WP Theater was founded in 1978 by Julia Miles to address the conspicuous underrepresentation of women artists working in the American theater. Miles was producing at The American Place Theatre, an Off-Broadway theater dedicated to producing new work by American writers. Miles began as Assistant Manager at The American Place Theatre in 1964 and advanced in the ranks to Associate Director. During this time, she noted the lack of plays written by women being produced by The American Place Theatre in comparison to those written by men. Under a grant from the Ford Foundation, Miles created The Women’s Project under the umbrella of The American Place Theatre to encourage the development of female playwrights and directors and to provide a forum for their work. For its first nine years, WP Theater staged its productions in the basement of The American Place theatre. In 1987, the project left The American Place Theatre and became an independent organization, known today as WP Theater.
Since 1978, WP Theater has produced more than 600 Off-Broadway plays and developmental projects and has partnered with a number of other New York theater companies for co-productions, including Playwrights Horizons and The New Group. Often, WP Theater produces plays that are New York premieres or world premieres. These include Bright Half Life written by Tanya Barfield and directed by Leigh Silverman, Stuffed by Lisa Lampanelli, Or, by Liz Duffy Adams, and Virginia Woolf’s only play, Freshwater, directed by Anne Bogart.
WP Theater’s first production was Choices, a one-woman show that was adapted from the works of Colette, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Joan Didion, amongst others. It was conceived by writer Patricia Bosworth and adapted by Bosworth, director Caymichael Patten, and actress Lily Lodge. Choices ran from November 30 to December 17, 1978 in the American Place Theatre basement. Julia Miles said the production “explores the choices that women have. Hopefully, there are now more of those choices and women are more definite about what they are.” After the production opened, Mel Gussowof The New York Times wrote, “Choices serves as a brief introduction to the artistic energy of literary women. Given the variety of versatile people who are engaged in the ‘Women’s Project,’ we look forward to the plays, playwrights and directors that should emerge from the American Place.”
In 1981, WP Theater produced Still Life, a documentary-style play about the aftermath of the Vietnam War written and directed by Emily Mann. The production featured Mary McDonnell, Timothy Near, and John Spencer and earned four Obie Awards, including the award for Best Production.
One of WP Theater’s most heralded productions is A…My Name is Alice, a revue of songs and sketches conceived and directed by Julianne Boyd and Joan Micklin Silver. The production earned the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Revue in the 1983-84 season, and featured songs and scenes penned by Winnie Holzman, Marta Kauffman, Anne Meara, and others.
WP Theater has worked closely with Cuban-American playwright, María Irene Fornés, since its inception. Fornés, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and nine-time Obie Award winner, is known for her avant-garde and experimental plays. WP Theater has produced three Fornés plays, including Abingdon Square, which earned the 1988 Obie for Best New American Play.
WP Theater artist alumni include Billie Allen, Anne Bogart, Pearl Cleage, Eve Ensler, María Irene Fornés, Pam MacKinnon, Dominique Morisseau, Lynn Nottage, Joyce Carol Oates, Diane Paulus, Sarah Ruhl, Anna Deavere Smith, and Rebecca Taichman.
Actors who have performed in WP Theater productions include Tony Award winners and nominees Michael Cerveris, Kathleen Chalfant, Colleen Dewhurst, Tammy Grimes, Cherry Jones, Tonya Pinkins, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Thomas Sadoski, and Frances Sternhagen, Academy Award winners and nominees Linda Hunt, Kim Hunter, and Mary McDonnell, and Emmy Award winners and nominees Ruby Dee, America Ferrera, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jimmy Smits, and John Spencer. Other actors who have performed in WP Theater productions include Adrienne C. Moore, Pedro Pascal, and Tracie Thoms.
Alumni of the WP Lab include JoAnne Akalaitis, Tea Alagić, Rachel Chavkin, Quíara Alegria Hudes, and Anne Kauffman. Many Lab alumni have served as Artistic Directors at other theater companies, including Akalaitis (New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater), Emily Mann (McCarter Theatre), and Carey Perloff (A.C.T.).