HARMONY FRANCE - FIREBRAND THEATRE & "LIZZIE"
You will want to make a note that Lizzie Borden is coming to town. The fabled axe madam herself, known for a (disputed) total of 81 combined whacks, will have her story retold by a new professional theatre company making its debut with the Chicago premiere of LIZZIE at the Den Theatre. Stay tuned for more about the show ... but first, Firebrand! Chop! Chop!
The buzz is all about the new Equity company – Firebrand Theatre – the brainchild of Co-Founder and Artistic Director Harmony France, who with Danni Smith, has gathered together many of Chicago’s most talented women around a common cause – the first musical theatre company committed to employing and empowering women by expanding opportunities on and off the stage.
Our conversation with Harmony France took several wonderful twists and turns, from the early challenges of establishing the organization, concert events, fundraising and the selection of LIZZIE as the opening production, to her own acting career and military service in the United States Navy. It is all in our conversation about equality, artistic investment and the promise of a healthy dose of Chicago theater the way it was meant to be – edgy, inspiring and empowering.
And, if you want to know exactly how many whacks Lizzie hacked with her axe – and whether she did it at all – you’ll have to make a reservation now for LIZZIE at the Den Theatre. Previews begin November 11th for the run through December 17th. WEBSITE PODCAST
First steps … The first thing I did was research … trying to find out like model theatre companies that I could reach out for advice and support. … I quickly discovered it didn’t exist. So we are in kind of uncharted territory right now, we are figuring it out as we go because we don’t have any examples ... There are definitely women-focused or feminist theatre companies in the world, but none of these are solely 'musical' theatre.
About LIZZIE … LIZZIE is four women – Lizzie Borden, her sister, the housekeeper and Lizzie‘s alleged lover … we are having them front an all-female band. … I always knew that it would be a great show that fit our mission. They play everything. They play heroes and villians and all of these complicated roles that women don’t normally get to play in musicals. Also, it is a rock musical. It is kind of in your face.
On the challenges … I think the most challenging thing is to stick to our mission because our mission is that we are the world’s first Equity musical theatre company dedicated to employing and empowering women. Our inside mission is we have to pass certain tests for a show to be appropriate for our company … there has to be as many women on stage as men … it has to lend itself to inclusive, diverse casting because the only way to move forward with feminism is intersectional feminism and it has to empower everyone.
Developing new works … We have 100’s of submissions since we announced … firebrandtheatre.org has a Submissions page. Check all the boxes! It has to pass the Bechdel test … as many women as men in the show. We’re really trying to curate the kind of shows that do fit this mission in order to diversify what is available for theater’s to produce.
Next up: Directing 9 to 5 … I have always looked at 9 to 5 as a period piece, kind of dated and in the past. Recently, what is going on in society, our government and the country, it’s not though … it actually is very present, very current. So, I am really excited to do it. We’re going to strip it down, strip the music down, and cast a very inclusive cast that looks like what an office looks like today … a new and interesting perspective to it. … Honestly, I think it is so relevant to what is going on right now because women are still not making as much as men and that is kind of the whole point of this musical, the inequality in the office. So, we will get to put a spotlight on that.
All about resources … We have raised every single dime. We started with an anonymous $600 donation, enough to get a website and a photo shoot for the website. We have raised every single other thing with mission-based concerts and fundraisers … we had been building our brand for a little over a year before we announced our season, doing concerts that empowered women or showcased a female artist that we thought was important. And those have been very successful … right now we are very dependent on individual donations and grassroots fundraising, fundraising drives and, hopefully, people who come to the shows.
LISTEN TO PODCAST
Music by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt
Lyrics by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Tim Maner
November 11 – December 17, 2017
The Den Theatre
1333 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL 60622
FIREBRAND THEATRE WEBSITE