Krass Theatre a celebration of cherished playwright and all women alike
Kathie Rasmussen Women's Theater put on the production, Trouble in Mind.Image By: Jonathan Raymond Popp
Nestled within the Bartell Theatre is a theater company that is giving a spotlight to women within the community — both on and off stage.
The Kathie Rasmussen Women’s Theatre, an all-volunteer organization, aims to “produce work that enhances women’s artistic, social and personal well-being.”
The company has just one rule: produce plays written and directed only by women.
According to artistic director Jan Levine Thal, who is also one of the founders of Krass Theatre, the company was created after the sudden death of Kathie Rasmussen — a playwright who was involved within the Madison community.
Noting a lack of representation of plays written and directed by women, Krass Theatre was formed with the hopes of giving more opportunities to women in the local theater community. In fact, Thal referenced that there is a significant gender gap in terms of women’s playwriting, with only of female-authored plays being produced in the U.S. in 2016.
“We wanted audiences to know that women tell stories just as well as men do — sometimes even better,” Thal said. “What I want to do is to support women to write anything that they want, just like male playwrights get to, and I want to give a voice to the voiceless.”
According to Nichole Young Clarke, Krass Theatre’s president, the issue of gender misrepresentation in the theater world stems from ignorance in works made by women. This gender parity, she said, is also due in part by the tendency for community theaters to produce plays that are already popular — which are also often written by male authors — in order to survive.
Though the number of women’s playwrights and directors has increased over the years, Clarke said “there’s still significant work to be done” in pushing towards equality for women in theater.
“When things are truly equal — whatever that looks like — maybe there won’t be a need for this theatre company anymore,” she said. “Things are changing, but we still want to represent women in these crucial artistic leadership roles.”
For Cathy Rasmussen (no relation), the company’s treasurer, she said she was drawn to Krass Theatre, in particular, because of its mission.
“This is about women getting to tell their stories,” she said. “I believe that the voice of the play needs to be representative of the audience and it often seems more authentic when it’s women writing about women.”
While the company has existed for 10 years, Rasmussen said Krass Theatre’s goal remains especially pertinent in today’s political climate, and oftentimes, the plays they produce reflect social issues happening in society.
The theater is currently showing “Trouble in Mind,” a play originally produced in the 1950s, but is still relevant today for its emphasis on racial issues and social tensions within the theater world. At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Krass Theatre also performed “Detroit ‘67,” which is inspired by the 1967 Detroit riots between African-American community members and the Detroit police.
“That was a really wonderful confluence about having the right story being told at the right time and being a touchstone in that important moment,” Rasmussen said. “When something happened a long time ago that is still current, it makes you wish more progress would have been made and it shows audiences how far we still have to go to get there.”
Although the company requires playwrights and directors to be women, anyone — regardless of gender, age, race, sexual orientation or political affiliation — is welcome to take part in Krass Theatre. In fact, there are volunteers ranging from 20-years-old to over 80-years-old, Clarke said.
“In the end, we’re a community theatre — we are here for the community,” she said. “If our mission really is to foster women playwrights and directors, then whoever is helping to do that, whether they are non-binary, male or female, it doesn’t matter. We’re all working towards that same cause together.”
According to Thal, allowing people with different identities to join the company fosters conversations in which everyone can learn and listen from one other. She also emphasized that the best art comes from the most perspectives possible.
“If we limit people in joining, we are losing art,” Thal said. “Art comes from our whole community being represented. If we want people to be heard, then everyone needs to be heard.”
Clarke, in particular, said she’s a testament to the power that the company has had on the community.
“My experience with Krass has been very empowering and that’s telling because that’s exactly what our mission is,” she said. Rasmussen noted the company’s impact as well, saying it’s pushed her well outside of her comfort zone.
“You are the best version of yourself when you have the ability to think creatively,” she said. “It truly makes you a better person, and there’s really no downside to it.”
For Thal, that influence on the lives of both the audience and the volunteers is a sign that Krass Theatre is ultimately accomplishing its goal within the community.
“I believe that in putting women’s voices on stage, we are contributing to the general good,” she said. “It says, ‘listen to women, they have something to say.’
Kayla Huynh is a senior staff writer for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of her work, click here.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter