The newest theater company in Dallas will focus on plays from a female perspective. That means the company, called Lily & Joan, aims to improve acting opportunities and working conditions for female artists. In State of the Arts, company founders Erika Larsen and Emily Faith, talked to me about their big dreams.
Your mission is to highlight the female perspective in theater. Emily, what do you mean by that?
Emily Faith: Highlighting the female perspective is something we were really dedicated to as a way to continue employing women in the Dallas theater community. I think the narrative that Erika and I have certainly told ourselves is that 20-something females are less hire-able. There’s so many of us, so continuing to provide a platform for young women was really important to us.
In North Texas, Echo Theatre, already focuses only on plays written by women. And Wingspan Theatre produces works that haven’t been seen elsewhere with an emphasis on works by women. What are you trying to do that isn’t already being done?
Erika Larson: We love Echo and we love Wingspan and we certainly think there’s that already this great movement in Dallas.
EF: And there has been for years here.
EL: Yes, for sure and we aren’t trying to really reinvent that. We’re just trying to join that and help it grow and flourish and create an even larger community for that.
EF: Yeah and I think a large aspect of us that does separate us from both of those companies is the way that we are seeking to be involved in the community. Having half of our ticket sales be donated to a sister charity that also highlights the female voice.
You mention union status and compensation as issues that your company is concerned about. How are these issues affecting female actors in North Texas?
EL: I recently joined the Actor Equity Association and got my union status. I’m very proud of it, but also felt this sense of fear, because having been in this Dallas theater community for so long, you see a lot of females with their equity cards – they have to move in order to seek work.
Because you have to work a certain number of performances and hours on stage in order to maintain your equity status.
EF: Yes, and there’s only a certain amount of contracts usually that theaters will have for people who are in the union.
EL: So it creates this sort of scarcity for roles for women because there are quite a few women in theater as opposed to men. It’s really hard to find work and we just really want to work on changing that.
So you will be an equity company?
EL: That is our intention. It’s a little ambitious, probably for our first season. That is future plans and future goals for sure.
About a year ago, Lee Trull, the former casting director at the Dallas Theater Center, was fired after sexual harassment allegations. Since Trull’s dismissal, and the subsequent uproar in the theater community here, has working in Texas theaters changed for women?
EL: Yes, for sure. Having been a part of the community before that and after, I can say that there’s been a definite shift for the better.
EF: I think theater companies certainly have been employing one of our dear friends, Ashley White, as an intimacy choreographer.
What is an intimacy coach?
EF: An intimacy coach or choreographer is someone who comes in and literally choreographs whatever intimate scenes are happening. So it’s, ‘You put your hand on this shoulder at this time’ and having someone there to mediate ‘Hey, do you feel comfortable with this? Yes, I do’ or ‘How about we put the hand here?’ I’ve certainly seen an increase in the intentionality that theaters have when hiring someone like that. I think that goes just miles and miles beyond where we were, and that’s something that’s also happening on a national level – that awareness for bringing someone in to create a safe space emotionally, physically, psychologically – all of it.