After over 23 years in musical theatre, Genevieve Flati was tired of the same type of “ingenue” roles that women often have to play on stage.
She wanted the chance to audition for the complex, multifaceted, empowering roles usually intended for her male counterparts.
“Women are compartmentalised into a romantic side story or into being a delicate little flower. But women are so much more than that”, she said in a video.
Determined to make her voice heard, in 2016 Genevieve told one of her best friends, Kelly Rogers, an experienced vocal performance major who has worked as a singer in Tokyo Disney and has sung many times at Sunset Strip’s House of Blues, about a show she wanted to create.
It was called (Wo)men Rule Broadway, a theatrical show in which an all-female cast would “sing and perform roles and songs originally written for men.”
It was not meant to demonstrate that “women can play with the boys.” The duo wanted to prove that women, like men, are fully complex human beings with a broader emotional inner reality than what societal expectations impose them to show — and perform.
During the planning of the project, Genevieve made a choice. Since artists are too often asked to work for free, just to get “exposure”, she wanted to pay her professionals. Hence, she and Kelly mounted a Kickstarter campaign to help raise the necessary funds in order to cover at least three nights in an actual theatre, pay cast, tech and crew and raise the quality of the production with props and costumes. They also wanted to hire camera operators to film the show as a “proof of concept” for the future.
Kelly, who served as musical director, explained in a video the deep reason behind it: “As a woman in theatre […] you see these roles for men that explore sides of mortality and humanity, but we aren’t given the chance to audition for these roles because they are for men.” She added that they wanted to give “women up there a chance to express parts and roles and parts of themselves that they just aren’t typically allowed to do in society and will never be thought to be cast for.” As they wrote in their Kickstarter statement, (Wo)men Rule Broadway was intended for “every little girl that watched ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and thought, ‘I want to be Gaston’”.
Voice actresses Tara Strong (Bubbles in ‘The Powerpuff Girls’,‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic) and Elizabeth E.G. Daily (Buttercup in ‘The Powerpuff Girls’,‘Rugrats’) also volunteered to help promoting the project by recording personalized in-character messages.
In October 2016, Genevieve and Kelly held open auditions in Los Angeles to assemble the cast. Briana Brooks, Bianca Gisselle, Dekontee Tucrkile, Lizz Adams, Danielle Philapil and Courtney King made the cut and started rehearsals.
On October 3rd the campaign hit $10.034, enough to cover the expenses. Finally, after months of preparation, the ensemble gave three performances on December 16th, 17th and 18th at The Actors Company.
Some clips from the shows are available on the Youtube channel of (Wo)men Rule Broadway. Bianca Gisselle sings “King of the World”, originally performed by Billy Porter from Jason Robert Brown’s musical “Songs for a New World”; part of the cast sings “Run, Freedom, Run” from “Urinetown: The Musical”. Other videos include “Goodbye” from “Catch Me If You Can”, delivered by Danielle Philapil, and an ensemble performance of “Two by Two” from the 2011 Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon”.
Inspired by the success of this experience, the group used part of the profits to help women in need: 10% of the proceeds from Kickstarter and 10% of the ticket sales were donated to the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, which offers services to homeless women.
In an interview with Feminist Wednesday, a feminist storytelling blog, Genevieve Flati was asked what is the best advice she would give women working in theatre who face the lack of interesting roles. She suggested they should always show up to every audition saying loud and clear which role they want, even if it was written for men: “Because even if they don’t want to see you, someone in that room will see you. And then the world is changed, just for a little bit, because you forced it. You stood your ground.”
Then, she encouraged every woman to take action: “Write shows with parts that you want to play or you want to see other women play. Write the parts. Put on the shows. Get your friends and put on your own show. It’s not a new concept to do an all-female cast of something. Just go for it.”
Somewhere in the world, a new (Wo)men Rule Broadway may be just around the corner.