The Fund for Women Artists

The Big Mama Thornton Project

Statement of the Producing Director - Martha Richards

The Fund for Women Artists is committed to the Big Mama Thornton Project for three reasons. First, on the most obvious level, this project will help us fulfill our mission of increasing the diversity of images of women in theatre, film, and television. The mainstream culture is making some progress in diversifying women's imagery, but a closer examination of what the media currently defines as a "breakthrough" will quickly reveal how pervasive the stereotypes are. In Ellen, the highly publicized and now cancelled "lesbian" situation comedy, the controversial leading character challenged gender preference stereotypes, but she was still white, middle class, well-mannered, slender, and blonde. In sharp contrast, the Big Mama Thornton Project will explore the life of a big, tough, tall African-American woman who struggled with poverty, dressed like a man, and sang the blues with full-throated passion.

Second, the artists on this project have the potential to create something truly wonderful. Each one is a talented, dynamic artist in her own right, and there is a palpable electricity in the room when they are all together. Since they live in different parts of the country, The Fund for Women Artists will provide an important service by finding the funding to get them all to the same city for a month of intensive work. Also, The Fund for Women Artists recognizes that theatre is a team effort and that the best productions usually emerge from collaborations among artists who work together and encourage each other's growth over time. One of the original goals of the regional theatre movement was to create environments that would nurture these ongoing relationships, but in the current harsh economic climate, artists are finding fewer and fewer long-term opportunities to work together. Women artists and artists of color are having an especially difficult time. In an effort to address this problem, The Fund for Women Artists has started to look for funding to assemble teams of artists to develop projects which could later be produced by larger institutions. The Big Mama Thornton Project will be our first major experiment with this strategy.

Finally, on the deepest level, The Fund for Women Artists is committed to this project because it is so fundamentally hopeful. The artists on this project plan to look straight at the painful realities of Big Mama Thornton's life and try to find ways to imagine more positive options for themselves and others. In many ways, their work will parallel the overall process of The Fund for Women Artists. As an institution, The Fund for Women Artists is determined to move women artists forward in spite of the depressing statistics about decreasing arts funding, pervasive stereotyping of women, and increasing consolidation of control of the media. In the past four years The Fund for Women Artists has worked with artists of various ages, ethnicities, and interests, but all of them have shared a certain open-hearted hopefulness about the future. The Fund for Women Artists has consciously avoided cynicism and bitterness, in spite of the inherent difficulty of its work. The organization is challenging deeply entrenched cultural values, and the opposition is much larger and richer. To continue in this uphill battle, it is extremely important for everyone involved to stay physically, emotionally, and spiritually grounded and optimistic.

Within this institutional context, we are especially looking forward to the Big Mama Thornton Project. It will be a pleasure to be surrounded by the positive energy of Diane Beckett, Pearl Cleage, Andrea Hairston, and Joy Voeth, and we are confident that they will produce a play that embodies The Fund for Women Artists' ongoing process of imagining a better future.