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Saturday, August 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 76.0° F  Fog/Mist
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The Smart Women Project promotes women in theater
The 15% solution
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Thal: 'Even in plays that have women in them, there are so few parts for women who are smart.'
Thal: 'Even in plays that have women in them, there are so few parts for women who are smart.'

There's a new theater for smart women in Madison.

As part of its launch, the Kathie Rasmussen Women's Theatre is seeking short, original scripts for inclusion in The Smart Women Project next fall at a yet-to-be-determined venue. The deadline for submissions is Monday, Feb. 2.

Kathie Rasmussen was one of the organizers of the company, which memorializes her. She died in June 2007. Broom Street Theater recently produced Rasmussen's Dancing with My Other, which was called "funny and heartbreaking and shocking" by Amelia Cook, reviewing for Isthmus on Nov. 17. "Kathie Rasmussen's family and friends have every right to be proud," wrote Cook. "Dancing with My Other is a tremendously well-crafted play."

"Kathie was a theater activist. That's the way I like to describe her," says the new group's artistic director, Jan Levine Thal. "She was a playwright, an actor, and had done tons of crew work, mostly for Broom Street and Mercury Players theaters but also for other companies."

Levine Thal met Rasmussen while they worked for Madison's now-defunct Feminist Voices newspaper. "You know, we went through the bra-burning phase ourselves. We didn't want to start a theater that was 1970s feminism," she says. "We wanted to start a theater that gave women opportunities within the context of a full theater."

Nationwide, says Levine Thal, only around 15% of plays that are produced are by women. Excluding children's theater, she says, only around 15% of directors are women.

As for roles, "Even in plays that have women in them, there are so few parts for women who are smart," says Levine Thal. "And by smart I don't necessarily mean emotionally smart and have everything figured out. I just mean that they're intelligent or witty. I just feel there are a lot of ditzy women on stage."

The theater is already incorporated, and as it waits to receive nonprofit status it will produce under its fiscal sponsor, Arts Wisconsin, a state arts advocacy organization. The company does not exclude male playwrights or directors, but organizers do anticipate staging previously produced or published works -- plays with a track record.

However, for its inaugural project, the Kathie Rasmussen Women's Theatre seeks new scripts by women. The Smart Women Project aims to be an evening of savvy, worldly-wise, 10-minute stories that feature strong, unique women. Male characters can be included. The only requirement for playwrights is that they be available to help workshop the production.

Area support for the group has been surprising and enthusiastic, says Levine Thal, and scripts have been coming from all over the country.

The years have changed Levine Thal's perspective on the feminist movement. "I feel I learned a lot from it," she says, "but I feel like in the 35 years since then, what I understand feminism to be is much more sophisticated."

Submissions to The Smart Women Project should be in PDF format. There is no entry fee. For guidelines, or for more information about the Kathie Rasmussen Women's Theatre, contact the artistic director at janlevinethal@gmail.com.

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