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Expanding the canon: Women’s voices in theater

“The press release says something about the ‘absurdities of motherhood,’” Dawn Ursula says of the play she is directing later this month as she drives through the roads of Washington, D.C., referencing a recent press release from Everyman Theatre detailing this year’s Salon Series. The play, called “Cry it Out” by Molly Smith Metzler, is one of five plays within the series, celebrating stories by women and about women.

The Salon Series, produced by Johanna Gruenhut, is not your typical theatre experience. Evolving out of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival taking place throughout the D.C. and Baltimore region, this year’s series theme is dedicated to some of the personal experiences and challenges of everyday life – motherhood, aging, employment and family.

The plays — featuring women playwrights from Lynn Nottage to Jen Silverman — are curated by the women of the Everyman Theatre’s Resident Acting Company, of which Ursula has been a part for almost ten years.

The series features staged readings of the play in Everyman’s rehearsal hall, and Ursula describes the rehearsal process as “very intense.” Actors cast in the plays meet at noon on the day of the reading and normally have about five hours to complete a full-cast read-through and minimal staging. “It’s wonderful because it’s raw,” she says. “You can see how much beauty and power is in the play.”

The play Ursula herself is directing, “Cry it Out” by Molly Smith Metzler, tells the story of three new mothers juggling their responsibilities as parents while trying to find a work-life balance. The piece takes its name from a controversial technique in baby sleep training called the “cry it out” method where a parent leaves their child to try to calm themselves down before bedtime, usually resulting in the child “crying it out” as they are left without the immediate comfort of an adult.

“I got sucked into this play immediately from line one,” Ursula says, “I remember this. I could so connect with each woman, even though they’re coming from different aspects of life.” And that is the ultimate goal of this series – to show connection across all human beings.

The four other plays in the series — “Sweat” (Lynn Nottage, author of “Intimate Apparel” which was recently performed at Everyman), “Dead and Breathing” (Chisa Hutchinson), “The Cake” (Bekah Brunstetter), and “The Moors” (Jen Silverman) — each showcase a unique voice and a perspective either not often considered, or not often heard and aim to broaden the canon so often reached for when discussing theatrical seasons.

Theatre, therefore, becomes a place where these voices can be normalized and can find a platform. “When you have women or people of color in those positions [as artistic directors or managing directors of theaters],” Ursula states, “it’s not something special. [Plays like this are] already in their wheelhouse.”

The Salon Series will be held in Everyman’s second-floor rehearsal hall on February 5, February 19, March 5, March 19, and April 2, starting at 6 p.m. More information about the individual shows can be found online. Tickets are sold for $20, but are $5 with a student ID.