WOMEN AT THE HELM: FEMUSCRIPTS THEATER PRODUCTIONS AMPLIFY FEMALE NARRATIVES
Left to right, Carla Zackson Heller as writer Gertrude Stein, Laurie Tanner as art collector and socialite Claribel Cone, and Leslie Kandel as writer Alice B. Toklas in a scene from “The Equivalent of Sensation”, a play by Arianna Rose presented at the Sandrell Rivers Theater in Liberty City. Photo credit Angelo Canzani.
As a longtime actress, writer, and producer in South Florida, Laurie Tanner, like most artists, found herself with no creative outlet after March 13, 2020, when the world shut down. So she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I, along with other female writers and actors, decided to establish Femuscripts in September 2020. With theaters closed and people staying home, work was hard to come by,” said Tanner.
With nearly six months out of work, creative times were very challenging. That’s when she and Femuscripts Co-Founder Alicia Garcia, a fellow actress and writer, began conceptualizing an idea.
“We were talking about finding a way to work but also about the fact that plays about women were being told by men and from the male perspective,” Tanner said. “We wanted to rectify that so between the two of us and another actress and writer Brooke Lynn White who we brought on board, we put on a virtual short play festival in November 2020.”
They called it “Long Story Short” and it featured five plays, three of them written by the three Femuscripts founders.
“I think my favorite was ‘Virtual School’ written by Alicia Garcia,” said Tanner. “The two actors were an adorable mother-daughter pair, professional actors from Central Florida.”
Building off that festival’s momentum, they came up with the Valentine’s Day-themed “Love Fest” in 2021 which was followed by “Love Fest 2” in 2022. The first one featured a whopping 13 plays presented virtually over two nights while Love Fest 2 was a hybrid with nine in-person plays and seven virtual ones.
“We worked hard on those festivals!” said Tanner.
And because Femuscripts is all female-driven, it seemed fitting they produce a festival during Women’s History Month. It focused on female Floridians and was called “Florida Her Stories.”
“We really thought writers would be curious about women’s history in Florida but surprisingly, submissions were low for this festival so we ended up writing our own plays,” said Tanner referring to herself, Garcia, and White. “We also reached out to local writer and poet Zorina Frey who read some of her poems and dazzled us with her amazing energy.”
They ended up producing a play on Miami’s founder Julia Tuttle which was submitted by local playwright Marjorie O’Neill Butler while Femuscripts Co-Founder Garcia’s piece featured adapted stories from author Zora Neale Hurston’s book “Dust Tracks a Road.”
Through all of this, they found time to host a benefit for Women In Distress, a festival they called “Lovely Lights” where they took original pieces and made them their own.
Eventually, Laurie found herself running Femuscripts on her own “because Alicia Garcia and Brooke Lynn White needed to take some personal time,” Tanner said. She used that opportunity to reflect on her next move and decided she wanted to produce a full-length play.
Then in summer 2022 Tanner put out a call for submissions and titled it “Back to Life,” a name she “felt gave writers an opportunity to interpret their material in their own way. I received about 60 submissions, reviewed them all, and ultimately chose writer Arianna Rose because hers really hit on the theme.”
That submission was “The Equivalent of Sensation” which examined the lives of four historical women – sisters Etta and Claribel Cone known as The Cone Sisters of Baltimore and prominent art collectors and the renowned writers Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.
The play was presented at Sandrell Rivers Theater and at Sol Theatre in Boca Raton over two weekends in September 2023 and starred Leslie Kandel (Toklas), Carla Zackson Heller (Stein), Celine Hakoun (Etta Cone) and Tanner (Claribel Cone). Joining the four main players was Brittany Nicholson who plays Odalisque, the subject in a Henri Matisse painting.
As the four main characters examine their lives, the audience joins them on a journey of self-discovery that takes a deep look at the impact of women on art and society, all the while showcasing their strength, independence, and true defiance. It was 90 minutes filled with laughter, awe, gasps, and sheer emotion.
Finding the director was easy, “I knew Carey Brianna Hart and although I hadn’t worked with her before I really liked her work. She is empathetic and agreed to direct it,” said Tanner.
Next was finding a venue but with no budget, Tanner applied for the theater’s CAP partnership and they accepted it and then casting which was all set until one of the actors had to drop out. “That’s when I stepped in to play Claribel which I loved because playing her really reminded me of one of my grandmothers so I channeled her during the performance,” Tanner said. “It ended up being therapeutic in a way.”
Although at the moment she’s still running Femuscripts on her own, Tanner hopes to put together some play readings and is working on finishing a full-length play of her own.
“I’ve been working on my play which is also about historical women, for some time and would like for it to be part of the play readings I’m planning,” she said. “I am definitely open to having other people in the theater community help with the development of future programs.”
For now, Tanner, Butler, and a few others are part of the writer’s group Plays on Purpose/New Musicals, started by playwright Arianna Rose in 2018 which may be a good starting point for developing future work.
In the meantime, Tanner hopes to find other women in the theater to join her and help grow and find more funding for Femuscripts and future productions. She’s looking for women “aiming to amplify female, female-identifying and non-binary voices in theater,” as she states on the website.
Learn more about Femuscripts and their upcoming productions and programming by visiting their website femuscripts.business.site.
ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.