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Supply and demand dictate that there aren’t enough juicy roles for actresses. Women outnumber men at auditions and have to compete for a small percentage of the roles in traditional male-written plays: whore, ingenue, menopausal mother, ancient nursemaid, dutiful wife.
The members of D.C.’s Theatre Conspiracy have found that in order to rewrite the rules of roles, women have to write the plays. What began in 1993 as a 20-something male-run theater project faced extinction when its founders bowed out. But company members Tricia McCauley, Lynn Silusch, and Jennifer Ambrosino weren’t about to let someone else run the show.
After a mission-statement face-lift, the Theatre Conspiracy emerged in 1995 as a nonprofit women’s theater company. “Our mission is to provide strong and interesting roles for women as playwrights, directors, designers, and actors,” says Ambrosino, who, along with Ann Mezger, serves as co-managing artistic director. “TTC actively evokes strong images of women in our plays. Now, our mission doesn’t say ‘positive’ women’s roles,” she warns. “They are not always the most flattering, but they are all very real and very strong.”
Karen Tecott, director of TTC’s current production, Barbara B. Goldman’s coming-of-age play, Perfect Women, says she never got to direct until she aligned herself with the all-female company. “[TTC] is a very nurturing environment, and it leads to a lot of creative exploration. It’s less hierarchical [than a male-run company]; there’s much more give and take. Women’s theaters tend to be a lot more collaborative,” she observes. “They really do listen to what’s being said.”
As the company’s eighth production flourishes, it’s only a matter of time before the theater’s conspiracy is co-opted by male-run theaters. Because the Theatre Conspiracy is the name given to the group by its male founders, says Ambrosino, its current members weren’t sure about hanging on to it after their transformation. But when one of their actresses pointed out that conspire means “to breathe together,” says Ambrosino, “We embraced it. Ever since then, we fell in love with the name—and the idea that we’re all doing this together.”—Amanda Fazzone
Perfect Women runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. at the District of Columbia Arts Center to Nov. 20. Call (202) 462-7833 for details.