Bringing Women’s Voices to the Stage: an interview with Polly Rose Edelstein of Crack the Glass Theatre Company

Polly Edelstein, yet another out-of-towner putting down roots here.

It’s a common complaint: few good roles exist for female actors in Philadelphia. Indeed even your most ardent male feminist (self-proclaimed) tends to turn his theatre company into a boys’ club. It’s a ridiculous situation, honestly, the lack of female voices and good characters on the stage. For an art form that considers itself so forward thinking, in practice it is hopelessly archaic when it comes to gender issues, whether on stage or in the office (you will find lots of women in low-paying admin, but few at the top). There are too many reasons for this to get into (including the fact that women generally tire of the bullshit for little reward and go find success and happiness elsewhere, leaving their loser male theatre compatriots to stew in their own nastiness), but one theatre artist has decided to do something about it. Newly arrived in Philly, Polly Rose Edelstein has founded Crack The Glass Theatre Company to provide an outlet for women playwrights, actors, and other theatrical inclined folks. PPAA’s faithful correspondent Christopher Munden talked to her about the new company and its inaugural production, “An Evening of One-Acts,” running through this weekend.

Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority: Tell me a little about Crack The Glass and “An Evening of One-Acts.” Why did you put together this event?

Polly Rose Edelstein: Crack The Glass Theatre Company is a brand new company I started here in Philadelphia. We are dedicated and committed to showcasing women in theater, including actors, directors, playwrights, and designers. I had the idea to start a company similar to this while I was in college. I noticed that, even at my small women’s college (Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri), there weren’t enough opportunities for women in theater and figured it was up to me to make the opportunities happen!

PPAA: What brought you to Philadelphia? How do you like it and its theatre scene so far?

PRE: My senior year of college I had a theatre business class called Nuts and Bolts. We were given cities to research that we thought we may consider moving to and mine was Philadelphia. We had to learn about everything from the theater scene to the average rent to the best place for 3am pizza! After that I visited Philly in January 2010, liked it, and figured if I liked it in January I could like it in most months! I graduated that May, worked through the summer, and then packed up my car in late August, left my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, and drove here looking for opportunity! The theatre scene is phenomenal. It is a city full of talent, not afraid to do new and edgy pieces, and super welcoming of new companies and ideas!

PPAA: What is the state of Philadelphia theatre for female actors?

PRE: I can’t really comment on the state of Philadelphia theatre for female actors as I haven’t been in Philadelphia for a full year yet. I will say I recently attended an audition that had around 30 women attending and 3 males and that in general the state of theater for women all across the country is constantly competitive in all aspects of theater. While competition is good, I feel there are so many talented female voices out there that go unheard and I would like to give those voices as much opportunity as possible

PPAA: I just said “female actors.” What do you think of the word “actress”?

PRE: Most women I know refer to themselves as actors and if I am performing, refer to myself as one. I personally am fairly indifferent towards the terminology as long as it isn’t used in a demeaning way.

PPAA: Are there female-centric themes or issues in them that are often ignored in male-dominated theater?

PRE: Often I have heard from playwrights, male and female, that it is harder to write plays with female protagonists than male ones. I think often women don’t want to be considered “stereotypical” by writing plays that deal with the condition of women for fear of being labeled “feminist writers.” If writers write what they know, then male playwrights—whose plays are more produced—are not going to write about being taken to the Harvest Ball or being raped by their stepbrothers [plot points of the plays in Crack the Glass’s one act series], even if that makes for good theatre. I think the female voice is a powerful one that is heard throughout all of the one acts in this production and hopefully will be heard in future productions.

PPAA: How did you find and choose the plays in the production?

PRE: I found some of these playwrights and some found me! Nothing gives me more joy than to meet random playwrights on the street and give them my card for future productions! To be less vague, I went on a lot of websites searching for one-acts written by females. I also tapped into theatre companies that had done one-act festivals and wrote to the female playwrights I found there. Also, I have done some 24-hour theatre festivals in Philadelphia and met very talented writers at those.

PPAA: Are there any themes that run through the plays?

PRE: The only theme is that all of these plays are written by very talented women! The eight plays run the gamut with different themes, ranging from the light-hearted—including stories from the Garden of Eden, the trials of staying in shape, and how frustrating it is to have a car break down in the middle of nowhere—to more serious themes of familial abuse and the consequences of war. One has the hilarity of Southern drama, another the dramatics of Hollywood divas, and another the unease of being stalked on a subway train.  All in all, they are a wide variety of good writing and fun storytelling.

PPAA: What were the challenges of directing eight separate one acts with a revolving cast?

PRE: Where do I start? Originally I was supposed to have a co-director to make casting and scheduling much easier. She was going to take four of the one-acts and I was going to take four. Unfortunately that didn’t work out, two days before auditions. From the auditions I found my wonderful assistant director Kari Delany who has kept me sane throughout this process. Another challenge we had was not having an official rehearsal space. We were “borrowing” rooms from a public place that closed down about 2 weeks ago. Since then we have been rehearsing in my house, which has gotten very hot recently as we don’t have central air.

PPAA: So, Philadelphia has a magic theater? How did you come across that and what challenges or opportunities does the space present?

PRE: Grasso’s Magic Theatre is the only place in Philadelphia dedicated to the art of magic. I came across it online, came in and met the owner, Joe Grasso, who has been great throughout this process, and started to do volunteer box office for him. There have been very few challenges with this space, minus a few staging quirks and the giant scary mummy that greets people when they arrive. It is a wonderful place location-wise and I have had the opportunity to meet very interesting and entertaining individuals and have learned a lot working here.

PPPA: Thanks for talking to us, Polly, good luck with the run!

PRE:  Thanks, I’ll see you there!

Evening of One-Acts, Crack the Glass Theatre Company

Featuring plays by Dori Appel, Claudia Barnett, Anne Flanagan, Susan Goodell, Kerri Kochanski, Mary Steelsmith, and Julia Tobey. Directed by Polly Rose Edelstein; Assistant Director: Kari Delany.

June 1 through June 5, Grasso’s Magic Theatre, 103 Callowhill Street. $15 online or at door.

Published by the Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority.

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.