This past January, the Arizona Commission on the Arts invested $119,000 in 16 arts-focused ventures at regional fast-pitch events held in four Arizona cities. This month we’re checking in with some of those ventures to see how they’re progressing.

So far we’ve caught up with Gretchen Baer’s Paint Your Town!, ProMusica Arizona’s Unpredictable Adventures of Henry Hicklebee and the Building careACTOR program, a partnership between Tucson’s Arts Express and Arizona Schools for the Deaf and Blind (ASDB). Today, we hear from The Bridge Initiative: Women in Arizona Theatre.

Devised by theatre artists Tracy Liz Miller and Brenda Jean Foley, The Bridge Intitiative aims “to identify and empower female artists in the Southwest region, with the aim of gender parity across all theatrical disciplines.”

In their pitch at the Eastern region Arizona Art Tank event, Miller and Foley painted a stark and startling picture of the lack of gender parity in the theatre industry, making excellent use of published national research, industry data and their own survey of local female theatre artists. They then outlined an ambitious plan to address the issue:

  • We will maintain a website.
  • We will reach out to the press.
  • We will plan networking events and panel discussions.
  • We will solicit new plays from female playwrights to be directed by female directors, and our initiative will culminate in an annual two-week symposium of play readings, workshops, master classes, student internships, and a full, professional premiere production of the Playwright of the Year’s awarded play, directed by the Director of the Year.

IMG_8610aThey walked away that evening with a $6,000 Art Tank grant and hit the ground running. In the three months since Arizona Art Tank, Miller and Foley have established a website and an active social media presence, spoken with local and national press about their work, hosted networking events and conducted a crowd-funding campaign for additional investment. They also issued a nationwide call for submissions for their first Director and Playwright of the Year awards. This week, The Bridge Initiative announced the winners: Kat Ramsburg’s  Anatomy of a Hug, will be directed by Amanda Noel Trombley at Mesa Encore Theatre’s Black Box on Brown on June 19-21, 2015.

Somehow, they still found the time to talk with us about their experience at Arizona Art Tank, all they’ve been able to accomplish since Art Tank and where they’re headed next.

What was the experience of preparing and delivering your pitch for Arizona Art Tank like for your team?

We did a lot of research for our grant, but that was such a good thing for us in preparing for future conversations! We knew the information that supported our program and that has proved very helpful and made us look really good in interviews–Phoenix New Times, KJZZ and American Theatre Magazine. We decided that our pitch was going to have a lot of statistics and that would support our argument well. We were right! And the reaction of those in attendance was better than we’d hoped, with gasps and groans over the extreme gender disparity in theatre in our region. The hardest part was picking and choosing what we wanted to present and getting it all under 6 minutes. We didn’t have a second left to spare when the last word was spoken. Phew!

Beyond the grant, what has your organization taken away from the experience of preparing for and pitching at Arizona Art Tank?

We got our stuff together!!! We really knew our stats and were well-researched for moving forward. And I’ve learned that I will always be prepared in the future, knowing that my knowledge can carry weight and respect, garnering us more support down the road.

Also, being the only brand new organization pitching at the event made us proud. All of the other winners were from established and well-respected organizations and being in that mix gave us a lot of confidence moving forward.

The Art Tank grant gave us not only a solid financial start, but strong credentials when we began to promote our programming. We also were blown away by the support of the other people giving pitches. The Art Tank initiative is not only a money-granting event, but a celebration of great ideas and the positive excitement was palpable.

So, how’s it going so far? 

bridgeOur first networking event brought in some fantastically talented and savvy people that wanted to be in on this conversation, and we were so honored and humbled to have them join us. And these amazing leaders–Janet Arnold, Kara Thomson, Joya Scott, to name a few–are real movers and shakers in this community and were enthused by the Initiative. They wouldn’t have trusted us to lead the way in this important matter, if we hadn’t won the grant.

Being awarded by the Art Tank made people sit up and take notice. I can’t verify this for sure, but some positive changes have already begun in our theatrical community. And where the status quo has remained, some serious flak came down and the press covered these (now considered) snafus in regards to programming choices, hiring practices and the male-dominated normal.

We will encounter challenges, I’m sure. We are worried that although people are happy we are doing something, spear-heading conversation and shining light on gender disparity in the arts, all of this may not translate to butts in the seats when we produce our inaugural season. That’s why choosing great material (we had over 100 new plays submitted from female playwrights!), quality producing and good planning will be key. And marketing! We have raised money for more of that, which is always good.

What’s next?

We are busy reading new plays, hoping to make our selections within the next two weeks. We will be choosing directors soon after. And then we will be posting about our needs in all areas–designers, stage management, casting just to begin with. This is all very exciting!!! We are also hard at work creating the complimentary programming that will happen during the Symposium that will include panel discussions, workshops and master classes. We will also begin work on the theatrical talent database, so that collaborators will know where to find talented and capable women in all fields and at all levels. Much to do! But without Art Tank, none of this would be happening.