In 1669, British female writer Aphra Behn produced a play and people laughed. Over 400 years later, not much has changed, and Acadiana Repertory Theatre has taken the hint.
The company’s four productions scheduled for 2016 all were written by female playwrights, with “La Fée Verte” by Bridgette Dutta Portman opening the season on Friday, Feb. 5.
The idea stemmed from the company’s production of “The Woman’s Part” by Cody Daigle-Orians, which, in the first act, follows Behn in 1669 London as she brings her first play, “Forced Marriage,” to the stage. The second act is set in 2015 Baton Rouge, where an all-female theater company plans to mount Behn’s play to save its struggling company.
“To do her story (Aphra Behn) was an exciting thing,” says Steven Landry, managing artistic director for Acadiana Repertory Theatre. “Then I met a female playwright who does a national festival for other female playwrights. I was aware of their plight, but not the extent. Only about 25 percent of plays are staged by women.”
Landry realized as a company that dedicates itself to developing new works, it was also responsible for introducing new voices.
“It’s an acknowledgment that women are as capable of writing good theatre as men,” he says.
Out of 400 works submitted by both genders to Acadiana Repertory Theatre in 2015 for consideration in the 2016 season, only 90 were from women. Landry isn’t sure if this reflects discouragement, disproportionately fewer female playwrights or both.
“We were stringent,” he says. “The four we picked are smart and entertaining. I’d have been thrilled if they were written by men.”
The season’s opener, “La Fée Verte,” is a dark comedy about the banning of absinthe, set in 1914 Paris and featuring three men — a poet, a priest and a grieving lover — all of whom worry their wormwood-induced hallucinations may end.
“Anatomy of a Hug,” by Kat Ramsburg, where a female convict is released into her daughter’s care, will run May 20-28. On Sept. 9, “Once Upon a Bride There was a Forest,” by Kristen Palmer, a modern fairy tale, will open Sept. 9, and “Slabs” by Kaitlyn McClincy, a workplace comedy set in a funeral home, opens Nov. 11. All will be performed at Theatre 810.
“Each show has something about it that’s new,” says Landry. “There’s nothing about them that feels female. At the end of the day, they’re just good stories. Real people, real stories.”
Audiences aren’t likely to find any gender differences in the language or subject matter. “Anatomy of a Hug” could be a father and son. “La Fée Verte” has three men, and the Henry character in “Slabs” is “as much of a man as a man could write,” says Landry.
“What makes a playwright is someone who can put an understanding of life on the page,” he says.
Landry says men shouldn’t be afraid to come — there’s no lecturing, no girl power. He admits to being a feminist, but says he’s actually more of a proponent for everyone.
“God, do I believe in the underdog,” he says. “I like the idea that everyone gets that chance.”
According to Landry, the response from both genders to the upcoming season has been overwhelming.
“How is it in 2016, we’re still living in a place where we have to champion women?” he asks. “It’s a responsibility to make sure they’re represented.”