National Women’s Theatre Festival Announces 2023 Keynote Speakers and WTFCon23

Chelsea Pace, Katy Sullivan, and Christine Toy Johnson
The National Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF), the nation’s largest symposium on gender and theatre, has announced the full schedule of WTFCon23 which will be presented in-person at the North Carolina State University’s Frank Thompson Hall (2241 Dunn Ave, Raleigh, NC 27606) on June 21, 22 & 23 as part of their 8th annual festival, June 21-July 1. The 2023 Keynote Speakers Christine Toy Johnson (Host of The Dramatists Guild Presents: TALKBACK Podcast; founding member of the Tony-honored Asian American Performers Action Coalition), Chelsea Pace (Co-Founder and Head Faculty of Theatrical Intimacy Education and Intimacy Director/Coordinator for Broadway and film), and Katy Sullivan (Champion paralympian who originated the role of Ani in the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning play Cost of Living; first actress who is an amputee to ever star on Broadway). Presenters this year will also include Stephanie Douglass, Host of The Moth for Chicago Public Radio.

The theme for WTFCon23 is Opening Doors. WTF Executive Artistic Director Johannah Maynard Edwards, asks: “What does it mean to open a door? Recently we find ourselves opening our doors out onto a world that seems to have exited pandemic stasis, whether we’re ready or not. Metaphorically, we open doors all the time – into a new gig, career, role or phase in our lives. Often, underrepresented-gender people find ourselves opening these metaphorical doors into places where we haven’t been or been expected before. How do we make sure to leave them open behind us so someone else historically-excluded can get through, too? WTFCon23 will consider all this and more!” 

Tickets ($65-$325) for in-person and online events are available at Individual tickets are available to attend a single WTFCon23 session at a rate of $25per session. A single day pass for $100 per day is also available. WTFCon23 programming will also be available via virtual livestream to participants anywhere in the world. 

WTFCon23 is a radically parent-inclusive event. In-person attendees with children are welcome to bring them along to participate in our 3-day “Share the Show” camp for children ages 4-13, for an additional fee of $200 per child (suggested), and Seedlings Nursery for children ages 0-3, sponsored by the Parent-Artist Advocacy League. These programs are open to all attendees but children must be registered in advance. Children are also welcome in all WTF spaces and events at all times.

WTF Director of Communications and Engagement, Kyra Montemayor Kelley, said, “WTFCon23 is a place for our community to connect and learn from and with each other; to advocate for our needs and the needs we see around us; to deeply, intentionally, and thoughtfully explore our work; and to surround ourselves with others who champion gender parity and equity in our field. More than a conference, our goal is for WTFCon23 to be a revitalizing self-enrichment experience for theatre artists and academics: an experience that involves humanity, belonging, and a shared sense of purpose, with opportunities to instigate and incubate. We hope you’ll join us!”
WTFCon23 Schedule

Opening Ceremony: Radical Welcoming
This is the opening session of WTFCon23 for all attendees.
Wednesday, June 21 at 9:30am EDT

Greasing the Door Hinges: Theater as a Means of Increasing Inclusivity Advocacy Through Applying Concepts of Psychological Change with Sandra Wartski
Greasing door hinges helps those doors open wider and more easily, allowing broader thinking and more inclusivity for all. This session will focus on the way in which live theater performances can be a pivotal means of shifting bias, disparity, and inequity in our communities. Theater has always allowed audience members to see a different perspective than their own, but performances focused specifically on themes related to gender disparity and other inequality can shift this perspective even further. Psychologist Dr. Sandra Wartski will speak about some of the key factors in changing beliefs and bias that can be upheld and highlighted in theater. Change is hard but possible; knowledge and exposure is a powerful positive influence that can make a difference. Wednesday, June 21 at 10:00am EDT

Going Big AND Going Home: Crafting your central stories and creating space for others in Live Lit and Storytelling with Stephanie Douglass
As live lit and storytelling have grown in popularity, many tellers have begun to create and host their own shows. Producing can sometimes separate you from your art, and this is a workshop for how to be both artist and welcoming curator. The workshop will include prompts, crafting your stories, storytelling values, dealing with difficult situations onstage, talking about hard and controversial events, accessibility, avoiding gatekeeper syndrome, and making sure your line-ups reflect the community. There will also be a special section on how NOT to give notes to yourself and others. This session is for both storytellers and producers, and will culminate in an in-workshop performance/presentation. Participants will leave with multiple tools for creating and handling a variety of situations, both in their own work, in collaborative relationships, and onstage. Wednesday, June 21 at 10:00am EDT

