Women Take Over The Arctic Circle

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Katie Apicella and Adam Tomei in TITLE. Photo by Heidi Marie photography.
Katie Apicella and Adam Tomei in “The Arctic Circle.” Photo by Heidi Marie Photography.

When discussing the West Coast premiere of The Arctic Circle *and a Recipe for Swedish Pancakes, I like to start by saying that this is among the most girl-powered productions I’ve ever worked on. In addition to having three female leads, The Arctic Circle has in its service a woman director, stage manager and technical director. The lights? Designed by a lady. The set? Designed by a lady. The crew that taped, hung, built and loaded these things in? Mostly ladies. And of course there’s me, the playwright and one of the producers of this show-stravaganza, and I too am a lady.

Now, some of you might be saying, “Well that’s just swell, but what the heck does who you hired have to do with the production itself?”

I’m here to tell you that it has everything to do with it.

Samantha Macher
Samantha Macher

I wrote the first draft of The Arctic Circle when I was a playwriting student at Hollins University in a class called First Drafts, in which you basically write a new play every single week for six weeks. This is a great class for a variety of reasons, but I think specifically it was useful for me because it allowed a lot of space for creativity and none for self-editing. As a writer, I’m an extremely critical and immediate editor (in fact, my favorite impulse is to make cuts with reckless abandon), and though this is often a good thing, not having any time to think about what I was saying allowed me to just freaking write.

In this case, I wrote the story of Elin, a woman in her 30s who travels through time, space and Sweden to discover who she is.

On the page, the play has done pretty well. It’s had several well-received readings, been a finalist for a few nice awards, and even had a lovely workshop/East Coast premiere at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, Va., with the incomparable Bob Moss (founder of Playwrights Horizons) directing, in 2012. But since that time, in spite of being sent to hundreds of theaters and having the credentials to support it, the play had never received a second production.

This has left me with three thoughts:

  1. The play is crap and I, and the people who have believed in it up to this point, are delusional.
  2. The non-linear structure of the piece makes it off-putting and seems challenging to produce.
  3. Plays about or by women aren’t seen as marketable.

Though I certainly believe I’m delusional (you have to be to attempt a career in the theater), I refuse to believe that my friends and mentors are, so number 1 is out.

Second, non-linear plays get produced all the time, though not as often as the old linear chestnuts of yore. That theory, too, is at least partially out the window.

So, through the process of deductive reasoning, I have been led to believe the answer must be number 3, with maybe a little bit of one or two mixed in. One can certainly point to the statistics found on the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative website or the infamous Emily Glassberg Sands Study from 2009. These studies show that even though plays by women are often more profitable, they’re also done with less frequency; plays with female protagonists are also overlooked for production, and often by the female artistic directors and literary managers who should be championing them.

 Katie Apicella and Adam Tomei
Katie Apicella and Adam Tomei

The Arctic Circle, which is a coming-of-age story about a woman in a troubled marriage, has both a female writer and a female protagonist. Am I wrong to believe that perhaps this production-killing double whammy might have something to do with the dearth of opportunity for what could be seen as a promising new play?

The good news is, when met with lack of production opportunity, I bully my friends into helping me do my plays. My lovely, brilliant producers at Klepto Theatre Workshop and the New Works Initiative at Hollins have long been supporters of my work. With a lot of fundraising and a little bit of elbow grease, we’re able to mount The Arctic Circle with another new play, The Matador by Robert Plowman (though he’s not a lady-playwright, I think I can still get some points for co-producing a new play, right?).

The better news is that upon deciding to produce these plays, we were given the opportunity to work with a team of incredibly talented female artists. Klepto and Hollins have made a commitment to women in the arts, including actors, directors, and designers who have, like women playwrights, been traditionally sidelined in a male-dominated industry.

I hope to continue this tradition everywhere I am ever produced.

Or self-produced.

The Arctic Circle *and a Recipe for Swedish Pancakes, (part of the Klepto-Mania! double bill). Studio/Stage, 520 N Western Ave, LA 90004.  Opens Friday. Fri-Sat 8 pm; Sun 7 pm. Through Sept. 22. Tickets: $20. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/449039, www.kleptotheatreworkshop.com.

**All The Arctic Circle production photos by Heidi Marie Photography.

Samantha Macher is a graduate of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University and is a Los Angeles playwright. She is currently a playwright-in-residence at SkyPilot Theatre Company and a founding member and resident writer for Weyward Sisters Productions. She penned the critically acclaimed, award-winning War Bride, which premiered at SkyPilot in 2012, and the equally acclaimed To The New Girl… which premiered at SkyPilot in 2011. Six of her plays have been published, and she has become an internationally produced playwright, with more than 20 productions since beginning her career in 2010.

Samantha Macher

Samantha Macher