Rebecca Pingree, Clara Kamunde, June Reif and director LeeAnn Dowd in rehearsal for Susan B. Photo: Daphne White

The first-ever Bay Area Women’s Theatre Festival launches on the evening of Monday, March 2, with a staged reading of a new play, Susan B. by Daphne White, at Peet’s Theatre.

Coincident with this 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which (finally) gave all the women in the United States the right to vote, (California women won the suffrage in 1911) the lively and thoughtful Susan B. mainly concerns the gut-wrenching choice of suffragettes Susan B. Anthony (acted by Rebecca Pingree) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (June Alane Reif) whether to support the Fifteenth Amendment, which offered suffrage to African American men but not to black or white women. Against the historical background of Reconstruction, characters in Susan B. also include Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and orator Wendell Phillips, and the eccentric, rich racist and independent presidential candidate, George Francis Train. It is directed by LeeAnn Dowd (currently California Shakespeare Theater’s Artistic Associate and Casting Manager).

White (who is a Berkeleyside contributor as well as a playwright) said she was drawn to writing about Anthony and Stanton “because their story was so eerily contemporary. The #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, the fight over immigration — it’s still the same old story…,” she said. “Seeing how tough these women were, and how they persisted for five decades, is very inspirational. Susan B.’s last words are said to have been ‘Failure is not an option.’”

The first Bay Area Women’s Theatre Festival, which runs through May 31, aims to highlight gender parity, diversity, and inclusion on-stage and off, in all nine Bay Area counties. All participating theater works are written and directed by those identifying as women or non-binary theater practitioners, and at least 50% of the performers and the designers will be those identifying as women or non-binary artists.

More than 40 theater companies are participating in the Festival.  Among them are the following events at theaters in Berkeley:

Aurora Theatre Company: The Children by Lucy Kirkwood, directed by Barbara Damashek, closes March 1; free reading of Laveau by Britney Frazier, directed by Margo Hall, Part of the Women of Color Reading Series, co-produced with Aurora Theater Company, Monday, May 18.

Peet’s Theatre: staged reading of Susan B. by Daphne White, directed by LeeAnn Dowd, Monday, March 2,

Berkeley Rep: School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play by Jocelyn Bioh, directed by Awoye Timpoby, opens March 19.

TheatreFirst: PUSSYGRABBINGREVENGE, written and performed by Elaine Magree, directed by Susannah Martin, closes March 7.

Shotgun Players: Reading of Man of God by Anna Moench, directed by Michelle Talgarow, as part of The Champagne Reading Series, April 20, 21.

Planned special events also include a Classical Reading Series (plays from the Restoration era to the 1930s), a Women of Color reading series (comprised of contemporary plays by local women of color), various workshops and forums, and, AMPLIFY!, a 24-hour performance marathon on April 18 and 19 in San Francisco featuring non-stop performances from primarily local Bay Area artists who identify as women and non-binary artists.

The festival’s producing team is led by Berkeley native Michaela Goldhaber, who participated in the five-year-old Raleigh, North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival, and thought that the Bay Area would benefit from a similar event. Planning for the Bay Area Women’s Theatre Festival began in 2018 with a campaign aimed at influencing Bay Area theater companies to meet the Festival’s criteria of women participants. Events are still being added to the schedule, and volunteers are enthusiastically accepted.

A launch reception for the festival is at 6:30 p.m., March 2, with the staged reading of Susan B at 7 p.m at Peet’s Theatre and Lobby, 2015 Addison St. Presale tickets are $15.

Festival passes include 20% off ticket prices for all shows in the festival.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...