How to Open, Maintain, and Make a Theater Company More Equitable with Maria Müller
In an industry that values and encourages self-produced work more than ever, it is important for theater artists to understand how to open and maintain a theater company and why it would be beneficial to do so. In an industry that is open to conversations around social justice and inclusivity more than ever, it is imperative for theater artists to be part of those conversations and take accountability for how they show up for their collaborators, specifically immigrant collaborators. Whether you are looking to open a theater company but don’t know where/how to begin or you already have one but are looking to create a more open and inclusive environment in it, this session will offer you the resources you need. Wednesday, June 21 at 10:00am EDT

Leading From An Ethics of Care Approach with Simone Tetrault
With a focus on leadership roles in theatrical development, this workshop will explore: How do dominant traditions of theatre reinforce power dynamics that romanticize and perpetuate oppressive development practices? How can we strive towards desired performance outcomes in a way that is safe and ethical for all participants and consider the importance of intent vs. impact in our directing and producing practices? Through engagement with a range of performance development approaches, participants will critically examine the ways in which traditional power dynamics can form barriers to ethical working environments and discuss alternative leadership pathways that promote inclusive, consent-based practices for theatre development from an ethics of care approach using frameworks and tools drawn from intimacy direction, progressive educational pedagogy, DEIA contexts, and nonhierarchical postmodern co-creation methods. Wednesday, June 21 at 11:30am EDT

Lunch & Learn: Imposter! Reclaiming Rejection as a Motivating Force with Natalie Groom
Explore themes of rejection and imposter syndrome and pushing through them to open new doors with soprano/clarinet classical music duo Whistling Hens. After all, the Hens’ name was reclaimed from a male music critic who wrote in the New York Times in 1918, “women composers are at best whistling hens.” Through theatrical works “Thursday” by composer Ashi Day and “Musical Invective” by composer Jennifer Stevenson, we’ll unpack ways to depersonalize and disarm rejection by way of humor and reclaim insults as a motivating force. We’ll include time for mini break outs to brainstorm moments of rejection and imposter syndrome, and share out as a group at the end to find ways to spin it to the funny side. Come reclaim your creative joy with us through these performances, discussions, and bonus therapeutic coloring book pages. As composer Jennifer Stevenson says, “Make the art anyway.”
This session will be offered as a lunch and learn, so feel free to nosh while you watch! Wednesday, June 21 at 1:15pm EDT

Prompt of the Day 
Playwrights, bring your notebooks and your pens! Each day at lunch, a playwright from the National WTF community will lead a prompt and free-writing time. You’ll have time to quickly grab lunch and eat as you work, or come directly to the session and eat your lunch after.
Wednesday, June 21 at 1:15pm EDT with Rachel Leighson
Thursday, June 22 at 1:15pm EDT with Serena Norr
Friday, June 23 at 1:45pm EDT with Mora Harris 

KEYNOTE: Chelsea Pace on Impostor Syndrome
This hour-long talk by Theatrical Intimacy Education-founder Chelsea Pace is one of the three Keynote Addresses of WTFCon23!
Wednesday, June 21 at 2:30pm EDT

Your Confidence Opens Doors, Part 1 with Desirèe Dabney
This interactive musical theatre session led by Professor Dabney explains the history of musical theatre from a diverse lens. This session will explain having confidence in what you love to do, and how important it is for diverse voices to be seen and heard!
Wednesday, June 21 at 3:30pm EDT

Your Confidence Opens Doors, Part 2 with Desirèe Dabney
For those who have a book with them or musical theatre pieces prepared, Professor Dabney will offer an in-person coaching to discover your sparkle and shine so bring your books and get ready to sing! Wednesday, June 21 at 4:20pm EDT

A Space Says a Thousand Words with Alexis Elisa Macedo
Why are all the magnets on the fridge exactly 3 centimeters apart from each other? What mementos are laid on the ofrenda of a lost loved one? Where do they hide their shameful, stress cigarettes? The space where your characters live, love, fight, perform rituals, feel safe, consider sacred, etc., speaks volumes about who they are and what they value…before a single line of dialogue is spoken. Join Macedo in an poetic, world-building playwriting workshop, that challenges you to explore the textures, scents, and rules of your paper playgrounds.
Wednesday, June 21 at 3:30pm EDT

