Last March, the nonprofit advocacy group WomenArts released a study on gender parity in Bay Area theater. The results were disappointing, to say the least. The study found that less than 27 percent of the 500 productions studied featured predominantly female casts, and women wrote fewer than three out of every ten shows. In fact, in every aspect of production — from directing, to acting, to stage management — women were typically less represented than their male counterparts.
Judging by their 2015–2016 lineups, it seems as if East Bay theater companies have taken note of the discrepancy. The subjects and settings of many upcoming productions differ wildly, but most have at least one commonality: tenacious women taking charge — on stage, in the director’s chair, and in the writing room.
First up is Shotgun Players. There is, perhaps, no other theater company in the East Bay doing more for women in the performing arts. The community playhouse will be continuing its 2015 season of hosting solely female-written and driven narratives with Eurydice (Aug. 20–Sept. 20), which is showing at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley (1901 Ashby Ave). The story retells the classic myth of Orpheus through the perspective of his wife, Eurydice, who must choose between remaining in the underworld or returning to the land of the living with her husband. Written by nationally acclaimed playwright Sarah Ruhl, the dark play promises to have all the trappings of a traditional mythological tragedy, with some added humor for good measure. Plus, with Bay Area resident and master choreographer Erika Chong Shuch in the director’s chair, it’s safe to expect some compelling physical performances from the cast. But if mythological dramas aren’t your style, Shotgun Players will also be putting on more lighthearted romps with The Rover (Oct. 15–Nov. 15), which explores the lives of nuns, wives, and prostitutes, and Agatha Christie’s who-dun-it mystery Mousetrap (Dec. 4–Jan. 10). (ShotgunPlayers.org)
Hot on the heels of this summer’s insightful Notes From The Field: Doing Time in Education, Berkeley Repertory Theatre (2025 Addison Street, Berkeley) will be hosting a musical incarnation of Amelie (Aug. 28–Oct. 4), inspired by the Academy-Award-nominated French film of the same name. This whimsical world premiere is directed by Tony-Award-winner Pam MacKinnon and, like the film, follows the charming-yet-shy Amelie as she navigates modern Parisian life in Montmartre. When the inquisitive young waitress finds a mysterious photo album, she vows to track down the owner. But, of course, Amelie’s noble pursuit turns out to be a little more complicated than she idealistically assumes, leading to many cute moments and, in this stage version, some much-anticipated musical numbers courtesy of musical director Kimberly Grigsby. Later in the season, Berkeley Rep will host Academy-Award-winner Frances McDormand (Fargo) as Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s classic Macbeth (Feb. 19–April 3). (BerkeleyRep.Org)
Aurora Theatre Company (2081 Addison Street, Berkeley) will explore the lives of modern female flight attendants with the Bay Area premiere of Marisa Wegrzyn’s Mud Blue Sky (Aug. 28–Sept. 27). Gone are the days when air travel was a glamorous profession for women working at Pan Am — instead, this play follows three middle-aged women during an extended layover at Chicago’s O’Hare International airport. As they reunite with each other and find an unlikely companion in Jonathan, an adrift teenage boy seeking refuge from a disastrous prom night, the ladies succumb to analyzing past failures and their unknown futures. For the characters in this biting comedy, life is anything but turbulence-free. Other highlights from Aurora’s brimming 2015–2016 lineup include Sarah Treem’s The How and Why (March 18–May 8), a more nuanced story that questions what it means to not only be a woman, but also be successful. Directed by Joy Carlin, the play follows two women, vastly different in age, as they struggle to come up with an answer to the infuriating and enduring question. (AuroraTheatre.org)
Central Works in Berkeley, a company that produces more original works than most other East Bay theaters, will put on its 49th world premiere with Ada and the Memory Engine (Oct. 17–Nov. 22) at the Berkeley City Club (2315 Durant Ave). Written by Lauren Gunderson, this piece of historical fiction chronicles the life of Ada Lovelace, the estranged daughter of Romantic-era poet Lord Byron. But Lovelace is much more than just a countess, as the play soon reveals — she’s also an accomplished metaphysician and computer programmer. (Yes, you read that last one correctly. Lovelace is oft remembered for her fascination and skill with “analytic engines,” a very distant ancestor to our laptops and tablets.) As Ada attempts to create the first-ever computer program with the help of her inventor-friend Charles Babbage, she struggles to envision the future while being haunted by her father’s poetic past. This will be the last production of the 2015 season for Central Works, so expect it to go out with a bang. (CentralWorks.Org)
Piedmont Oakland Repertory Theatre is back in action after a short hiatus and a change of venue. First on its roster of fall performances is John Van Druten’s Bell, Book, and Candle (Oct. 2–Nov. 8) showing at Pacific Boychoir Academy (215 Ridgeway Ave., Oakland). The fantastic tale follows Gillian Holroyd, a witch in New York’s Greenwich Village, who has accepted that her love life will forever be anything but magical. But drama and comedic hijinks start to unfold when she falls in love with her handsome neighbor and is left with a terrible choice: lose her supernatural powers forever, or stay with her soul mate. The story mixes a traditional romance with spooky elements perfectly timed for Halloween. Plus, Piedmont Oakland Repertory will be hosting a special fundraiser on October 31 to help offset the cost of future productions. (PiedmontOaklandRep.Org.)