March 13 2017

The Future is Female

Meet the incredible Mya Kagan, a true role model who is driving positive change, raising awareness and making a difference in how we think about our role as women. The Future is Female festival is an experience you don’t want to miss!
What is The Future Is Female Festival?

The Future Is Female Festival is a cross-country theatre event throughout this month (March 2017) of short plays by women of all backgrounds on the subject “the future is female,” and what that looks like and/or means to them. Instead of spending the month celebrating women’s history, we celebrate women’s futures.

The festival is a grassroots effort that I created and co-produced with my wonderful friend Lauren Orkus, along with our awesome Social Media Manager Sarah Cosgrove. The three of us have worked as volunteers since December to coordinate this national effort, which will have 27 outposts in 18 cities across the U.S. and Canada. The idea is that with so many groups joining together in one unified effort, our voices amplify. The festival will feature work by about 140 women reaching over 2,000 audience members.

What was your inspiration for producing the festival?

I am a playwright & TV writer, and after the election in November, I was feeling quite a lot of despair about what the future holds for women. I also found that everything else I had worked on up until then suddenly felt kind of pointless. I did a lot of work in the realm of gender bias in the entertainment industry (only about 20% of all produced work in theatre and TV is written by women), and even though that hadn’t lost all importance, it certainly felt like it had lost its urgency.

I really like writing short theatre pieces, so I started thinking that I would write several short plays showing different variations on what the future might look like for women — one realistic, one satirical, one farce, one optimistic, and so on. I imagined doing six or seven variations that would, together, make up a full-length play. I thought it would be fun to collaborate with my dear friend Sara Cooper, who is a very talented lyricist, to have one variation be a 10-minute musical.

And then I thought: Why stop there? Why not have even more variations by even more women? I also knew, to that end, that by using even more women, it would make it more truly representative of what women think and feel about the future — which seemed like a huge and necessary improvement upon my original idea. So, suddenly, I was creating a festival for women from all over the country to share what they thought about the future. You know how some people respond to a breakup by busying themselves with three days a week at spinning class and crocheting blankets for all their friends? I respond to a fascist, racist, sexist, xenophobic demagogue becoming president by busying myself with producing a nationwide theatre festival.

How did you get others to buy into your idea?

I am fortunate to have an ongoing blog series on HowlRound.com with a strong readership among the theatre community. They were very supportive of the idea and so I was able to announce the festival on their website and garner a lot of interest right away. From there, we spread the word strictly by social media! Sarah Cosgrove was the very first person to come on board with me, and she was a magician who got us something like 150 Facebook followers in a single weekend (and right before Christmas, no less!).

When I first set out, I imagined I might end up with something like 10-12 outposts. I never would’ve imagined we’d have 27! That was more than double my wildest dreams. One of my goals was to do something that would reach beyond the echo chamber of my big liberal city’s theatre scene, and I feared at the outset that we wouldn’t succeed, but I was pleased to find that I was quickly proven wrong. In fact, it was primarily small towns and “red states” that signed up first. My team and I ended up having to scout for participants in most of the major theatre enclaves, while the opposite was true for the more remote locations, who mostly signed up quickly and without hesitation, making up a full third of the total outposts. What’s more, many of the groups in smaller towns were artists who were coming together to make this their very first show or a part of an inaugural season, showing me it’s true that if you build it, they will come.

What has been the biggest surprise to you in undertaking this venture?

I was, and still am, totally floored by the outpouring of support for this undertaking. The festival grew out of my existing blog project Submitting Like A Man, that runs on HowlRound as well as my own site, in which I’ve been examining gender bias by resubmitting my previously-rejected scripts under a man’s name and writing about my experiences. As one might expect, that project has received lots of mixed responses — lots of enthusiasm and “YAAASSS”-type reactions, but also plenty of naysayers. So when I launched The Future is Female Festival as a new, more actionable branch of my activism, I expected the same mix of reactions and was shocked that it was received with virtually no criticism. I think it is particularly important because women’s activism is often met with backlash, as if our desire for equality means we want men to become marginalized, when in fact the exact definition of equality is both groups having the same. So to see people receiving the festival with such enthusiasm from men and women alike was a surprise, and really gives me hope.