When Women Lead: Directing and Producing Case Studies Panel with Molly Claassen, Dr. Grace Edgar, Lisa Every, Vida Finley, Cindy Williams Gutierrez, Amy Poisson, Jenn Ruzumna, and Dr. Amy Scurria Join groundbreaking professionals from around the country as they share their successes, survivable failures, and discoveries. Learn from their experience and come get inspired. Get ready to be blown away by the work that’s happening all over the country right now to push gender parity forward! Wednesday, June 21 at 3:30pm EDT

MIXER: Celebrating our Intersectionalities
Inspired by the idea of Affinity Groups, this mixer will allow us to celebrate all our identities in all their intersections. Join us for a drink and some nosh, and to meet and socialize with all your Affinity Groups at once without having to choose! Ambassadors will be present representing the following Affinities: AAPI, Autistic/Neurodiverse, Black, Caregiver, Disabled, Latine/x, Mixed Race, TGNC. Collect fun buttons to celebrate the unique ways your identities intersect.
Wednesday, June 21 at 5:00pm EDT

All Made Up with Stephanie Douglass
From Second City to The Groundlings, improvisation is one of the most influential and underappreciated genres. With roots in social justice and healing, improv forms the core of most comedy and devised performance. This workshop will focus on bringing yourself to the stage and transforming into authentic characters while supporting your fellow performers. The focus will be on trust, kindness, and how to have one another’s back creating hilarious and relatable situations. It’s all about taking time, sharing space, and building a world while building each other up. Taught by two seasoned Chicago (and NC) improvisors who created one of Chicago’s early (and far too late) all-female/non-binary improv groups, this will be a welcoming introduction or excellent refresher. Participants will come away with games, applications, ideas for work development, and an appreciation for the myriad of ways improv can build community while doubling us over in laughter. Wednesday, June 21 at 6:30pm EDT

Self, No Self, and the Collective: Ritual as Healing with Eve Woldemikael and Auds Jenkins This is a participatory theater ritual that explores spirituality, identity, and belonging through collective practice. We are interested in exploring theater as a form of ritual and art as a spiritual practice of healing. How do we make the sacred more playful and the playful more sacred? How do our identities help us and limit us? What are our dreams and how can we bring them to life? What is home to us and who brought us here? We are Harvard Divinity School students who are exploring emergent spirituality as a means to ground ourselves. We thrive at the intersection of performance and ritual, and we want to create art rooted in justice and belonging. We see theater as a way to foster collective healing in a fractured world. We are committed to challenging sexism, racism, classism, and all the other isms through innovative means of engaging with spirituality. Thursday, June 22 at 9:00am EDT

Qualify Yourself! with Chelsea Pace
Join Chelsea Pace, one of our 2023 Keynote Speakers, for this 3 hour-long workshop where you create your own qualifications for your dream career and a pathway to get there! Let’s dream big and make a plan to achieve our artistic goals – together! 
Thursday, June 22 at 10:00am EDT

Lunch & Learn: Motherhood in Academia with Molly Claassen
Caregiving is hard, especially in a system that is traditionally unwelcoming to parent artists. What do you need? How do you ask for it? How can you help make change? Brainstorm action items with us for radical parent inclusion in academia and the performing arts. This session will be offered as a lunch and learn, so feel free to nosh while you discuss!
Thursday, June 22 at 1:15pm EDT

KEYNOTE: Christine Toy Johnson “Build Your Own Gate (or I Am My Own Gatekeeper)”
This hour-long talk by Tony-honored performer and Dramatist’s Guild Treasurer Christine Toy Johnson is one of the three Keynote Addresses of WTFCon23! For too many years, artists from historically excluded communities have been kept out of spaces that do not include their unique lived experiences. Sometimes we just have to make our own so we can open them ourselves (metaphorically and literally) and flourish our way through them (metaphorically and literally). This session will include a few case studies of some of the gates writer/actor/advocate for inclusion Christine Toy Johnson has created and opened for her own work, and how she’s been determined to reimagine barriers in the process. She will share grant writing advice, ideas on finding inspiration in your community, and thoughts on how to nurture your own creative soul. This session will take the form of an informal interview between Christine and National WTF Executive Artistic Director Johannah Maynard Edwards along with a conversation with the attendees that will include questions. It will also include excerpts from A Little More Blue, Christine’s new musical in development. Thursday, June 22 at 2:30pm EDT

