Voices from the Alcyone Festival, Part One
This is the first in a series of interviews with artists who are working behind the scenes of this year's Alcyone Festival. Jenn Adams is the Associate Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Halcyon Theatre. I sat down with her to learn more about the Alcyone Festival, her involvement with it and what you can expect to see at the festival this year.
Q: How did you first come up with the concept of the Alcyone festival?
Jenn: When Tony and I were both with different companies, we started talking about doing a festival committed to women artists. Slowly, the conversation morphed into focusing on female playwrights. We talked a lot about the struggles that female playwrights face: The fact that no one thinks women were writing before Lillian Hellman, whose career began in the 1930’s, when Aphra Behn was the first known professional female playwright in the 1600’s.
Q: What’s different about the festival this year?
Jenn: Several things, really...
I think one thing is the personal relevance to Chicago is stronger than in past years. It is the first time we have highlighted a particular country, and there is such a strong and proud community here in Chicago of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, both in the arts and in general. There has been so much negative profiling and publicity, and I hope the opportunity to see and show these amazing and talented women will be exciting and personal.
Also, we are going to try and really build up the events surrounding the festival, in addition to the plays. Our hope is that every weekend we can have at least one, if not more, special event that corresponds with the plays. That might be a panel discussion, that might be a showcase of the street artists in Pilsen, or readings of the semi-finalists for the festival. We are still working all of that out, but it is a really exciting step forward from what we have done in the past.
Q:What are some of the challenges female playwrights face working in theater?
Jenn: I think for all of our talk, there is still this idea that when women write, they write plays about women and love and either cute little romances or plays that bash men. Society at large doesn’t talk about the fact that women also write science fiction plays and plays about war and injustice and murder, and yes, even the complicated intricacies of the theatre backstage area that can lead to hilarity onstage and off...
In addition, an issue that women and all under-represented communities have to deal with is the fact that if you aren’t Sarah Ruhl and it’s not March, it’s very difficult to get someone to commit to producing. They will commit to commissioning, but then you write it and it sits in a box gathering dust, or it goes into Development Hell, where it gets poked and prodded and changed until it doesn’t look like what you wrote anymore. That may not be that different than for men, but when you combine it with the fact that larger theatres only want one large name to be their “diversity” it becomes even more of a challenge.
Q: As a director, actor and costume designer (phew!) you are used to wearing a lot of different hats. Which one(s) are you wearing for the festival this year?
Jenn: Yes, I hate hats in real life, but I love them for the thee-atah! No, I am producing with Tony for the festival, which right now is focused on getting the word out, building partnerships, and creating a strong financial base. Closer to the festival, especially because Tony is directing this year, it will also include attending rehearsals, coordinating tech, making sure all of the shows have what they need in terms of set, lights, props, and costumes, and that people come see the shows ;)
Q: What are some of the things that excite you about the plays in this year's Alcyone festival?
Jenn: See answers to 1 through 4! Also, having Henry Godinez direct is pretty awesome, and the fact that almost every artist involved in the festival is connected to Halcyon or Tony and I in some way, either by being a Company Member or Artist-in-Residence, or are alumni of the company or of previous Halcyon productions... it’s a very exciting thing, and humbling in many ways.
Q: Is there one play you’re especially excited to see? Why?
Jenn: The play I fell most in love with was Two Dead Guys and a Banjo. I love the language and the humor, and the relationships are very complex, and passionate, and desperate, and funny...and there is a romantic relationship with a severed hand! What can top that?
Q: And just for fun… whose your favorite super hero and why?
Jenn: Well, my son is 5 and ½ and my daughter is 3 and ½ , so there are a LOT of super heroes in my world right now... Super Hero Squad, Avengers, X-Men, X-Men teenagers, X-Men and Wolverine, Spider Man, Spider Man and his Amazing Friends, Spider Man Iron Unit, Iron Man, Power Rangers of all Zords and Galaxies... it’s exhausting... But when we play pretend, I think I am usually Shadow Cat. She walks through walls... that’s pretty cool.