What does The Future is Female mean to you? How do you think we make that a reality?

For me, “The Future Is Female” means the future holds better, brighter, more equal opportunities for women. It’s interesting because the phrase originated in the 1970s, disappeared for several decades, and then reemerged recently with a new and more inclusive, modern context, which is the context in which I use it.

To me, making it a reality boils down to supporting women in every way we can — reproductive care, childcare, equal pay, immigration reform, Black Lives Matter — every one of these issues, and more, affects women’s ability to achieve parity. We also need to shift the cultural conversation about women. For example, why is a woman described as “power hungry” while a man with equivalent aspirations is called “ambitious?” When these types of subtle sexism creep into our everyday, it holds women back from being able to achieve equality.

If you’re having a challenging meeting with a director, or a playwright or a venue manager (or anyone really), what do you do to feel confident?

I recently went to a meeting for an important freelance writing project I’m doing, where I was so overwhelmed by the talent and intelligence of the other people in the room that I left feeling like a total amateur. I expressed this to some friends in a text, to which one of them replied, “Remember, they chose you alongside those other people because you’re just as smart and talented.” She was absolutely right, and I think this sentiment is something helpful to remember. In any interview or conversation or meeting with another person, the reason you’re there — even if you still have to seal the deal — is that you have something to offer that the other person likes, needs, or wants.

In honor of Women’s History Month, tell us what woman inspires you and why?

There are so many women who inspire me! In the interest of brevity, I will name just one who pops to mind immediately: Malala Yousafzai. For me, what’s so incredible about her is that she accomplished so much before she’s even 20 years old. So often, we act like young people — and especially young women — aren’t capable of contributing anything meaningful to society. Just look at how Teen Vogue’s recent political reporting has been met with such shock and awe, as if teenage girls couldn’t possibly be concerned with anything more than trendy clothes and Snapchat filters. We treat young women like they have no brains, no independent thought, and most certainly no ability to make a difference in the world. Malala is amazing because she is tangible proof to the contrary, and a role model to show other young women that they don’t have to wait to have a voice.

How do you keep your energy up while working so hard?

I am admittedly a workaholic. My dad is the same way, and when I am home visiting I always get on his case to put his work away, urge him to get a normal night’s sleep, and tell him not to overdo it, but I am not always good at following my own advice. Sometimes I take a step back and make myself practice what I preach, or my partner Alex will nudge me to make the right choice. Other times I overwork myself, and only finally slow down when it comes back to haunt me in the form of a headache. It’s cliché, but the older I get, the more I see the true importance of a good night’s sleep, and also the payoff to having developed good organizational habits when I was younger. Also, never underestimate the revitalizing power of relaxing in front of the TV with a beer in the evening, and/or coffee and a shower in the morning.

What do you hope people will take away from the festival?

I hope people will take away a renewed perspective on what women are capable of, and what the future holds for us. I am also hoping it provides people with optimism — I prefer not to think of it as a lamentation on what we don’t have, but rather a celebration of what the future can hold, no matter how impossible it might seem right now. One thing I’ve learned from organizing this festival is that if you want to get shit done, make sure you have women on your team. I hope people will look at this festival and see all that women can accomplish.

How can we get involved?

There are lots of ways to get involved all throughout March. We have outposts nationwide (and Canada!), so you can see a show — check out the Festival Calendar and Festival Map to find one near you. Most benefit a charity, or offer free or pay-what-you-can tickets. A few even include or will feature the work of young women, teens, or college students; perhaps truly the most “future” of all.

You can also sign up at almost any time throughout March to host an informal “pop-up” outpost of the festival using a provided folder of submitted plays, to create a play reading of any scale, right in your own home. It’s another way to further amplify the message of the festival, and it can be as simple as inviting five friends to come over, cracking open a bottle of wine, and reading some plays aloud about women’s futures.

Lastly, you can help us spread the word! This is a very grassroots effort, so if you know someone who would want to write about the festival or see a show, please share our information. You can also get social with us on Facebook and Twitter using #TheFutureIsFemaleFestival and #WomensFuturesMonth.

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