Necessity is the Mother of Invention: The 2018 Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival
The Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival is back for its fourth season, and this year’s theme is Motherhood in Theater. The PWTF is partnering with Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) to present four staged readings and a children’s play written and directed by mothers, and exploring the joys, complexities, and challenges of parenthood.
Cofounders Polly Edelstein and Christine Petrini have each been involved in theater locally and around the world for many years, and in 2014 they graduated together from Villanova University, earning masters of arts in theater. That same year, they decided to confront the lack of opportunities for women in theater, onstage and off, by founding a festival highlighting women’s voices and perspectives that are often misrepresented or left unheard.
The inspiration for this year’s theme comes from seeing the work parents do to juggle art and life. “Last spring we co-hosted a panel on motherhood in the arts with Rachel Spencer Hewitt of PAAL. It was such an inspiring panel that opened our eyes to how talented parent artists are, not only as theater artists but as humans able to take on the many different responsibilities of parenthood and making art,” says Edelstein, artistic director of PWTF and creator of 2011 Fringe Festival show Trappings. For the 2018 festival, Edelstein and Petrini hope to give an artistic platform to parent artists, as well as to provide the resources and support needed for successful art production.
As we all know, it is difficult to be a working woman, and especially a working mother, in every industry. The U.S. provides the worst maternity leave benefits of any developed nation in the world. Often, women must choose between a career and parenthood, and they are hit with judgement and guilt for every decision they make. This issue is especially acute for parents in the arts, who attend long rehearsals and late-night performances for little money, leaving them without the time and resources to provide for their children. It is for these reasons and many others that the PWTF has chosen shows that make women feel heard and accepted. Edelstein explains: “By focusing on mothers in the arts, we want to say you matter, your voice is important, your art is necessary, and you don’t have to explain yourself for wanting to be an artist.”
The collection of performances in the festival seeks to display the endless variety of experiences and the uniqueness of every mother’s journey. Performances include:
The King Who Wanted to Clean the Moon, a family-friendly musical about climate change and gender roles
Water In My Hands, a series of interconnected narratives exploring the power of grief
Brown-Eyed Rapunzel, which delves into the complicated relationship between a white mother and her mixed-race daughter
Zen and the Art of Mourning a Mother, showcasing three generations of mother/daughter relationships
Refrigerator Mother, about a mother in the 1950s who is blamed for her daughter’s autism diagnosis.
The festival will also include two professional development events — Mothers of Color in the Arts and Moms on the Move, two opportunities for moms to connect, mingle, and share thoughts on how working mothers can be better supported.
Edelstein is especially grateful for the festival’s partnership with PAAL, a national organization that advocates for parent artists and works to promote family-friendly practices in theater. “Having the research and expertise of PAAL to not only help get the word out about the festival but to provide guidance and best practices for how to support parents is invaluable. We definitely would not be where we are with this festival without PAAL and I cannot wait to see PAAL grow and develop into an international organization that supports parent artists all over the world,” says Edelstein.
In order to make the festival accessible to all families, children will be welcome at every performance and mothers are free to breastfeed their babies. Additionally, childcare will be provided onsite during the networking events and PWTF will host child-friendly theater games and crafts.
“We hope that the festival…is fun, joyful, and celebratory, but also a call to action and an ability for parents to network, share resources, and help us help parent artists in Philly,” says Edelstein. The Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival is providing mothers and all parents with a chance to feel heard, valued, and represented in the arts, as well as with the resources to thrive as simultaneous artists and caregivers. If you’re a mother, or if you’re not, come share in the joy created when women get to write, direct, perform, and tell their own stories.
— Alyssa Kerper
What: The Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival
When: August 2 – 5, 2018
Where: Music Theatre Philly, 262 South 12th Street
Cost: $10 – $15 for individual tickets, $30 – $50 for festival passes
Founded by Polly Edelstein and Christine Petrini