The Alcyone Festival

I first heard about the Alcyone Festival from fellow lafpi instigator Ellen Lewis’s blog. It is produced by the Halcyon Theatre in Chicago to celebrate female playwrights.

(I’ve always like the word halcyon but also have always been a bit hazy about its meaning. So, I looked it up. Alcyone is the daughter of Aeolus who, in grief over the death of her husband Ceyx, threw herself into the sea. Zeus had punished him for blasphemy. Both Alcyone and Ceyx were turned into kingfishers, so metamorphosis is the origin of the etymology for halcyon days, the seven days in winter when storms never occur, the seven days each year during which Alcyone, as a kingfisher, lays her eggs on the beach and during which her father Aeolus, god of the winds, calms the waves so she can do so in safety. Now halcyon days describes a peaceful time generally. A better meaning, however, is that of a lucky break, or a bright interval set in the midst of adversity.)

Halcyon is run by Artistic Director Tony Adams and his wife, Associate Artistic Director Jenn Adams, and they are in their fifth season. In 2008, they decided to do something about the fact that the percentage of women produced on Broadway hasn’t changed in a hundred years, and that only twenty percent of plays produced throughout the country are written by women. That summer, they mounted the first Alcyone festival, producing the works of ten early women writers, seldom or never seen today.

In 2009, they attacked the myth that women write only small domestic dramas, and picked as the festival’s theme, terrorism, the cult of martyrdom, and its effects on the innocents. In 2009, they chose from women playwrights all over the globe and in 2010, featured the works of Maria Irene Fornes.

This year, Ellen Lewis was chosen, along with four other contemporary women playwrights. She and J. Nicole Brooks, Coya Paz, Caridad Svich and Jennifer Fawcett, (who is based in L.A), were to adapt, leap off from, reinvent, reenvision, and/or be inspired by works from a wide range of classical texts. The only rules they had were that they had to be inspired by a female playwright’s works, written before 1870, and be ready to go into rehearsal in April.

What a heady assignment! A lucky break, a bright interval.

They chose plays by Pauline Hopkins, Charlotte Mary Sanford Barnes, Hrosvitha, Anna Cora Mowatt, and Maria de Zaya y Sotomayor.

The plays chosen are diverse and I’d love to have seen them. J. Nicole Brooks’s Shotgun Harriet was inspired by Peculiar Sam by Pauline Hopkins; Jennifer Fawcett’s The Invaders, from The Forest Princess by Charlotte Mary Sanford Barnes, EM Lewis’s Strong Voice from the works of Hrosvitha, Coya Paz’s Fashion, adapted from Anna Cora Mowatt’s Fashion; and Caridad Svich’s A Little Betrayal Among Friends, from Maria de Zaya y Sotomaoyr’s, La Traicion en la Amistad.

The festival ran from June 9 through July the 10th.

More about the plays tomorrow.

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