20% Theatre aims to change stats with women-centric plays


Courtesy 20% Theatre Company

Jonas (Dan Cobbler) proposes to Hope (Pamela Mae Davis) in “Fugue“ as Christopher (Noah Laufer) looks on.


More than a decade ago, 20 percent of working professionals in the theatre arts were women, according to a 2002 study by the New York Council of the Arts. The 20% Theatre Company Chicago has been trying to change that since its inception. 

Founded in 2002 by a group of Smith College graduates, 20% Theatre Company Chicago expanded across the country, forming branches in Seattle, New York, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. Today, only the Chicago and Minneapolis locations still exist. The theater works with all-female casts to produce “strong, women-focused plays,” said Lindsay Bartlett, the artistic director for the Chicago company.

Since its inception, 20% Theatre “has engaged the talents of more than 450 established and emerging female playwrights, directors, and designers,” according to the company’s website.

Bartlett said the theatre company aims to eliminate the underrepresentation of women in the theatre world by providing them with opportunities to share their stories and experiences.

“It has shorthandedly set the stage for women in theater,” Bartlett said, adding that the company’s productions showcase how women are capable and significant, especially in the professional theatre world.

20% has a science-themed lineup planned for its 13th season, which began Sept. 17.

“We decided we really wanted to do a season focused on science [and] invention, and ride the coattails coming out about female scientists,” Bartlett said. 

The season’s first show will be “Fugue for Particle Accelerator,” written by Kristin Idaszak and directed by DePaul University alumna Lavina Jadhwani. The play focuses on a female physicist named Hope who gets lost in different worlds of possibility and choices, according to Idaszak.

“[I was inspired to write about] a woman torn between her work and her personal life,” Idaszak said. “I was incredibly seduced by the idea of parallel worlds.”

Idaszak is a Playwrights’ Center Jerome Fellow, which provides emerging American playwrights with funds to develop their craft. Idaszak started writing “Fugue” six years ago.

She said the play examines a woman’s obsession with her career and the toll it takes on her personal life and relationship with her partner. It focuses on the choices she must make between the two spheres as she struggles to find balance between the two.

Idaszak, whose parents are both chemical engineers, said she is not a scientist herself but science has been a very large part of her life.

“The sense of curiosity about what the world is like and how we can understand it has been a really fundamental part of who I am,” Idaszak said.

While writing “Fugue,” she stumbled upon the “Many Interacting Worlds” theory, which suggests parallel universes are right next to our universe and are interacting with it.

“That explains some of the behavior of these subatomic particles on the quantum level, which is amazing and is also in conversation with the play,” Idaszak said.

Jadhwani said “Fugue” is her first full-length show with 20% Theatre, and this is the show’s first production. She said she thinks the show’s theme of unknown possibilities is relatable because it is something most people grapple with in their own lives.

Pamela Mae Davis, who plays Hope the physicist, said the show evolved throughout the production  process, especially since it is a new  play. She said everyone in the cast and crew learned a lot.

“I hope the audience takes away a sense of mystery and magic,” Davis said.

Bartlett added that the company has always tried to feature work that highlights women in different professions, whether it be a stay-at-home mom, a playwright or a scientist. The goal is to capture the lives and stories of a diverse group of women.

“We are all good at our jobs. It’s just because we are women, we have a step back,” Bartlett said. “But the spotlight has changed now.”

“Fugue for Particle Accelerator” runs through Oct. 18 at the Prop Theater, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Tickets are $10 for students and regular admission is $20. Purchase them at twentypercentchicago.com.