A team of Minnesota playwrights have huddled together to take on Title IX. The legislation, which passed in 1972, impacted women’s sports in America forever. The new work — presented by Theatre Unbound and written by Eli Effinger-Weintraub, Jessica Huang, Marcie Rendon, and Saymoukda Vongsay — premieres this week at Dreamland Arts before it heads over to Intermedia Arts for its second weekend.
Huang is excited to have an opportunity to write about women athletes. “I’ve never been a part of organized sports in my life," she admits, "Though I love to play tennis, and I really love watching women athletes. The appeal of the project was the opportunity to tell some of those stories that are never publicly told in a big way.”
When Title IX passed in 1972, a revolution ensued in high school and collegiate athletics, as the legislation required equal access for women to any educational activity from institutions that received federal funding. During the '71-72 school year, girls made up just seven percent of all high school athletes, and female athletics received only two percent of college athletic budgets. According to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, in 2010 nearly 3.2 million girls participated in high school sports, making up 41 percent of high school athletes. Women’s college Division I sports that year received 48 percent of total athletic scholarship dollars, and 40 percent of total money spent on athletics.
For the piece, the writers began by researching female athletes, both before and after Title IX. One of the characters in the play is baseball player Tony Stone, the first woman team member in the Negro League. “When you’re researching historical figures, you have to understand their historical contexts,” Effinger-Weintraub says. “For me, the most fascinating part about all the research I did was the way each athlete or group of athletes were able to make use of whatever resources were at their disposal to be able to keep playing.”
As the writers did their own research, they each wrote 10 minutes of material, then looked for themes that had emerged. From there, they came up with characters to follow through the play. Eventually, they met at Vongsay’s home to finish the work together.
“I think what we learned that we all needed to be in the room together,” says Huang. “That’s when we were able to communicate the best. That’s when the play became what we wanted it to be.”
Title IX portrays both fictional characters and real-life female athletes, including historic women and those competing today. For example, Amy St. Clair, a.k.a. Minnesota Rollergirls' Smoka Hontas, appears in the show.
There’s also a modern-day young woman who’s a runner and facing many of the roadblocks prevent women from pursuing their dreams in sports. “She goes into a fantasy world where there’s a huge expo of women athletes, and they all come together to overcome certain things,” Huang says.
“The major goal is empowering young women who want to pursue sports,” Huang adds. “Yes, as a woman and as a woman of color, there are major challenges in your life, but these are some women with intelligence and tenacity who find ways to be successful and you can to.”
IF YOU GO:
This week at Dreamland Arts (677 Hamline Ave. N., St. Paul)
7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Next week's performances move to Intermedia Arts.