A theatrical bake-off with Philly womxn

Six of the area’s most daring directors will compete to create an original piece of theater in only one day. 

Billed as a theatrical version of the show “The Great British Bake Off,” Philadelphia’s Jam, presented by Directors Gathering at The Painted Bride Art Center on May 11, is an all-day competitive non-competition of independent theater directors.

During the event, featuring local womxn who were nominated by greater Philadelphia’s theater community, directors will be given “creative ingredients” and performers will be available for roles. But like “The Great British Bake Off,” the directors won’t know which ingredients or performers they can use until the Jam begins. 

Producers and Philadelphia art doulas Christina May and Phoebe Schaub cohost the Jam, and promise that no one will go home a loser. 

“Things are competitive enough among us without adding that pressure,” said Directors Gathering’s Jill Harrison. 

Instead, May said, “it’s a celebration of work and of these artists — a way to make these directors feel great and validated about what they do.”

Created in 2014 by Harrison, Directors Gathering is, according to members, “the only organization in the country that provides an all-inclusive home for regional directors to examine their process and render projects that they would not otherwise do in their individual careers or companies.” 

Harrison added that the purpose of DG is to “elevate those locals who act as freelance theater directors and help them develop. That can mean workshops, that can mean aid them to stage their work and put them in front of audiences.” 

That DG celebrates and dedicates itself “especially to directors in marginalized communities” — POC, LGBTQ, womxn — is what gives the organization its social heft and communal focus.

Among this year’s “bakers” is out director Evelyn Swift Shuker, a Philly performance artist and director at [redacted] Theater Company; she is also master electrician at Fringe Arts.

With [redacted], Shuker penned and directed works such as “Juniper Street” (2014), “This Damned Body” (2015-16) and “This Damned Body is Carved Out of Meat” (2015). She also created “Who Told You You Were Naked?” — a “choose your own adventure” performed for one audience member at a time.

Her next work, “Mother of Abominations,” will appear as part of the upcoming June edition of SoLow Fest.

“I have not worked with DG yet, but I work as a playwright, solo performer and director and am looking forward to working with actors, and in a circumstance where I’m not scrambling to get everyone into a rehearsal room,” Shuker said. “That’s always been half the battle for me as a freelancer. Here, with the bake off, the actors are willing, waiting and part of the ingredients. I’m looking forward to just meeting other directors and actors in Philly.”

Each of the six directors — Shuker, Victoria Goins, Randi Alexis Hickey, Anita Holland, Katrina Shobe and Anissa Weinraub — will be given seven “secret ingredients” at 11 a.m. and, by 6 p.m., they must come up with an off-the-cuff, sharp and original theatrical piece. 

Shuker said the most important “ingredients” are the ones she already has — her ideas related to society and newsworthy goings-on. She wouldn’t say what she had up her sleeve, but did say, “I’m not scared of doing the Jam, as much of my work in the past has been heavy in audience participation. I know what it means to have minimal rehearsal time. I’ve done the 24-Hour Film Festival in the past where you have to come up with the idea, film, edit and screen your own movie in one day. So I have an experience with the rush. I’m ready to bake.”

Added May, “There’s so much talent in this city when it comes to directors that we don’t need to go outside of it.”

Like Shuker, Harrison and May didn’t give anything away about this year’s Jam. But, Harrison recalled her experience in 2016’s DG Jam for Philly’s freelance African-American directors.

“We were charged up by things related to the Presidential election,” she said adding she wanted to hear the participants’ artistic voices — wanted to know what each voice sounded like in response to the election and its aftermath. “Then,” she said, artists “had to pick an element, and have their work contain earth, wind and fire.” The final production also had to contain “a moment of spontaneous unison,” and incorporate ingredients necessary to make a pie. “Every director interpreted this in their own way,” Harrison said. “Some used sugar. Some used honey.” 

Harrison said it’s always most interesting to see how directors connect to one another and what commonality exists.