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Theater

Drama queens

Women shine in the black box

Boxing clever: The women of Planet Ant's Boxfest.
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Published 8/8/2007

BoxFest ain't your mama's summer theater festival. Scratch that. The four-day-long festival at Hamtramck's Planet Ant Theatre is exactly your mama's theater fest, and your sister's and your auntie's too.

The annual festival celebrates women in theater, namely women directors. It serves as an incubator, letting participants develop their skills, talents and ideas, hoping that in the long run, a short show could become a full play, an actor might branch out into directing and so forth.

The name, BoxFest, refers to ... well, do we have to spell it out?

Get your minds out of the gutter. Planet Ant is a black box theater. And former permutations of the festival were called Pandora's Box Festival. So there you go.

Artistic director Shannon Ferrante, of Ferndale, says the shows feature a mostly-female cast, crew and playwrights, plus a few men, including noted local scribe Joseph Zettelmaier. The idea, after all, isn't to exclude guys, but to give the ladies a leg up.

"We don't ever want it to become, like, a man-hating weekend," jokes Ferrante.

Still, the festival focuses on an all-female cadre of directors, who will present new works, one-acts and 10-minute shows.

Directing opportunities are rare, Ferrante says, and they're even more scant for women. "How many women directors can you name?" she asks. "But most of us can name at least 10 men. It's just one of those fields that women haven't broken into yet."

Directing has long been something of a boys' club, agrees festival executive director Kelli Rossi, 27, of Detroit.

"If you're not already in there, it's kind of hard to bust your way through the door," she says. "There aren't very many opportunities, and not very many women who want to grasp those opportunities."

BoxFest has busted down doors for many local women, including Ferrante. The actress and Wayne State theater grad got her first professional opportunity to direct there three years ago when her friend wrote a piece for her. Now, the 24-year-old will direct her first main stage show — Zettelmaier's Dr. Seward's Dracula — at the Ant in October.

"BoxFest definitely helped expand my career," she says.

This year, Ferrante and her crew are expanding to offer an even more ambitious schedule and wider array of talent than in years' past, so that more women get involved.

Rossi says, "This year was when we decided, 'Let's just blow it up. And if it fails, who cares?'"

The show covers a wide range of issues and themes and includes drama that works out heavier issues, such as one about mother-daughter relations, and some lighthearted and sentimental comedy to break up lingering dark moods. Rossi debuts her musical about a bar in Detroit, and there's even something called a "dance-ical."

"Each play is a slice of work from local playwrights," Ferrante says, adding that BoxFest is also a chance for writers, who donate their works, to try out new ideas.

Weekend activities are punctuated by frequent and plentiful cocktail breaks. "We want people to have a good time too," Ferrante says. The audience also participates by voting for their favorite plays, and winners get slots to direct at Planet Ant and Detroit's Abreact Theatre.

Coordinators will use the proceeds from ticket sales to give a grant for education or show production to one actor, director, playwright or theater worker involved in the production.

As ambitious as this year's festival is, Rossi says, "Sometimes I wonder what we were smoking when we decided on the schedule. But that's the thing that's gonna keep driving us to do it. So many girls who are so excited to be doing this."

 

The festival kicks off Friday, Aug. 10, with staged readings of two new plays by local playwrights, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 12, at Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck; 313-365-4948. Tickets are $10 at the door. For more detailed information about the schedule, visit myspace.com/boxfestdetroit or www.planetant.com.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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