By David Dixon
Even if a theater has a loyal following, there are always new ways to allow an audience to grow.
The Moxie Theatre continues to produce acclaimed work, involving powerful women who connect with both critics and audiences.
In February of 2017, several women officially started a group, The Bechdel Brigade, labeled the Moxie’s Lesbian Outreach Initiative.
The project was named after openly lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel, known for her long-running syndicated “Dykes To Watch Out For” comic strip and as the author of the graphic memoir “Fun Home,” which became a runaway Broadway hit in 2015. When also considering that “The Bechdel Test” (see sidebar) is in sync with Moxie’s mission, which involves empowering women playwrights, directors and actors, “The Bechdel Brigade” became the perfect coinage.
Around the time of Moxie’s production of “The Kid Thing” in late 2016, Executive Artistic Director Jennifer Eve Thorn was helping to put together a focus group. The group had attracted future Bechdel Brigade chair, Toni Robin, who at that point, was merely a fan of the venue.
“I always loved Moxie and supported their work, but I never worked with them professionally,” Robin said. “I thought this was an opportunity for me to do my thing with my community and the theater I love.”
Robin said The Bechdel Brigade wouldn’t exist without the help of arts advocate, patron and philanthropist, Dea Hurston, whose funding unexpectedly led to the inception of The Bechdel Brigade. Over the past three years, Hurston and her husband Osborn have helped fund various projects to attract different kinds of theatergoers.
Thorn said her original goal with Robin was to put together an audience development initiative that revolved around lesbians.
“Toni took the idea of The Bechdel Brigade to the next level,” Thorn said. “Because of her, we decided that a Brigade Night should be more than a simple evening out.”
Each Brigade Night begins before show time — during the final preview night just before the opening night — of a theatrical event. In addition to discount tickets, theatergoers are invited to a pre-show reception and a lively discussion with directors or special guest hosts or speakers.
On Feb. 2, a Brigade Night will be dedicated to the joint world premiere of a 1960s play with a Greek mythology twist, “Bliss (Or Emily Post is Dead!).”
Guest speakers are chosen based on their familiarity with a theme of the script.
Speaking before next month’s performance is Martha Barnette, co-host of the KPBS Public Radio show, “A Way with Words.” Her talk is on the history of etiquette.
“She is someone who has plenty of knowledge of Emily Post and the world of the tale,” Thorn said. “I’m really excited for our audience to know about how important etiquette was to mid-20th-century housewives.”
One thing about “Bliss” that should attract women to the theater, Thorn said, is that the story is not about following stereotypical gender roles.
“One of the most important takeaways for me is about breaking out of the cycles that are set up for us,” she said. “The narrative addresses that we need to start writing our own stories if we want our future to change.”
It is essential to note that the focus for members of the Brigade is on women involved with the arts, as opposed to strictly LGBT-based theater, and this ties into a goal Thorn envisions as the Brigade continues to develop. She would like the group to eventually include supporters of various artists, ranging from choreographers to painters.
For Robin, she’d like the Brigade to ultimately include a wider range of women members.
“Our task is to figure out how to broaden the reach beyond people that we know,” she said. “We want to find effective ways to spread the word and widen the circle.”
Both Thorn and Robin hope that Bechdel will accept an invitation as a guest speaker during a Bechdel Night in the not too distant future.
“We’re trying our best to get her to visit,” Robin said.
“We can’t get ahold of her, but our dream is for Bechdel to come and hang out with us,” Thorn said.
Given Moxie’s wonderful reputation, a live conversation with Bechdel might not be out of the question.
Moxie Theatre is located at 6663 El Cajon Blvd., in the College Area. “Bliss (Or Emily Post is Dead!)” will be performed Jan. 28 through Feb. 25. The Bechdel Brigade Night will start at 7 p.m. before the Feb. 2 performance at 8 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit moxietheatre.com or call 858-598-7620.
— Editor Morgan M. Hurley contributed to this report.
— David Dixon is a freelance film and theater writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.