3Girls Theatre Company. Back row, left to right: Literary Director Pamela Hollings, Salon Series Finalist/Playwright Susan Jackson, GirlWrights Teaching Artist Sierra Marie Gonzalez, Executive Artistic Director/Founding Playwright AJ Baker.
Front row, left to right: Salon Series Finalist/Playwright Elizabeth Flanagan, Company Manager Leyla Eraslan, 3GT Investigates Project Director/Playwright Cat Brooks
3Girls Theatre Company's festival showcases new works by women playwrights
Two months before the opening of 3Girls Theatre Company’s eighth new-plays festival, founder AJ Baker was in her North Beach apartment watching a documentary about African-American civil rights activist Ida B. Wells (1862-1931). The festival, this year themed “Hindsight is 2020: Reimagining Women’s History,” coincides with the nationwide celebration of a century of U.S. women’s suffrage.
A longtime writer, Baker was working on “Bottoms Up!,” a 10-minute play (influenced by Caryl Churchill’s “Top Girls”) in which a group of historical feminists, including Wells and Susan B. Anthony, meet. The play is one of seven short-shorts amidst a full festival lineup of staged readings and other activities (see sidebar).
3Girls (or 3GT) is going on its 10th year as a company that develops new plays by women. According to the Dramatists Guild, in 2018 only 30% of the plays produced in America were by women (although the numbers are rising).
But when the three founding members (Baker plus playwrights Suze Allen and Lee Brady) first got together, that figure was less than 20%. We can complain, or we can do something about it, they agreed. The name 3GT is ironic; the youngest of the three was 49 at the time. “We wanted to make it clear,” says Baker, “that we don’t take ourselves so seriously. We wanted to have a sense of humor.
“Obviously,” she adds, “we’re feminists. We want stories from a woman’s perspective to make it to the stage as frequently as men’s stories are.”
That means actual girls as well: One of 3GT’s five ongoing programs is GirlWrights, free for selected girls 11 to 14 who don’t have theatre activities at their schools.
Other 3GT ongoing programs are LezWritesBTQ, created by longtime local playwright Margery Kreitman to support LBTQ playwrights and performers (and other women traditionally underrepresented in theatre); the curated Salon Series of staged readings for emerging playwrights over 40; the Innovators Series that focuses on experimental work aimed for an audience of young local techies (and presented at Google Community Space); and the Investigates Series in which teams of playwrights examine critical issues. All, plus other activities, are represented at the 10-day festival. That includes staged readings of two plays chosen from the year’s Salon Series to compete for the festival prize; finalists are Susan Jackson’s “Swimming with Puppies,” and Elizabeth Flanagan’s dark comedy “Swimming With Puppies" in which a young college graduate returns to her dead-end hometown. Judges are Berkeley Rep’s Sarah Rose Leonard, Golden Thread’s Torange Yeghiazarian and Playwrights Foundation’s Jessica Bird Beza.
A special attraction is “Mother Lear,” a little gem. In the mother-daughter drama created and performed by We Players’ founder/artistic director/actor Ava Roy and actor Courtney Walsh, a scholar with dementia speaks using only the text of “King Lear,” as her daughter struggles to communicate with her and care for her.
If 3GT’s mission is to help develop new women playwrights—and to promote women as designers, too--it is far from a women-only organization, nor are the plays necessarily about women. The company—at the moment, comprising 35 writers across the five programs—includes men as well, on staff and as actors and directors.
In fact, Baker jokingly refers to actor/director/board member Louis Parnell as the “fourth girl.” He helped catalyze the formation of the company when he chanced to see a staged reading of Baker’s play “The Right Thing”; Baker says he told her, “You should put this up, and I want to play the lead.” For the festival reading of “Meth,” Parnell is directing and playing a non-leading role. “I love working with living playwrights to develop work,” he says. “It’s wonderful to see the initial play and then two years later seeing it become so much better. You rarely get to do that; only the Playwrights Foundation does that [here].”
Playwright Lee Brady agrees. “It’s important to be part of a playwrights’ group [like this] and see every reading, and comment and support,” she says. The company gives participating writers a director, a dramaturg, actors, a venue (which varies according to the different programs), an audience. As the company continues, adds Brady, it’s increasingly important to help emerging women writers.
Baker is now 3GT’s fulltime volunteer artistic/executive director, having just this year closed her small San Francisco law firm. She ran 3GT for its first seven years out of her apartment and law office, but the theatre now has a dedicated North Beach office for table reads, rehearsals and meetings. “We live somewhere real now,” she says proudly, “and can provide more concrete resources to our artists.”
All performances are at 7:30, unless otherwise noted, at Z Below, 470 Florida St., San Francisco. 3girlstheatre.org. (415) 891-7941. Reserve online ($10) or take a pay-what-you-can chance at the door.
March 19: Pre-festival showing of “Mother Lear” (includes reception, $40)
March 20: Opening evening of theatre (including “Bottoms Up!”), improv and conversation
March 21: LezWritesBTQ in Performance (3 & 7:30 pm)
March 22: “Mother Lear” (3 pm);
March 22: “The Dream Thief,” an immersive urban fairytale by Erin Gilley and Denmo Ibrahim
March 25: “Black Missing Murdered Trafficked,” exploring the disappearance and murder of Black women in Oakland, led by Cat Brooks
March 26: “Curious at the End of the World,” an immersive theatrical “queer cabaret”
March 27: Seven staged readings linked by the festival theme, including “Bottoms Up!” and plays by Linda Ayres-Frederick, Cat Brooks, Marie Cartier, Elizabeth Aaron, Emma Attwood and Catherine Tandy
March 28: “Swimming with Puppies” (1 pm) followed by a complimentary reception, then “Meth” (3:30 pm)
March 29: GirlWrights short plays performed by professional actors (3 pm)