The Black Drama School presents: An Immersive Syllabus with Korinn Annette Jefferies
Each month, The Black Drama School develops a syllabus to facilitate and encourage the study of a Black dramatic work or recurring theme in Black drama. Our syllabi are made with accessibility in mind, striving to address a variety of learning styles and engagement levels. The Immersive Syllabus invites attendees to interrogate their own access needs as well as explore diverse approaches to theatre pedagogy and audience engagement while learning about a Black dramatic work. Thursday, June 22 at 3:30pm EDT

Theatre of the Oppressed: Dramatizing and Engaging with Identity Processes and Stigma with Marianna Staroselsky This two-part session will first teach the dramaturgical toolkit through forum theatre, first inviting spect-actors into the narrative and then facilitating a playwriting and playful reading session where the spect-actors stories are explored on their feet. 1. The Dramaturgical Toolkit for Everyday Encounters: A Theatre of the Oppressed Workshop 2. (Play)writing: Writing and Playing with Your Inner (and Outer) Oppressors
Thursday, June 22 at 3:30pm EDT 

Elevating Women Playwrights of Color with Zizi Majid
This session will explore ways in which undergraduate Dramatic Literature courses can be expansive to include seminal works of dramatic literature by women playwrights of color. The expressed aim is to understand in-depth the impact and relevance of these plays in American theatre history as well as in contemporary American theatre. Of special importance is to understand these playwrights and plays in the particularity of their context; how they intersect with the socio-political climate and social justice movements; and their importance in the American theatre canon. Thursday, June 22 at 4:20pm EDT 

MIXER: Fringe Opening Reception 
Attendees and Presenters from WTFCon and Artists from WTFringe 2023 can mix and mingle before the opening night of Fringe! Thursday, June 22 at 5pm EDT
KEYNOTE CONVERSATION: On Opening Doors with Katy Sullivan, Christine Toy Johnson and Chelsea Pace Katy Sullivan will moderate a conversation between our Keynote Speakers on this year’s conference theme: Opening Doors. Friday, June 23 at 9:30am EDT

Project Management for Producers with Liz Zimmerman
Liz Zimmerman shares with you some of the most valuable concepts from the project management discipline. The goal is to pull project management out of the corporate context, demystify and make it accessible by translating the key concepts that are most useful for theater and performance event producers. Friday, June 23 at 10:30am EDT

It Takes More Than Talent! with Jeanette W. Hill
Your story should be told. You’ve reached ‘The End’ of your play. Now what? Follow the well-trodden path of those who’ve gone before you. Countless submissions and all too often just as many rejections? Introduction letters to community and regional theatres, hoping for a response? Both are great ideas, but with only a limited number of theatres looking for new work and thousands upon thousands of playwrights looking for a home for their play, the percentages are not in our favor. This interactive presentation provides information from identifying your ‘Why?’ to exploring various ways to produce your own work, getting it in front of audiences. Let’s see if we can help that happen! Friday, June 23 at 10:30am EDT

Physical Theatre Workshop
In a 3 hour-long physical theatre workshop, conference participants will have a chance to get on their feet and move their bodies. Bring movement clothes if you want to participate!
Friday, June 23 at 10:30am EDT

Thresholds of Belonging: Are you ready to diversify your cultural workforce? with Dr. Jaleesa Wells How do you create belonging and authentically diversify your cultural workforce? This workshop illuminates best practices for diversifying the cultural workforce for arts administrators and professional theatre companies. Friday, June 23 at 11:20am EDT

Overcoming Writing Fear! A Creative Writing Workshop to Free Your Voice with June Guralnick Our greatest stumbling block as we write is most often ourselves –that negative voice inside that can stop our creativity cold in its tracks. This workshop integrates thought-provoking writing suggestions and mindfulness-based exercises to inspire you to have a conversation with your inner ‘critic’ and embrace joy and discovery again in your writing process! Led by award-winning author and teacher June Guralnick (and recent 2022 Raleigh Medal of Arts recipient) the workshop incorporates different forms of writing (playwriting, poetry, journaling, letter-writing) as a path to self-reflection, with the goal of gaining insight as well as helpful writing tools in your creative practice. The sharing of written work during class is always optional. Friday, June 23 at 12:00pm EDT

KEYNOTE with Katy Sullivan
This hour-long talk by Champion Paralympian and Broadway performer Katy Sullivan is one of the three Keynote Addresses of WTFCon23! Friday, June 23 at 3:00pm EDT

