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Theater company focuses on women’s roles, on and off stage

Kassmin Williams | 8/7/2014, 10:58 a.m.
Maiden Phoenix, a female-centered theater group, emphasizes the role of women in theater on and off stage
Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company focuses on telling stories about women. The company’s premiere production “Playhouse Creatures” embodies its mission to breakdown barriers for women. Pictured are Emma Goodman as Mrs. Farley, Christine Power as Mrs. Betterton and Janelle Mills as Mrs. Marshall.

In an effort to provide stronger and more independent roles to female actors in the Boston theater scene, Erin Butcher launched Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company last July.

The female-centered theater group emphasizes the role of women in theater on and off stage, and aims to have at least 51 percent female involvement in all aspects of its projects.

“The way that the Boston theater scene works is there’s a lot of fringe theater going on, but a lot of time just because of the fact that most plays are written and produced by men, they tend to have more male parts and to be directed by men,” Butcher said. “So, there’s just a lot less opportunity for women to play challenging roles and get to be the lead.”

This month, the group is presenting its first full production, “Playhouse Creatures” by April De Angelis — and the play speaks to the very issue Butcher hopes to address with Maiden Phoenix.

“Playhouse Creatures,” now playing at the Factory Theatre in Boston, explores the struggles, endurance and hopes of the first actresses to perform the female roles in Shakespeare in the 1660s.

Butcher, who has been acting since high school, said roles played by women are often supportive roles like the girlfriend, wife or mother of the main character, and are smaller and less complex than male roles.

“I really wanted to have a company focused on giving more opportunity to actors to play more challenging female roles and more opportunities for female directors and female playwrights to get their work out there,” she said.

Butcher’s own positive and negative experiences as an actress in Boston pushed her to launch Maiden Phoenix, she said.

She received her first opportunity to play a true female lead role in 2012 when she performed in “Hookman” by Lauren Yee with local theatre group Company One.

“It was such an amazing experience, because I’d never been able to be the lead before — a real lead where I was the protagonist and everybody sort of came in and talked to me. Usually, that’s a man,” she said.

The opportunity challenged her and pushed her forward as a performer.

“It just gives you so much more experience and helps you in your craft when you get a really meaty, challenging role like that,” she said. “I wanted more of that and it’s so rare you get that opportunity.”

Recently, Butcher played the well-known character Ophelia in Hamlet. She realizes the popularity of the role, but she also realizes how small it is.

“Her whole role is sort of as a daughter and a love interest and she doesn’t really have a story of her own,” Butcher said. “It can be really frustrating as a female performer to have roles that aren’t really about your role, but are about supporting roles and someone else’s role.”

Butcher chose “Playhouse Creatures” as the first production because she sees the play as a great example of the conversation she’d like to start through Maiden Phoenix.

“I just thought it would really be a great jumping-off point,” she said, “to show everybody what we’re really about and what we’re interested in talking about and showing.”

“Playhouse Creatures” runs through Aug. 17 at the Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, Boston. Performance times are Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com.