Video above: A look back at last year’s ‘Women with Hattitude’ luncheon.
Celebration of African-American church hats birthed a tradition that supports women’s voices in American theatre
To most, the Denver Center’s annual Women with Hattitude luncheon is a fun, whimsical fundraising event that encourages women (and men) to dress in their most ornate, colorful haberdashery and headdresses, culminating in a playful runway walk complete with music, cheering and prizes. The 14th edition of the event begins at 11 a.m. Thursday, May 2, at the Seawell Ballroom.
Not all know the roots of this playful society date run directly back to one of the DCPA Theatre Company’s most acclaimed and meaningful productions: Regina Taylor’s Crowns in 2005. The gospel musical explores black history and identity, using an exquisite variety of regal hats to tell the shared history and rituals of African-American women ranging in era from slavery to current fashion. It is a tribute to black women, their church hats and the “hattitude” that is passed through generations.
DCPA Costume Crafts Director Kevin Copenhaver created more than 60 hats for a show that itself comes off like an oratorical fashion show, complete with jewels and peacock feathers. The hats were a powerful symbol of status, personality and religious reverence.
“Crowns deals with what it meant for a woman to have her head covered, and the statement that it makes,” international dance legend Cleo Parker Robinson said. “In the African tradition, when we wear head wraps, it’s almost a regal thing.”
Since 2005, Women with Hattitude has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of the Denver Women’s Voices Fund, an ongoing mission to level the playing field for women playwrights and directors.
With more than 130 individual donors, the Women’s Voices Fund has become a national model that supports the Theatre Company’s goal to commission, workshop and produce more new plays by women. Now valued at more than $1.6 million, it is one of the largest funds of any kind devoted to new-play development. Last year’s Hattitude luncheon was attended by 650 and raised nearly $60,000 for the cause.
Taylor, who is now a commissioned playwright for the DCPA Theatre Company, attended the recent 2019 Colorado New Play Summit and was delighted to learn that the Women with Hattitude tradition continues.
“I never imagined 14 years ago that it would have such longevity,” Taylor said. “I am humbled and honored to know that the program it supports is continuing to add to the fabric of new playwrights. I very much want to support new artists and new theatre.”
Taylor’s status as a commissioned playwright means she was hired to write a new script for the DCPA Theatre Company’s right of first refusal to either further develop or one day fully produce.
“I just turned in my draft of the piece, and now we are talking about readings and workshops,” Taylor said at February’s Summit, where she also made a powerful appearance reading from another new play she has written, Déjà Vu, about a centenarian recounting the difficult history of suffrage for African Americans.
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Video: Regina Taylor at the 2019 Colorado New Play Summit Playwrights’ Slam
Before the Women’s Voices Fund was established by then-Artistic Director Kent Thompson and Director of Development Dorothy Denny, only 3 percent of the 284 plays produced in the 26 previous years of the Theatre Company’s history were written by women, and only 5.3 percent were directed by women. Over the past five seasons, those numbers are 35 and 43 percent, respectively.
“The Denver Center is promoting women’s voices all across the country and beyond,” said DCPA President and CEO Janice Sinden. “Gender equality in the American theatre is so important, and what a wonderful opportunity the DCPA has to shine such a bright light on it.”
A current beneficiary of the Women’s Voices Fund is Colorado native Neyla Pekarek, who is developing a new musical about a Colorado legend called Rattlesnake Kate – and she will perform a song from the show at this year’s Hattitude.
“I was so excited to be asked to perform at Hattitude,” Pekarek said. “This whole experience with the Denver Center, and the Colorado New Play Summit, and being commissioned to write a play here – it all feels way too good to be true. I just keeping saying to myself: ‘Wait. They’re paying us to write this show? It’s a dream come true.’ So I am happy to help in any way I can. And talking about these issues of inequality tells me that Rattlesnake Kate and Hattitude will be a perfect match.
John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.
Women with Hattitude: Information
What: Women with Hattitude starts with wine and networking for more than 600 ladies and gentlemen, followed by an elegant Epicurean-catered lunch with stunning views in the dramatic Seawell Ballroom. After lunch, guests will enjoy a surprise performance and the exciting Macy’s Parade of Hats, featuring 50 of the best hats at the event, complete with prizes.
When: Thursday, May 2
- 10:30 a.m.: Private Reception Top Hat ticket patrons
- 11 a.m.: Social and networking hour for all guests
- Noon: Welcome and lunch
- 12:30 p.m. Performance by Neyla Pekarek, composer of Rattlesnake Kate
- 1 p.m. Macy’s Parade of Hats
Tickets: Individual ticket $65; Top Hat ticket (Includes access to pre-event Top Hat Lounge with special drinks and treats, premium seating, and an $85 tax deductible donation to the Women’s Voices Fund: $150. Call 303-893-4100 or click here: