“You show up to an audition in Eugene,” actress Emily Hart says, “and the play will have one or two women’s roles. Maybe they’re good, maybe they’re not, but there will be 30 women competing for them.” The toll this competition takes artistically is a serious one. According to Hart, “It becomes not so much about the joy of theater, but about how I beat other people out for roles.”
This story is a familiar one for any woman with a passion for theater. Eugene has an unusually vibrant theater community for a town so small, boasting a host of long-running theater companies, educational opportunities and a constant influx of new performing groups seeking to make a mark on our community. But for women the roles remain scarce, and all too often lack the depth and intricacy of male roles.
I sat down at a table of women who are planning to change all that. Their ages span the decades from 20s to mid-60s, and they all want the same thing — a chance to hit the boards. Together they are launching Found Space Theatre, a venue to spotlight the talents of women.
Just as no local theater plans its upcoming season with the goal of excluding women, Found Space isn’t looking to keep men out of the action. According to press materials, “The Found Space mission is to offer theatrical productions with a strong female focus in content, themes and authorship. Emphasis will be on enhancing theatrical opportunities for women but not to the exclusion of men.”
“We’re not saying we’re going to be all women, all the time,” Hart notes. “We’re going to be a theater that allows women’s passionate voices to be heard,” says Samira Lobby, the youngest actress in the group. “It’s a huge step. From back in ancient Greece when theater was all men … [This change] is going to start here,” she gestures to the faces around the table, “and move on. Power to the women!”
I asked the budding company how they came to be connected with one another. They mark their sense of time through theater productions, noting first the production they met in and then the approximate years they have known each other since — reporting on the theater projects they have worked on together along the way. It strikes me that these women have risen above the shark pool of competition, determined to collaborate with other women to further the art of theater.
Found Space, at this time, is actually looking for space. The first show will premiere at the Blue Door Theatre at LCC, but after that they’re searching for a venue. With a fundraising plan laid out, they are looking for an empty building to remodel into a 100-seat theater.
Two Mothers Speak (Memoirs of a Passion) is slated for production from Aug. 30 to Sept. 7. Based on a novella Judith McKenzie published nearly 30 years ago, it was adapted for the stage by Emily Hart. Katie McClatchy directs.
“When I first read Judy’s book I saw so many opportunities,” McClatchy says. “I felt like it was something I had to do.” The play is based on McKenzie’s own experience adopting a child, and it deals with the issues of race, mental illness and what it means to be a mother. “It is fair, honest and engaging,” she adds. “Two Mothers left me with a lot of questions, and the sense that I had to do something.”
McKenzie muses on this adaptation of her work, “What was important then, and important now, is that the audience take away sympathy for both parents, the biological and adoptive. This issue is not black and white. Everyone’s pain should be considered.”
An acknowledgement that everyone’s voice should be heard is a fitting theme for a first production of Found Space Theatre. The community is eagerly looking forward to this new force in the Eugene theater scene.