Ahead of the 44 Plays for 44 Presidents event on Monday, October 29th, I had a chance to connect with Karen Lange, Co-Artistic Director of Pinky Swear Productions. Here's our conversation:
Jacqueline Lawton: How did your company form and how long have you been presenting work in D.C.?
Karen Lange: Back in July 2008, when Allyson Harkey and Karen Lange made the promise that started the company, we never dreamed that we would be where we are in October 2012. In 2008, after seeing a play with terrible roles for women at the Capital Fringe Festival, Allyson Harkey and Karen Lange made a promise: to produce a play for the 2009 Fringe Festival. That play was Freakshow, which ended up being a surprise hit. We created something we were incredibly proud of and had such a rewarding experience that we decided to do it again the next year. 2010’s Be Here Now reunited us with Freakshow director Lise Bruneau to create a touching modernization of Chekhov's Three Sisters. By the end of that run, we were hooked.
Pinky Swear has grown a lot in the past year. We were in constant production mode between May 2011 and August 2012, producing our two biggest hits — Cabaret XXX: Les Femmes Fatales and Cabaret XXX: Love the One You're With, and doubling down by producing our first two full-length plays outside of the Fringe Festival. We've received a ton of press and an award and launched a Kickstarter campaign that, thanks to our friends, family, and fans, paid for the theater rental for Carol's Christmas. This fall, we invited 12 new people into our newly launched Associates Program. These talented actors, playwrights, designers, directors, and dramaturgs have pledged a year to help us produce two more full-length plays and create our next big splash at the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival.
The promise we made over four years ago changed our lives for the better. We took control of our own artistic destinies and made a space for the kind of theatre we wanted to make. We've shared that with our permanent company members, Toni Rae Brotons-Salmi and Christina Frank, as well as our originating members, Rachel Poole Jerez, Tori Miller Liu, and Lauren Uberman. We've delivered plays that we are proud of and performances that rocked audiences. There's a lot for us to celebrate.
JL: What impact do you hope to make in the D.C. theatre community?
KL: We’re part of a vibrant group of young companies who are the next big generation for DC theatre. The face of theatre is changing — instead of big, regional theaters with huge houses and grant/NEA funding, we’re trying to keep things small and lean. We’d love to be a part of a venue for many artists, with a never-be-dark philosophy — audiences could find entertainment of many kinds all in one location. It is our hope that, together, our companies can create a new enthusiasm for live performing arts.
We also want to highlight the talent and skill of DC’s most underutilized artistic resource: women. Whether onstage, backstage, at the writing desk, or in the admin office, the women of DC’s theatre community have too few opportunities to work. In its simplest form, Pinky Swear began as a way to give some of them jobs; we plan to continue doing just that whenever possible. Also: we want to make great art.
JL: Is political theatre important to you?
KL: We haven’t typically looked at political theater for our productions. I don’t consider us a political company, unless you count being focused on strong roles for women as political. Sadly, some folks probably do see championing women’s roles as a statement of politics instead of art as usual.
JL: Why did you decide to participate in 44 Plays for 44 Presidents?
KL: We were really excited to work with dog & pony, plus we’re all big fans of the Neofuturists. We love the idea that we can contribute to the political season by looking back. So much of the time during election seasons, all of history is thrown away to simply look at the preceding four years. With this project, we’re able to dig a little deeper, 2 minutes at a time, with humor, music, and the incredibly smart writing of the Neofuturists.
JL: Which president are you featuring? What’s his political affiliation and campaign slogan?
KL: We have several presidents in our mix, but we hit the jackpot by getting Abraham Lincoln. He was a republican when it stood for something far different than it does now. His campaign slogans were kind of lame: Vote Yourself a Farm (free land grants to western homesteaders) and Don’t Change Horses in the Middle of the Stream, which, of course, is for re-election.
JL: What’s something interesting we should know about him?
KL: He didn’t run on being a staunch abolitionist, at least in his first campaign. In fact, he made statements about having no intention to outlaw it, in the hopes that the secession of the Confederate states wouldn’t happen. He started off with the position that he would use whatever means were necessary to reunite the states, whether abolishing slavery or keeping it. Clearly, he had a change of heart and went for the right path.
JL: Did he support the arts while in office? If so, how?
KL: Well, we know he did see one specific play…
JL: If he was running for office this year, would you vote for him? Why or why not?
KL: For the Emancipation proclamation alone, yes. He ended a deep and horrible wrong and refused to accept people treating human beings like livestock and property.
JL: In addition to 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, what’s next for your company?
KL: We are hosting our first, major fundraiser, the Pinky Swear Promise Gala, on November 17, 2012. We’re going to introduce our 12 new company associates, announce our next production, and hopefully raise some funds for our next year of programming. This party is taking up the same kind of time it would to mount a major production, so here’s hoping it is well attended and people are in a giving mood to support a woman-owned theater company!
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I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!