Burlesque Chair Monologue Work: Building Confidence and Connection with Melanie Frasca This workshop is for performers who want to develop their monologue performance. It will help you to develop your confidence and connection through utilizing burlesque chair choreography. Friday, June 23 at 4:00pm EDT

Tools and Strategies to Translate Stories for Stage Performance with Paloma Sierra
Are you a multilingual artist interested in increasing opportunities for your work? Join our workshop to learn how you can use translation to your advantage! Through discussion, exercises, and feedback, participants will learn how they can best communicate their stories to facilitate collaboration with actors, directors, and designers; and help audiences overcome language barriers. Friday, June 23 at 4:00pm EDT

Your Brand As Artist: Five Stories You Need To Tell with Alexus Rhone
Every life is a ‘brand’, and every brand has a story – a ton of them. Join us for an overview in crafting the five stories every brand must tell, then translating them for diverse platforms – page, stage, screen, web, radio and podcast. This workshop will teach artists to use vital marketing tools to help get their work out there! Friday, June 23 at 4:00pm EDT

Closing Ceremony: Send Off and Sharing Space for Camp & Writers
This is the closing session of WTFCon23 for all attendees. Playwrights will be invited to share work they have written in response to our Prompts of the Day, and the kids’ “Share the Show” camp will present the brief piece they’ve created. Friday, June 23 at 5:30pm EDT

Christine Toy Johnson is an award-winning playwright, actor, and filmmaker. As a playwright, her first play, The New Deal, was the inaugural play to be developed in the “Different Voices” program at the Roundabout Theatre Company in NYC (2006) and was part of Wesleyan University’s 2011 Playwriting Curriculum. An active advocate of diversity in the industry, she is an officer and board member of the Alliance For Inclusion in the Arts (which received a 2011 Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre), and as part of the elected leadership of Actors’ Equity Association, is co-chair of the union’s Eastern Regional Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and a founding member of AAPAC (Asian American Performers Action Coalition). 

Chelsea Pace is an intimacy choreographer, coordinator, and educator with more than a decade of dedicated research in the field of intimacy work. As Co-Founder and Head Faculty of Theatrical Intimacy Education, she has shared her work with thousands of theatre and film artists around the world. Her work appears in studio and independent film and television projects and from academic theatre, to regional theatre, to Broadway. 

Katy Sullivan is an award winning actress, producer, writer, athlete, bilateral above knee amputee and is the first actress who is an amputee to ever star on Broadway. She grew up in Alabama, performing in theatre and received a BFA in acting from Webster University’s Conservatory in St. Louis. Sullivan originated the role of Ani in the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Cost of Living. She has starred in 5 productions from New York to Los Angeles to London and all the way to Broadway. 

The mission of the National Women’s Theatre Festival is to create, produce, and promote extraordinary theatre by women and artists of all underrepresented genders with the ultimate goal of 100% parity in the US theatre industry. They gather artists from North Carolina and across the nation at their annual events, helping to create a pipeline of extraordinary talent that will revolutionize theatre as we know it. Since its founding in 2016, the National Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF) has produced 23 mainstage theatrical productions, 64 Fringe-style shows, and over 125 staged readings, and hosted over 250 workshops and panels. Their signature event is an annual summer festival of plays, workshops, and all things theatre. In 2023-2024 National WTF will mount its first mainstage season in three years, featuring 3 fully staged plays, performed in Raleigh, NC. WTF creates opportunities for underrepresented gender theatre makers to develop and practice skills in a supportive and creative environment, and to have their talents recognized. 

Published by malinism

Malini is a native New Yorker who has been involved in the arts for her entire life. She's served the theatre in many aspects of which she's very proud – actress, director, producer, stage manager, costume designer, prop designer, theatre reviewer, publicist and most recently writer/monologist. She received her BA in Theatre Arts and English Literature from Baruch College and her MFA in Directing from the Actors Studio Drama School. In 2003, Malini and her husband, Ian, created Black Henna Productions with a handful of innovative artists. Every member of the company collaborates on every piece, either writing, acting, directing, designing, or filling any other role that fit their own personal skills with a commitment to bring new, exciting, and challenging theatre to the world. She is an associate member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and a member of the League of Professional Theatre Women. Malini received the Woman of Distinction Award for her contribution to Media, Arts and Culture from the City of New York in 2008. She is also a Person of Godspell which ran at Circle in the Square on Broadway from 2011-2012.

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