Everything’s Coming Up Magnolias

 Everything’s Coming Up Magnolias

Dayton adds first-ever all-female theater company.

Natasha Baker

With nearly 70 percent of today’s Broadway audiences comprised of women, the idea of an all-female theater company has a lot of appeal. In fact, Gina Handy Minyard wants Dayton to know that women and girls will not only be in the audience, but will be celebrated at her recently opened Magnolia Theatre Company.

“Few and far between are the plays and roles for strong women in the theater,” Minyard muses. “We are sorely underrepresented.”

According to a 2008 report by the New York State Council on the Arts, men write 83 percent of produced plays. The U.S. Department of Labor considers any profession with less than 25 percent female employment to be “untraditional” for women, which makes playwriting, directing, set design, lighting design, sound design, choreography, composing and lyric writing all untraditional occupations for women.

In the 2013-2014 theater season, there was not a single new play by a woman on Broadway. Only 24 percent of all plays produced across the country in the 2014-2015 season were written by women—living or dead.

Minyard is no stranger to the issue. In fact, her frustration started as an actor looking for strong female roles in her hometown in Pennsylvania.

“Finding strong roles for women in theater is embarrassingly difficult,” Minyard says. “What’s worse is how hard it is to find theaters that support and produce scripts and plays written by women or about female issues. It was a frustration I shared with many of my fellow female actors and theater-going friends. So, I decided to do something about it.”

In May of 2012, she founded the Magnolia Theatre Company, and it quickly became one of the most talked about theater companies in Pennsylvania. Opening with the popular Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, all of the four shows quickly sold out. Obviously, Minyard had struck a chord.

The female-centric company is dedicated to bringing strong female characters to the stage in live performances that entertain, inspire and provoke the audience. Desiring to be different, unique and powerful, the theater strives to hire women in all technical, administrative and creative roles.

Minyard recently relocated to Dayton, following her husband, Gary Minyard, to our fair city. He is the vice president of education and engagement for the Victoria Theatre Association.

Once here, she started searching for opportunities in the local theater. She accepted positions teaching at local schools and the juvenile court system, but Minyard soon realized the Dayton theater market also lacked opportunities for women.

“What Dayton offers that I didn’t have in Pennsylvania was access to help and support for fledgling theater organizations,” adds Minyard. “The Victoria Theatre Association’s Impact Program made the idea of starting again from scratch appealing and viable.”

According to Diane Schoeffler-Warren, public relations manager for the VTA, the ImPACT Program was designed with fledgling theater groups like Minyard’s in mind.

“The program provides rehearsal and performance space, marketing, production, ticket sales and social media support,” Schoeffler-Warren says. “The program works with the theater group to develop a three-year plan to guide them through establishing an engaged audience and enabling their future independence.”

The Magnolia Theatre opened its first production on March 5. Written by Kathy Najimi and Mo Gaffney, Parallel Lives was originally an HBO 90-minute special in 1993. The script involves a series of sketches, performed by two women, and tackles all kinds of women’s issues with comedy, honesty and poignancy.

“Some of my favorite skits include two angels working with God, the moms of Disney characters’ therapy session and two girls in Catholic school,” says Minyard. “And I am thrilled to have an opportunity to work with my costar, Andrea Morales de Castellano.”

The play features Director Marya Spring Cordes, Human Race Theatre member and faculty member of Wright State University’s Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures. MTC is also featuring lighting and technical support from Sinclair Community College theater students and marketing support from a University of Dayton student.

Minyard believes the collaboration of all these entities is part of what gives Dayton such a strong arts community. “I love that I could call on all these ready resources right here.”

What’s next for Magnolia? Minyard hopes to expand to a four-show season by 2016. She would love to add an educational component to the theater, working with young girls with an interest in acting and the theater.

For tickets to Parallel Lives, visit TicketCenterStage.com or call 937-985-4851. You can also stay up-to-date with the theater by following it on Facebook at facebook.com/magnoliatheatrecompany.