The War on Women: A Cross-Company Collaboration / by Emily Harrison

Boulder-area theatre companies announce cross-company project addressing rape culture and sexual abuse against women

Theatres seek to bring 50 percent new audiences into the theatre by producing plays with difficult subject matter, and cultivating community conversations around them

Two Boulder-area professional theatre companies have received a $30,000 grant from the Boulder Arts Commission (BAC) to collaborate on an untested, never-before-tried audience engagement effort to bring new audiences to the theater.  

“The War on Women: A Cross-Company Exploration” is a partnership between square product theatre (Emily K. Harrison, producing artistic director) and Local Theater Company (Pesha Rudnick, artistic director). The Risk Capital Grant from BAC will support the first production of each company’s 2017/18 seasons—productions centered on an exploration of sexual violence against young women and girls, and a community’s responsibility around masculinity and the damaging and pervasive social constructs that oftentimes define the masculine gender as violent and sexually aggressive.

Gregory S. Moss’ House of Gold will be presented by square product theatre in the ATLAS Black Box Theater on the University of Colorado Boulder campus beginning July 27, 2017. Michael Yates Crowley’s The Rape of the Sabine Women, By Grace B. Matthias, first presented by Local Theater Company at their new play festival in 2016, will get a full production at Dairy Arts Center beginning October 27, 2017.

“This is a chance for both of our companies to engage the community in larger conversations around issues presented in both of our plays,” said Emily K. Harrison, producing artistic director of square product theatre. “We’ll also be exploring ways to provoke our audiences into action to make our community better, and to actively address rape culture in Boulder and beyond.”

“In presenting these shows in Boulder, we are asking the Boulder community to participate in critical conversations about sexual abuse and instances of trauma that directly tie to difficult things that happen right here in Boulder, and our surrounding region,” added Pesha Rudnick, artistic director of Local Theater Company. “These plays are hard to see, but the stories must be told. Theater can be a catalyst for action, and for change—to address of-the-moment issues of our day.”

Perhaps this is no better time to address these issues in Boulder, particularly with the just-released statement from University of Colorado Boulder regarding the university’s response to allegations that former assistant football coach Joe Tumpkin abused a woman with whom he was in a relationship. As the university takes action and seeks to become a national leader in their response to sexual misconduct, so too do square product theatre and Local Theater Company, who seek to offer a platform for difficult discussions—and healing—to occur.

Rudnick said that the collaboration between the two companies will not involve co-producing the plays themselves, but instead focus on shared strategies to cross-pollinate audiences for the two plays, plays that—given the subject matter—could potentially drive audiences away. The theaters have an ambitious goal of reaching 50 percent new to professional theatre audiences, with at least 25 percent of those audiences between the age of 15-40.

“We believe that by producing new, innovative, high risk theatre work and partnering with experienced organizations and individuals to facilitate difficult conversations and offer advocacy opportunities, we allow our audience to engage both their empathy and intellect, affording them the opportunity to gain further education and to enact their privilege for immediate action and advocacy,” Harrison added. “In this way, we have the potential to increase Boulder’s civic and political engagement.”