Echo Theatre production – The Lucky Chance 2013
Echo Theatre reinvents its mission with “women+”
Rich Lopez | Contributing Writer
For more than 20 years, Echo Theatre has produced stage and theater with a focus on women playwrights and creatives. But as times, identities and conversations progressed, the theater company realized it needed to progress as well. Thus, as part of its new initiative,
Echo Theatre was inspired to adjust its mission “to champion the diverse voices of women+.”
With a new board of directors and mission and vision, Echo has a whole new outlook.
“We wanted to take a look at ourselves and see if Echo was doing what it is we set out to do,” Artistic Director Kateri Cale said by phone. “Through a lot of self-examination and asking about our place in the arts community and what values are important to us, we knew our mission needed to be refreshed.”
And so they came up with their inclusive term, “women+,” which expands to include the wider variety of voices they expect to present in the future.
“The old words we were using didn’t seem sufficient, and society has opened up to different ideas of gender and identity,” Cale said.
In short, Echo Theatre is evolving into a space that is open to — and insistent about, even — presenting voices by cis, transgender, lesbian, gender fluid and non-binary individuals, among other identities that are in line with the company’s mission.
The theater was already gearing up in 2019 to shift its future. But then the pandemic happened. Shows had to be put on hold, and everything came to an abrupt halt in 2020. Still, the theater found its own silver lining.
“It was frustrating and awful to see everything shut down, but it was kind of the perfect time to revisit what we were doing and having some quality Zoom discussions,” Cale said. “We spent hours getting really philosophical and it was wonderful.”
A strong point in the company’s self-reflection was how to act within its own nature but also reach out to holistically support society’s changes.
“This is definitely very exciting for me,” Marketing Director Lauren Floyd said. “Echo can advocate for what we believe in and also now uplift other artists and promote people whose work may have not been supported yet.”
The revamped mission is proving to be an ongoing learning experience: There are different generations involved along with the potential for blowback and, simply, modern language barriers.
“We’re having to educate everybody. The younger generation seems to have a perfect handle on it, but the rest of us don’t wanna say the wrong thing,” Cale said. “I want to learn about people and what they want to be called. We adopted this term to recognize that the words ‘woman’ and ‘female’ just don’t work anymore.”
Floyd added that those binary terms often negate a bigger picture.
“We found that the experience of womanhood is so vast and diverse and falls into so many experiences,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to feel they are being put into a box that society has been putting them into.”
There are always naysayers, and Cale has considered that. A board member played devil’s advocate, questioning whether this new direction will change the way Echo produces. Essentially, they were asking, “Is Echo prepared for this?”
Cale’s response: “I don’t think it will. I think it will invite people into the theater that didn’t know there was a place for them,” she said.
That means people in every aspect of a show — most notably actors.
The mission is going to open doors.
“There’s a place here that embraces more non-conforming actors in Dallas and invites those creatives and performers to flourish,” Floyd said.
General auditions will be happening soon, which perhaps could allow theatergoers to see an added layer of diversity to the local scene in future seasons. To make up for last year’s pandemic crisis, Echo Theatre has pushed some shows from then to its upcoming 23rd season beginning in April. (see sidebar).
Now, Echo can look ahead to its second initiative: finding where the new mission takes the company, establishing partnerships and determining how to get there. In the meantime, they will get back to business, follow the proper CDC and theater union guidelines for safety and get creative with its streaming shows and its podcast Echo Offstage.
“Theater is funny,” Cale said. “You can’t quite pin us down because the shows we do already are so far-ranging. Now, those shows by ‘women+’ expands that. We wanna open the door and reach out to people who are reflective of the world we live in now.”
Echo’s 2021 Season
• The Other Felix by Reina Hardy: Hit the road with private detective Marlow Sharp and her reluctant client, Felix Bettelman, an on the trail of the other Felix, you can lose yourself a little. A digital play about obsessions and breaking them. Directed by Kateri Cale and featuring Lauren Floyd and Andrew Albitz. Ticketed online streaming performances and four free socially-distanced outdoor screenings.
• Echo Reads: This free theater experience will be presented on Zoom. Directors lightly rehearse readings of plays with professional actors who carry their scripts as they perform for the audience. After the Zoom reading, the audience is invited to stay and discuss the play with the actors, director and Echo Creatives in a casual conversation online.
• It’s My Party! by Ann Timmons: Based on real, historical figures, It’s My Party! delves into the backstory of the fight to pass the 19th Amendment. Facing an uphill battle in Washington, some suffragists employ increasingly radical tactics to make their voices heard, leading to bitter rivalries and a generational split that threatened to tear the suffragists’ movement apart from the inside. Directed by Carson McCain.
• Echo Reads: The winter season.
• The Big Shout Out 3 — International New Play Contest for Women+ Playwrights: Submissions and blind judging process will take place throughout 2021. Finalist honorees receive public readings in 2022, and the winning playwright’s script has the chance at a full production in 2022 plus $500 in prize money.
Echo Offstage is the theater’s podcast hosted by Catherine Whiteman and available on the website and most podcast streaming services.
For more information about tickets, the play contest, upcoming auditions and the podcast, visit EchoTheatre.org.