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3Girls Theater sets the stage for female playwrights

The “3Girls” in the 3GirlsTheater are three experienced writers and theater personalities: Suze Allen, AJ Baker and Lee Brady. Their goal, according to Allen, is to put “women's work on stage where it belongs.”

At the moment, the cast and crew of “3Girls Theater” are in rehearsal. They are preparing for two plays: The Right Thing and What about Ben? – both written by Baker and Brady, and directed by Allen.

If a playwright doesn’t have her own company to perform her work, Allen says, then you are "resigned to write these plays and keep sending them out until somebody accepts your play.” Getting plays to the stage in America is tough, especially if you are a woman, says AJ Baker. She claims only 12 percent of all new works produced in the mainstream American theaters are written by women, with the exception of last year. “And that is the same number, the same percentage, as a 100 years ago. So, feminist, post-feminist, construction, deconstruction – it doesn't matter,” Baker says. “The bottom line is that women are not getting their works produced.”

Many American theaters have recognized this problem. They've established a blind submission policy. That means they choose plays based on the text, without knowing the author. Still, plays written by men predominate. “Yahoo for the men! It's great that their stuff is getting picked,” says Allen. She believes it's not because male work is better. It's just what audiences are used to. “I don't know the statistics but I am wondering how much of the people who are actually picking up plays at regional and mainstream theaters are men, so that the male sensibility really speaks to them.”

Allen also believes women's work gets made when it's gimmicky. “You need to be a staunch feminist or you need to have something very political to say. And we just didn't want to pigeonhole women writers. We want voices of all kind.”

The 3Girls Theater aims to change the paradigm for modern theater. Baker says this is harder in a struggling economy. “Putting on a full production is so much effort, so much work, and so much money that most of the theaters around here who produce the full productions are going to go for the works that they know have succeeded somewhere else.” Allen adds that the situation is daunting because "it's the only business where your ticket sales, your revenue doesn't really pay for what you have produced. So here we are, in the recession, just starting up a new theater company! It's a labor of love!”

The “3Girls” have a powerful interest in the arts. Sitting side-by-side, Brady, Baker and Allen clearly feed each other's passions. “Theater used to be social thing – sort of like ballet or an opera. And it isn't anymore” says Brady, noting that theater can often surprise and even challenge the audience. “It's a narrow view of theater if it's, ‘I want to see it only if it's classical, only if it's a comedy’ or whatever. It shouldn't be that way.” Baker even compares theater with going to a baseball game – being in each place makes the audience a part of a social activity. “And there is nothing to replace that feeling,” Baker adds.

The founders of the “3Girls Theatre” plan to have two seasons per year – each about one month long. They'll also work with young women and girls from underserved communities to help them develop their own performance skills. Someday, they hope, there won't be any need for a company built specifically to promote the work of women in the theater.