It all started during a night out after a Village Players Theatre play rehearsal last summer, when four female actors realized they shared the same gripe. They all wanted to play meatier women characters.
"There are so few plays with more than one strong female role," says Kristin Collins, "a stay-at-home actress" from River Forest.
As they considered their options, they agreed that one play stood out: a bridal-themed comedy, Five Women Wearing The Same Dress, by Alan Ball (of American Beauty and Six Feet Under fame). Five strong women in one play?#34;it seemed perfect for them.
So they decided to make it happen.
The group, which included Collins, Rachel Urbanowicz and Elizabeth Macik of Oak Park and Michelle Marquardt of Chicago, formed See Jane Run Productions, with the aim of producing plays with a strong female presence, both on stage and behind the scenes. Their work culminates on June 10, when they'll bring Ball's play to life at the Village Players space on Madison Street.
"We all loved this play and decided, let's do it," recalls Urbanowicz, who's been acting since age 6 and was a theater major. She juggles acting with her day job as a graphic designer.
The play looks behind the scenes of a wedding where a romantic, a lesbian, a beauty queen, a rebel and a naive cousin come together, with a few hideous bridesmaids' dresses thrown in.
"Every character is a meaty person," Collins says. "It's a true ensemble production."
But don't expect a play for the kids. Ball "doesn't mince words," notes Urbanowicz. The play touches on strong, sometimes shocking subject matter and the language may not be appropriate for children under 13.
Husbands will get a glimpse of what goes on in women's bathrooms, Collins adds.
Getting in the biz
Producing Five Women seemed to be the only way all four of the friends could act together, Collins says. But it's meant that she, Urbanowicz and Marquardt have had to do double duty on stage and behind the scenes (Macik had to drop out early on because of family obligations).
"This was really special that the four of us clicked on a personal and professional level," Collins explains. "You can be friends with someone but you can't always start a business with them."
The first step to starting that business was securing a stage. Since they'd all participated in Village Players productions, they relied on their connections to negotiate use of the theater during its summer dark hours.
Staying in Oak Park was key, Collins notes. Since three out of the original founders were area natives, it was convenient. They also received overwhelming support from area businesses?#34;from stores that let them post flyers to ad-buying for the playbill.
They all used skills from their day jobs to publicize and organize the show. Collins, who worked in public relations for seven years, wrote the press release while caring for her two kids, 4-year-old Riley and 2-year-old Declan.
"Most of us are markety-type people during the day anyway," Urbanowicz says. "I designed the website and just had a ton of fun doing it."
The journey to Five Women has had some bumps along the road. Replacing Macik was difficult, but they found Casey McDermott to take over as Meredith, the rebellious sister of the bride.
"We were blessed to find her," Collins says. "She was the only true outsider to the group, but she has fit in tremendously well and is talented."
Gathering enough women to create a strong female presence was a must. Other female members of the company include Carrie Hunter of Village Players Theatre, who plays the bride's cousin Frances and serves as set designer, and director Ruth Landis, who has worked with Victory Gardens, Lifeline, Steppenwolf and Goodman theaters.
There are men involved as well, including Joe McCauley, who plays usher Tripp Davenport, the only man in the play, and the producers husbands, who built the set.
"We're not going to be this complete island of the Amazon thing, we just want to get out there and do some gutsy women's theater," Urbanowicz says.
And this script, along with Landis, is pushing them to places they've never been, Collins says.
She's usually cast as the naive girl next door, but here she plays Mindy, the lesbian, smart-alec sister of the groom.
"It's so much fun to play," she says. "I have not had a comedic role in a while and it's fun to hear the laughs again."
For Urbanowicz, acting feeds her soul more than her checkbook. "It's almost a spiritual thing; it just makes me happy to do it," she says. "It's an art form that I really enjoy and I find it extremely challenging and satisfying."
And even with all the extra work of being both producer and actor, Collins agrees. "It's the first time that I love going to work, absolutely love it," she says. "As crazy as it can get, if someone told me I couldn't do it anymore I'd be devastated."
Five Women Wearing The Same Dress is produced in cooperation with the Village Players Theatre, 1010 W. Madison St. It will run from June 10 to June 25 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sunday, June 12 only, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be reserved in advance by e-mailing email@example.com. For more information, visit the See Jane Run website at www.seejanerunproductions.com.