Photos, video: Hattitude 2016: Playing for a level playing field

Video coverage of the 2016 Women with Hattitude luncheon by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk. Interviews by Senior Arts Journalist John Moore. Just push play.

Denver dance legend Cleo Parker Robinson looked around a ballroom filled to capacity with 650 (mostly) women donning majestic, artistic, floral, ethnic, comic and even playfully gaudy millinery – and simply marveled.

“It’s just like rainbows moving, dancing and singing,” said Robinson, founder of the internationally acclaimed Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, and a former DCPA Trustee. “It’s just wonderful.”

Hattitude quote Cleo Parker RobinsonThe occasion was Thursday’s 11th annual DCPA Women with Hattitude luncheon at the Seawell Ballroom. Robinson was part of the original African-American Task force that dreamed up Hattitude to support the hiring of female playwrights and directors.

Eleven years later, Artistic Director Kent Thompson’s Women’s Voices Fund is a national model that enables the DCPA Theatre Company to commission, workshop and produce new plays by women. Now valued at more than $1 million, the Women’s Voices Fund is one of the largest funds of any kind devoted to creating new works for the American theatre. Thursday’s luncheon raised $80,000 for the cause.

Last year, the DCPA Theatre Company presented world premieres by Theresa Rebeck (The Nest) and Tanya Saracho (FADE). Its Education Division’s annual statewide youth playwriting competition produced 10 semifinalists this year – nine of them young women – from a field of 212. In July, Kendra Knapp’s Sonder will get a full production in the Conservatory Theatre.

Studies have shown that while women make up nearly 60 percent of all live theatregoing audiences nationwide, only about 25 percent of all plays and musicals staged in America are written by women. In its first 10 years, the Women’s Voices Fund made it possible for the DCPA Theatre Company to produce 26 plays by women (including 10 world premieres), commission 15 female playwrights and hire 17 female directors.

“The Women’s Voices Fund matters so much because the majority of people in this industry seem to be female, but the majority of positions of authority seem to be held by men,” said Lori McClain, an actor performing in The Realish Housewives of Cherry Creek in the Galleria Theatre. “The movie industry could take a cue from this event.”

Next season, the Theatre Company will be presenting two world premieres, both by women: Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will and Tira Palmquist’s Two Degrees. Thompson also pointed out Thursday that the new Broadway musical Waitress spent some of its development time at the Denver Center. Kathleen Marshall workshopped the piece here while she was also bringing The Unsinkable Molly Brown to life in 2014. Waitress is the first Broadway musical in history with an all-female creative and design team.

Our 2016 Women with Hattitude photo gallery:

Hattitude 2016 Photos from the 2016 Hattitude luncheon. To see more, press the forward button on the image above. Click on any photo to download for free. Photos by John Moore and Emily Lozow for the DCPA NewsCenter. More photos will be added to this gallery next week.

“We are leading the way in making sure women’s voices are heard throughout the nation,” said DCPA CEO and President Scott Shiller. “And what we have done for the past 11 years is just the start of what we are going to do for the next 10.”

The Hattitude tradition began in 2005, growing out of the Theatre Company’s presentation of Regina Taylor’s Crowns.  Her musical play explored black history and identity, using an exquisite variety of hats to tell the shared history and rituals of African-American women, ranging in era from slavery to current fashion.

Crowns deals with what it meant for a woman to have her head covered, and the statement that it makes,” Robinson said. “In the African tradition, when we wear head wraps, it’s almost a regal thing.”

Hattitude Mary Louise LeeThompson, who had just arrived at the DCPA in 2005, created the African-American Task Force that included Robinson. “It was very important for us to include all multicultural communities,” said Robinson. The annual Hattitude luncheon, she added, was the perfect opportunity for women of all backgrounds to come together, share lunch and tell stories, while also raising money for the Women’s Voices Fund.

“This was one way to get out the African-American community. And you know – we sisters love to wear hats,” Robinson said. “Our hats make a cultural statement, and they make an age statement. It about her attitude – and her hattitude.”

(Pictured at right: Denver First Lady Mary Louise Lee.)

Hattitude culminates with a whimsical fashion show – each of the 65 tables nominate one woman (or man!) to walk down a runway and show off their hats. This year, University of Northern Colorado freshman musical-theatre student Abby Noble led the parade while singing “I Feel the Earth Move” from the upcoming touring musical BeautifulThe Carole King Story (July 19-31).

More information on the Women’s Voices Fund

As a young artist hoping to graduate into a more equitable world, Noble clearly gets the need, the benefit and the fun of an afternoon like Hattitude.

“Women coming together to support women in the theatre is so necessary because of course women need to be represented equally in the theatre community,” said Noble, who as a high-schooler won the DCPA’s 2014 Bobby G Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. “This event is so important because it illustrates that we are making an impact, and we are trying to change (the numbers).”

Hattitude quote Realish Housewives of Cherry Creek
From left: Katy Carolina Collins, Denise Snyder (Mariel of Cherry Creek), Emjoy Gavino, Jackson Evans, Katie Caussin, Lindsey Pearlman, Lori McClain. Front: ‘Best in Show’ hat winner B.J. Dyer. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Director Christy Montour-Larson, who directed Two Degrees at the Theatre Company’s 2016 Colorado New Play Summit, was energized to see “such a wide spectrum of humanity, of women, and of hats” at Thursday’s luncheon. “Every time I look out into an audience, they are women. And if we give women opportunities to write plays and direct plays, then we hear their stories.”

 Hattitude Kevin Curtis Sweeney ToddAnd that matters to audiences, says Michanda Lindsey.

“I think there is a palatable difference when I see a play that has been directed by a woman, or has the voice of the woman as the writer,” said Lindsey, a Transformation Coach and wife of frequent Theatre Company actor Cajardo Lindsey (All the Way). “Different layers are captured that I believe are so necessary to tell the full spectrum of who we are as a humanity.”

Hattitude was hosted this year by CBS-4 anchors Jim Benneman and Karen Leigh. The Event Chair was longtime Denver philanthropist Jamie Angelich. Actor Kevin Curtis (pictured right), who plays Tobias Ragg in the Theatre Company’s critically acclaimed Sweeney Todd, sang “Nothing’s Gonna Harm You,” to the accompaniment of Erik Daniells.  

Hattitude Best In Show. BJ DyerLongtime DCPA Trustee Judi Wolf acknowledged the recent passing of DCPA founder Donald R. Seawell, noting his attendance at all 10 previous Hattitude luncheons. It was Wolf’s task to choose the “Best in Show” hat, and she went with one lined entirely with ticket stubs to The Realish Housewives of Cherry Creek. Its creator was BJ Dyer, owner of Denver’s Bouquets floral and gift shop (pictured right). Another award-winner was Lannie Garrett, owner of Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret and recent inductee into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Hattitude was especially fun, if a bit unfamiliar, for the newly arrived cast of The Realish Housewives of Cherry Creek, who tour their Real Housewives parody from city to city, localizing the material for local audiences.

“I really look forward to the time where the playing field is level in terms of gender diversity so we don’t have to have these gender designations like, ‘This is for women,’ or, ‘This is for people of color,’” said Realish actor Katie Caussin. “Hopefully soon we can have a level playing field – because artists are artists.”

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.

DCPA CEO Scott Shiller and Event Chair Jamie AngelichDCPA CEO Scott Shiller, left, and Hattitude Event Chair Jamie Angelich. Below, dignitaries and hat winners. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Hattitude dignitaries and hat winners.

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