If you read a press release announcing a theater company's 29th season that noted this season would, for the first time ever, include the work of a female playwright, could you possibly not be shocked?
To be fair, this very real press release came in late this afternoon from American Players Theatre, the outdoor festival in tourist destination Spring Green, Wisconsin (also home to Taliesin and the House on the Rock) that's a few hours northwest of Chicago. APT trades in the classical repertory—and their definition is much less broad than Charlie Newell's. According to its website, the company was Shakespeare-only for its first several seasons; in 1985 it expanded to include other writers.
Eugene O'Neill or so remains the chronological cutoff point for APT's repertory, and its seasons are still heavy on the Bard. This year, the press release was pleased to point out, The Belle's Stratagem by Hannah Cowley (pictured above right) would be American Players' first woman-produced work.
I'm happy they're doing the Cowley, of course. But to think that it took a festival like APT, with its size and strength, its built-in audience, and above all its mission, 23 years to even consider early female playwrights—well, it's no wonder so many of their names are foreign to regular theatergoers. Just look at the breadth of women Halcyon Theatre has pulled together for its upcoming Alcyone Festival, without even dipping into the Aphra Behn well.
I'll confess I haven't made the road trip to APT. I only know its work by reputation. Something of an approximation can be found right now at Writers' Theatre, where director Bill Brown (who often works at American Players) has imported several APT regulars for the cast of his terrific As You Like It. If their work is representative of American Players Theatre's, I hope APT makes a commitment to the programming of lost women. Audiences deserve to know they existed.