what they do. It is also something that Woodcock hopes more people will come to see — and that they’ll support other Tucson theater companies.
“I’d like to stress the importance of theater and supporting your local arts, because a lot of really great theater companies and arts organizations simply do not get enough support and really great companies are forced to close,” Woodcock says. “It’s like shopping local. If you like your local arts, support us in some way, even if you can’t make it to a show, to keep us here.”