In the Moment: Ann Timmons, Pipeline Playwrights, Discusses Upcoming MetroStage Reading

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Pipeline Playwrights, a Northern Virginia-based collective of accomplished women playwrights who support productions that explore the variety of women’s experiences, is undertaking a new series of play readings.

The new series starts with Ann TimmonsIt’s My Party! Ann is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association, SAG-AFTRA, the Dramatists Guild and Pipeline.

The It’s My Party reading will be brought to life with the talents of well-known DC area actors Caren Anton, Regina Aquino Smith, Diane Cooper-Gould, Robin Covington, Rebecca Herron, Marni Penning, and Katherine Stanford. Catherine Tripp is directing. The reading will be at Alexandria’s MetroStage on March 26.

Wanting to know more, I checked in with Ann Timmons. Our conversation is below.

David Siegel: What was the impetus for you to write It’s My Party!

Ann Timmons. Photo courtesy of Ann Timmons.
Ann Timmons. Photo courtesy of Ann Timmons.

Ann Timmons: I have been exploring the drama and history of the women’s movement in America in my plays since the ’90s. My touring solo show Off the Wall: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman deals with Gilman’s progressive politics, as well as her personal drama. She was one of our most important foremothers, and yet most people haven’t heard of her, unless they read her exceedingly chilling story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” She was a big supporter of Alice Paul’s who founded the National Woman’s Party, so Alice’s story has been on my radar for some time. Since we’re coming up to the 100th anniversary (in 2020) of the passage of the suffrage amendment, I thought it would be a good time to delve into the endlessly fascinating story of how various groups of women worked in tandem, but not together, to get that done.

I also thought maybe we could learn some lessons from their strategies and approaches that could be useful to accomplish our goals for a more equal society today.

Please tell us a bit about It’s My Party!

It’s My Party! explores what happens when two different factions ignite political change using wildly different tactics. This play reveals competing strategies, daring stunts, and bitter rivalries that propelled the suffragists’ fight for the 19th Amendment. Using modern vernacular for some characters, the language highlights the generational and philosophical split between and within the two major factions. It’s My Party! was written to be performed by a diverse cast of seven actors who identify as women – Caren Anton, Regina Aquino Smith, Diane Cooper-Gould, Robin Covington, Rebecca Herron, Marni Penning, and Katherine Stanford.

Can you tell me a bit about the characters the actors portray in the reading?

Diane (Cooper-Gould) and Marni (Penning) play Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who, along with Rebecca (Herron)’s Anne Martin and Robin (Covington)’s Dora Lewis, represent the leadership of the younger, more activist National Woman’s Party. They’re the ones people think of when they think of suffragists – because NWP had all that great visual imagery from picketing in front of the White House. They were also the ones imprisoned for picketing. (Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia, where some of the women were incarcerated, was once a federal prison).

Suffragettes protest outside the White House. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Suffragettes protest outside the White House. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Katherine (Stanford) and Caren (Anton) and Regina (Aquino Smith) are playing leaders of the more mainstream progressive suffrage group, the National American Women’s Suffrage Association: Carrie Chapman Catt, Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, and Maud Wood Park, respectively. At the time, this group wielded tremendous power. Many credited them for winning the suffrage fight. But in our popular imagination today, they have been largely forgotten. Writing letters to Congress, organizing precinct by precinct, and lobbying on Capitol Hill didn’t make for such great photo ops. But their hard work mattered. There are also other characters: Jane Addams (of Hull House fame), who was a go-between the two groups; Winifred Mallon, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune; two fictional male reporters; and one DC cop.

Will you tell us a bit about the technical aspects of the reading?

They will be reading on the stage at MetroStage with their scripts in hand. But they won’t be tied to music stands, and there may be some movement! Actors’ Equity rules stipulate no costumes, or other tech, be used.

What would you like to obtain/gain from the staged reading before a live audience? Why is a staged reading before a live audience important to your play development process?

I hope to find out what works onstage, and what doesn’t. This is only the second time I will hear the whole play, and see it somewhere other than the written page. I will be watching and listening to the audience to see what engages them, and what does not. That is an important step, as I will review and revise the script after the reading, to streamline and clarify.

What would you like the audience to come away with after the reading?

I hope audiences will see the parallels between the suffragists’ struggle and our continuing struggle for equal rights today- and I don’t just mean the ERA, which was Alice Paul’s next project after the 19th Amendment was ratified. I hope audiences will see the connections between what the suffragists did to win the vote and what women and minorities are doing today to win seats at the table. This story shows different tools these women used as they spoke truth to power and accomplished an important goal. I would love to see the stories of Alice, Lucy, Carrie and the other heroic women inspire new audiences to keep fighting the good fight!

What else is new with the Pipeline Playwrights?

Pipeline is going to the FRINGE this year!! We’re presenting a smorgasbord of treats called “How’s That Workin’ Out for Ya?,” a collection of four comic one-acts by Pipeline Playwrights Nicole Burton, Jean Koppen, Patricia Connelly and Ann Timmons.

Pipeline Playwrights’ reading of It’s My Party will take place on March 26, 2018, at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA. For more information, go online.

Note: Suggested donations are $10. RSVP: pipeline@anntimmons.com