“It’s a really crucial time,” says Caitlin Aase. She, along with fellow AD Teagan Walsh-Davis started their female-centric theatre company, The Jades, with the hope of transforming the experience of female artists in Chicago. More roles–for actors, directors, designers–means less competition and more collaboration among women. The response to their fundraiser and launch party has been overwhelming. Prize donations have been rolling in, from handmade crafts to hundreds of dollars in tickets and gift certificates. “People have really stepped up to support us,” says Aase.
One reason for this is that other women in the community can relate to the problems they’re addressing. Aase points out, “It’s hard to go out for the one female role in a play and know you’re up against, like, every other actress in the city.” But it isn’t just about the number of jobs–a female-lead company might mean a fundamentally different structure, a new way of producing theatre with a focus on the collaborative voices of all of the women involved.
The company isn’t just interested in changing structures internal to the theatre world. In addition to producing shows, Aase hopes to engage people outside of the theatre community. “A Colloquium on Catcalling” would invite women to share their thoughts and experiences on unwanted attention from men. “It makes my blood boil,” she says, but admits that other women she’s spoken with find it empowering. Aase wants The Jades to facilitate this conversation. Another potential outreach program would be an Allies Workshop, inviting men to discuss best practices for supporting their female colleagues. “There is a war on women,” Aase observes, “but we don’t want to alienate our male allies. We all have fathers, brothers, partners, and male friends who we want to be a part of this conversation.”
Starting a new company, especially one with the hopes of having a big social impact, is not overnight project. “If it weren’t for our business manager Liz [Seidt] we would have dropped out by now,” said Aase. Between the paperwork, the licensing and hours upon hours of mission statement editing, it’s easy to lose the emotional momentum of your goals. Still, Aase’s excitement and hope is palpable. She wouldn’t reveal the name of their first production; it’s announcement is the highlight of the fundraiser on Monday.
Do you have thoughts on what a female-lead theatre should look like? Leave us a comment or shoot us an email at spielchicago.com.