How the Women’s Project Lab Creates Future Female Theatre-Makers

Special Features   How the Women’s Project Lab Creates Future Female Theatre-Makers
The playwrights behind Dry Powder and Ironbound open up about their two-year residency with the female-driven organization.
Martyna Majok and Sarah Burgess
Martyna Majok and Sarah Burgess Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic, Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The Women’s Project Theater Lab is a two-year residency for a select group of women playwrights, directors and producers. The program provides its members with a professional network, entrepreneurial and leadership training and opportunities for development and production.

Sarah Burgess and Martyna Majok, whose plays Dry Powder and Ironbound, respectively, are currently playing Off-Broadway, are both members of the Lab. Both women have works in performance at the Women’s Project Pipeline Festival, currently running through April 23 at the McGinn/Cazale Theater, which showcases new works developed during the residency. The two playwrights open up about what makes the Women’s Project residency so special and how its been valuable to them.

How is the Women’s Project Lab different from other programs available to writers?
Majok: The Lab isn’t just a gathering of a bunch of lady theatre-makers in a room talking. It is a commitment of various tools and resources to actually try to make our work happen.

Martyna Majok
Martyna Majok

[WP] organized sessions for us with business coaches and strategists, literary managers, artistic directors and other theatre/television/film artists and producers. We took part in workshops and mini-seminars where these guests offered guidance and solidarity and spoke to us about their experiences maneuvering through the various challenges of being a theatre-maker.

This was not only helpful and instructive—it was incredibly moving. The gesture of these women coming to speak to us—oftentimes from fields outside of theatre—was inspiring. It was in witnessing their commitment to helping us, to women helping each other, that made me want to do the same. We need to lift each other up. We need to know someone’s got our backs and wants our stories. It encourages us to make the brave moves we’re all capable of making.

Another thing I loved about the Lab were our “artists dates.” To help us get to know each other better, we were set up on dates with each other—a new pair every month. A playwright might meet with a producer, or a producer with a director, etc. I’m hoping to carry these relationships with me and to deepen them, long after Lab is done.

Burgess: [The Lab] was less about reading new drafts (though there was some of that) and more about providing a place for a few writers with different backstories (some went to grad school, others didn't; some have been produced, others not yet) to share their perspectives on important practical questions. When a writer was facing a career decision or dealing with a frustrating professional problem, meetings were sometimes used to discuss that question openly.

The WP's Lab Residents
The WP's Lab Residents Eric D. Michelson

What was the most beneficial thing about the WP Lab to you as a playwright?
Majok: The connections and the frank discussions. Get a bunch of hungry, determined people together who hustle their butts off in New York City and they’re going to have something to say to each other about survival. Especially if they represent a group of people that has historically not been afforded an equal seat at the table. Solidarity is priceless.

In a way, I think that being part of a group that was organized originally in response to an important need—to counter under-representation of and perhaps an unconscious bias against female artists—has bound us to each other and the cause of parity. We all just want to make good work about people and things we care about. It’s how something like The Pipeline Festival can exist. [It’s] this wonderful thing that was born out of a need to have our work seen that was expressed to the people who care, to those who want something to actually happen, to those who are committed to change in their community.

Burgess: It's been so valuable to get to know Lisa McNulty (producing artistic director at Women’s Project), whom I consider a friend and a valuable source of insight and feedback. And the Pipeline Festival spurred me to finish work on a new play I'd been thinking about. I was matched with Adrienne Campbell-Holt and Pearl Hodiwala for the workshop. I respect both Adrienne and Pearl a lot, and I know they're both quite busy, so I felt a useful sort of pressure to finish a draft for the festival that would (hopefully) not be a total and complete waste of their time.

Tickets for The Pipeline Festival are on sale via WPTHEATER.ORG or by calling (888) 811-4111.

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