Happy As Clams: The 18th Annual Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival

Posted in Feature, Literary, More Stories, Theater and Dance
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
May 13, 2015

Suzanne Vega was originally invited to Hedgebrook to be in residence as part of the Singer/Songwriter retreat. But she had another idea and a request: to come to Hedgebrook as a playwright.

Vega was working on a play—“Two Lectures: An Evening with Carson McCullers”—and she wanted to bring it to the Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival.

Suzanne Vega  /  photo courtesy of Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega / photo courtesy of Suzanne Vega

The play, with music, is in two acts: Carson McCullers is hired to speak at the “Best Young Writers of 1942” program at the YMCA and talks about writing, love, civil rights and whatever else comes into her mind. She revisits the same venue in 1967 for a second lecture a month before the end of her life.

Vega is perhaps best known for her songs “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner.” The community she has found at Hedgebrook is a departure from the often-solitary practice of songwriting.

“The first week of being at Hedgebrook has been inspiring, exhilarating and also entertaining,” she said, “as we get to admire each other’s work know more about our fellow playwrights.”

Vega joins playwrights Leanna Brodie, Dipika Guha, Karen Hartman, Julie Marie Myatt and Lauren Yee for the 18th annual festival. Since 1998, the Hedgebrook Festival has supported the work of an impressive array of women playwrights and served an important role in the development of new plays by women.

After the opening weekend readings, the playwrights and dramaturgs kick back and enjoy a fire.   /  photo by Julie O'Brien)

After the opening weekend readings, the playwrights and dramaturgs kick back and enjoy a fire. / photo by Julie O’Brien)

The festival begins with a “pre-retreat” weekend, in which the get to know one another and hear each other’s plays read aloud. This is followed by a two-week retreat at Hedgebrook, where each playwright has her own private cottage, a dramaturg on-call and the opportunity to work in Hedgebrook’s unique combination of solitude and community.

Festival dramaturg Christine Sumption raved about the talents of this year’s crop of playwrights:

“We have a glorious group of playwrights joining us for the festival this year and they’re as different as they can be. Leanna Brodie is a whip-smart Canadian woman writing about wind power and community politics. Karen Hartman is exploring responsibility and blame in a deeply moving play about AIDS, hemophilia and the safety of the blood supply.

“Julie Marie Myatt is raising questions about how society treats those who’ve been in prison, slyly looking through the lens of rescued animals,” Sumption continued. “Dipika Guha is conjuring a family of women who suffer from immaculate conception. Lauren Yee is writing ‘King of the Yees,’ a hilarious and touching play about family and heritage. And Suzanne Vega is writing a solo show with music about Carson McCullers. It’s a banquet of vividly imagined material.”

Vega enjoys lunch cooked by Hedgebrook chefs during the festival's opening weekend.  /  photo by Julie O'Brien)

Vega enjoys lunch cooked by Hedgebrook chefs during the festival’s opening weekend. / photo by Julie O’Brien)

The festival culminates in two public presentations of the new work, on Whidbey Island and in Seattle. The Whidbey performance will be held at 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 17 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. The Seattle performance will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 18 at ACT Theatre.

Festival participants find themselves in awe of the radical hospitality of Hedgebrook. Many of them find the quiet and calm setting of Whidbey Island in sharp contrast to their usual frenetic environment. “Here I am a pampered hermit,” Dipika Guha said. “There is such peace and such license in a solitude supported with so much generosity, kindness and grace. I find myself going back to my oldest instincts…

“There is a reason, I think, we call clams happy,” she added. “Being here, supported by ideal conditions, hatching writing inside my shell, knowing that others are doing the same, I am happy.” Guha is the first-ever recipient of the Shakespeare’s Sister Fellowship, awarded in partnership with A Room of Her Own Foundation and the Lark Play Development Center.

Playwright Lauren Yee reflected on how much care Hedgebrook takes in building a supportive environment for writers. “Everything at Hedgebrook is purposeful,” she said. “From the cozy window seats in our cabins to the wall of snack jars in the kitchen. How could you not fall in love and do good work at a place where someone has thought about every moment of your experience?”

Alumnae of the festival have gone on to be nominated for, and even win, the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The festival offers these playwrights the unique opportunity to devote uninterrupted time to their craft while simultaneously building professional relationships.

“In the competitive world of theatre, women playwrights rarely get this kind of opportunity and it’s a joy to see the friendships and networks that grow out of this communion, not to mention the extraordinary plays,” Sumption said. “If you’ve seen plays by Lynn Nottage, Theresa Rebeck, Danai Gurira, Julia Cho or Quiara Alegria Hudes, you’ve seen some of the fruits of the festival.”

* * *

For more information about the Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival and to purchase tickets, please visit: http://www.hedgebrook.org/women-playwrights-festival.

Hedgebrook Program Director Vito Zingarelli was recently interviewed about the history of the festival. Listen to the podcast here: http://theatricalmustang.podbean.com/e/vito-zingarelli-the-hedgebrook-women-playwrights-festival/.

Image at top, and full-size below:  The 18th annual Hedgebrook playwrights—back row, left to right: Leanna Brodie, Dipika Guha and Lauren Yee; front row: Karen Hartman, Julie Marie Myatt and Suzanne Vega   / photo by Julie O’Brien

Katie Woodzick is an actor and director who can be seen on local stages and who is the host of the Theatrical Mustang Podcast, which features interviews with unbridled talent in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more at katiewoodzick.squarespace.com. She is proud to be acting in a play penned by another Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival alumna, Sarah Ruhl: “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” which runs at OutCast Productions through May 23.


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Hedgebrook Group Picture (Julie O'Brien)

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