By Phyl Newbeck
In 2010, despairing of finding high quality theatrical roles for women, Jennifer Warwick and Janet Stambolian decided to start a company to create those roles. The newly formed Girls Nite Out Productions (GNOP) featured “Steel Magnolias” as its inaugural play, followed by “The Hallelujah Girls” and then a female production of “The Odd Couple.” This February, they will bring Nora and Delia Ephron’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore” to Main Street Landing’s Black Box Theater. The show will have a two-week run, starting with Fashion Week and concluding with Valentine’s Day week. In conjunction with the show, the company will have an exhibit of vintage designer gowns, a photo exhibit of women ranging in age from 40 to 70 wearing those gowns and a Dress for Success clothing drive.
The mission of GNOP is to “produce high quality theater with a focus on providing great performance production and educational opportunities for women of all ages,” according to its website. The cast of five will include women in their 30s through 70s.
Warwick said the name of the company has the dual meaning of providing roles for women of all ages, as well as giving women the opportunity to enjoy a night out with their female friends. GNOP has recently branched out to develop educational programs, including a workshop held in a women’s correctional institution.
Kathryn Blume is the director of “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” The eclectic Blume is also an actress, writer, speaker and environmental activist who has performed in 60 cities across Europe, the United States and Canada. In Vermont, she is probably best known as the co-founder of the Lysistrata Project and the writer/performer of the environmental play, “The Boycott.” Blume has worn many hats in her theatrical career, but had never directed a play until GNOP asked her to work on “Steel Magnolias.” She went on to direct “The Odd Couple” and is enjoying the opportunity to work on “Love, Loss,” she said.
For Blume, directing the piece is meaningful on two levels. Given what she terms the “tragic” lack of great theatrical roles for women, particularly those over 40, she supports the mission of Girls Nite Out Productions.
“There’s not a lot out there for women of that age, and it’s when women are at their richest,” she said.
On a personal level, the company was the first to hire her in a director’s role and she discovered she enjoyed directing.
“There was an immediate moment of falling in love with it,” she said.
Known for her advocacy on issues like climate change, Blume doesn’t see “Love, Loss” as a departure from her activist work.
“What I care about are things that are relevant, things that matter to people,” she said. “I’ve been in theater all my life and what I love is great theater, great acting and great storytelling about things that are meaningful. It’s often said that the personal is political and ‘Love, Loss’ has great writing, great acting and incredibly relevant material.”
For those who think the play might not strike a chord with those Vermont women who spend most of their time in jeans, Blume insists that virtually all women have a deep relationship with at least some of their clothes. The relationship can be a bittersweet one toward the coat you wore to a funeral or a sentimental attachment to the blouse you wore on a first date.
“For most women, there is a least one garment you have an emotional attachment to and a story to tell about it and that’s the focus of this play,” she said.
Originally, the plan was for GNOP to produce one show a year in the fall but with “Love, Loss,” it is embarking on a plan to add a winter show, as well. Organizers hope to have a bigger production in the fall and a smaller one in the spring. Girls Nite Out Productions also partners with non-profit groups, raising money for local causes. For “Love, Loss,” the company will partner with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Upstate New York/Vermont and Dress for Success. The first was chosen because Nora Ephron died of leukemia.
More than 30 women auditioned for “Love, Loss,” and for “The Hallelujah Girls,” women from as far away as Plattsburgh, Stowe and Lincoln tried out for roles.
“We’ve gotten great feedback,” Warwick said. “We’ve created a little niche and it’s very exciting.”
While Blume realizes men are not the target audience for the play, she believes both genders will find relevance in “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”
“It’s funny, engaging and entertaining,” she said. “If you like women or are one, the likelihood is that you’ll find something to connect. It will help men understand the women in their lives and many women will find themselves in one of the stories.”
“Love, Loss and What I Wore” show dates are set for Feb. 7-10 and Feb. 13-17 at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington. For more information, visit www.girlsniteoutvt.com.