The Performant: Dare to DIVA

Check out 'The Helen Project' at this year's DIVAfest.

A yearly performance fest supports XX creatives

Spring is in the air, and so is DIVAfest, the EXIT Theatre’s annual celebration of female artists and theater-makers. Founded in 2002 by Christina Augello to give female creators a secure space to showcase their craft, DIVAfest has hosted an estimated 500 participants have come through in the last 11 years, from visual artists (Sophie Kadow, Kathy Jo Lafreniere, Michelle Talgarow) to playwrights (Kerry Reid, Lee Kiszonas, Margery Fairchild) to music-makers (Beth Wilmurt, Shannon Day, Carrie Baum Love), to burlesque dancers (Odessa Lil, Red Velvet, If-N-Whendy). This year, the fest hits the stage May 9-June 2. 

If the idea of having such a space sounds redundant or unnecessary to you, I refer you to Valerie Weak’s excellent piece at Theatre Bay Area on gender parity which breaks down, in unambiguously hard numbers, exactly how wide the underrepresentation gap is between male and female theater artists in the Bay Area of the moment. Or consider this recent observation made by Lindy West in an open letter to white male comedians: “women are 50 percent of the population, yet when it comes to our interests and grievances, we’re treated like a niche group.” Sound familiar? If you’re a woman in the arts, or practically anywhere else in the public sphere, then it probably does. 

So it’s heartening to see DIVAfest not just thriving, but expanding its scope and mission. Now in its 11th year, DIVAfest has morphed into its own stand-alone, non-profit organization, in the process of developing a year-round season and artist incubation opportunities in addition to producing the annual festival, which Augello envisions as having the potential to someday go national.

“Festivals are great because … there is power in numbers to create more work and draw more audience,” she muses over email. “New companies have been born out of coming together, (and) networking and artistic collaboration also thrive.” Those would be staple side effects of the now-venerable San Francisco Fringe Festival, also co-founded by Augello, in 1992.

This year’s festival, which runs through June 2, presents as broad a spectrum of works as ever, including a new play, You’re Going to Bleed, by Melissa Fall, a staged workshop of an interconnected “modular” play The Helen Project, by Megan Cohen and Amy Clare Tasker, a storytelling-short works showcase and a performance art one, curated respectively by Catherine DeBon and Erica Blue, a songwriter evening hosted by Melissa Lyn, and a burlesque cabaret, Rebel Without a Bra, directed by Amanda Ortmayer.

Education and outreach being very much a part of the DIVA experience, theater-goers and makers will also have the opportunity to dialogue with each other and a panel of Bay Area creators including Valerie Weak, Fontana Butterfield Guzmán, and Susannah Martin at the “Yeah, I said Feminist” symposium on Saturday, May 25, from 3pm to 6pm.

And what exactly is a DIVA, apart from its original descriptor of a celebrated opera singer, or a slang term for an impossible pop star? Augello, who expresses a fondness for all of her fellow DIVAs, past and present, has a definition at the ready, which can be applied to pretty much every artist who has passed under the festival’s auspices over the years.

“A DIVA is a self-realized artist … committed to creativity, with a passion that endures the successes and failures and learns from them to become a better artist and human being.” Long may they thrive!


Through June 2

Various times and prices

EXIT Theatre

156 Eddy, SF

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