In 2006, with the first Women’s Expressive Theater (WET) “Love Benefit,” both Victoria Pettibone and Sasha Eden (left to right, above) were, themselves, in love. The two founders of WET had lots to love (and not just their future husbands). For one thing, they’d formed WET seven years earlier in 1999, rather modestly from their homes and with some momentum. At the time, both women were engaged in competitive day jobs—Sasha, an actor, produced commercials at BBDO Advertising and Victoria was a casting director. One of the big things they’d had in their favor when they started was a great deal of intention and a lot of chutzpah or what they remember as their “ignorance is bliss” phase.
By 2006, they’d racked up producer credits that included, amongst other accomplishments, a rather impressive new version of Joyce Carol Oates’s I Stand Before You Naked as their debut production (reworked by Oates, herself, to include new material exclusively for WET and directed by Heather Scarlett Arnet). Another thing: they’d taken a definitive stance on eradicating negative female stereotypes in creative media. That, alone, is something to love and celebrate.
So, what is WET, exactly? WET is a non-profit organization that produces media which not only challenges female stereotypes and advocates for equality but facilitates an environment in which female writers are nurtured and cultivated through private readings, script development and introductions with investors, artistic directors and colleagues invited in to see the work as it progresses. WET has what they call “The INKubator” or development division divided into two areas: WET Plays and WET Films. A noted credit of WET Films was script development for Adrienne Shelly’s acclaimed screenplay, Waitress, with a reading that included Gretchen Mol, Paul Rudd and Amy Sedaris.
But, back to Love. The annual benefit (tonight, April 19, at The Angel Orensanz Foundation) along with WET’s many accomplishments since its founding seems to mirror the inner lives of Sasha and Victoria. Both women are native New Yorkers who say they were raised in an environment of possibility. The two grew up together in New York City in families that empowered them to pursue their dreams. They credit the many teachers, mentors, employers and friends who’ve encouraged and supported them over the years. “My first role models were my parents,” Sasha says. “Two very independent people. My father owned his own business and I knew owning a business of my own was something that was part of my journey. I just didn’t know what it would look like.”
Sasha and Victoria met in a high school singing group and after high school went their separate ways. Sasha went on to Vassar College and Victoria to Stanford University. It wasn’t until a serendipitous meeting sometime after college at a casting meeting that the two were reunited. Over time and after a series of conversations, they decided to form WET. “The first year was the ultimate experience of possibility,” Victoria says. “And that’s what we strive to maintain every day.”
“When we began, there were so many naysayers. If one of us had started the company without the other, it would have been much harder to ignore the naysayers,” Sasha admits. “In our work, we saw a void—that there was amazing female talent out there not getting hired because of their gender—so we decided to hire them ourselves. But, we had to find a way to raise money and bring it all to fruition. We were adventurous and we had courage. Oh, and a lot of energy! Everything we did—and still do—is a constant reminder that anything is possible.”
One of the things they worked on was audience development. “We asked, ‘Where are the people who’ll come to our shows and realize that going to the theater is fun?’ We loved what we were making and we wanted to share it,” Sasha says. “But, we needed money for advertising and that’s how the benefits started. We began with a $0 budget and worked from there.”
The Love Benefit began as a Valentine’s Day event for about $25 per person at local clubs. “We held great parties with great gift bags filled with presents that connected to our belief system,” Victoria says. “We only approached companies that we wanted to partner with—companies that promoted health, being good to yourself, loving yourself and empowerment. The only problem with the first few benefits was getting our mission across.”
Sasha says it was time to up the ante and raise more money and awareness for the organization. “It was about imagining the most fantastic event we would feel proud to charge $200 a ticket for,” she says. “The events are top notch and our tickets prices are low—$200-$300—compared with other benefits. We have incredible food supplied to us by our sponsors, an open bar, great performances and incredible gift bags. We consider the event a production. Everything we do is full and abundant. It was about imagining what we wanted and manifesting it.” Victoria adds, “If you come to anything produced by WET, you’ll have a great time!”
This year, Love has changed from a Valentine’s Day event to a Spring Love event. What hasn’t changed is the theme or the mission. Each year, the Love Benefit showcases five short plays on the subject of love by fantastic female writers followed by a fantastic party. “We get over 50 submissions but we can only choose five. They all have to coexist,” Victoria says. “Each writer’s voice pops. We challenge stereotypes and it’s always delicious and diverse. It’s sad and happy but all about love.”
“And, it could be love in any form,” Sasha says. “It could be love of a pet, mother/daughter love, love gone bad, anything.”
WET, now in its 11th year, has since added to its line-up a “Risk Taker’s” educational program designed to help young girls in New York City learn media literacy and leadership skills that promote self-esteem and courage. The program is aptly named considering the risk Sasha and Victoria took in starting the company. Through educational initiatives, the program provides trusted female mentors to participants, classes in nutrition, sex education, street safety and public speaking and addresses many of the pressing issues affecting young women in today’s society: abusive relationships, teen pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, HIV/AIDS and peer pressure. Special guests to the program have included (to name but a few) Keri Russell, Olympia Dukakis, Frances McDormand, Mary Louise Parker and Ally Sheedy (go to WET’s website, www.wetweb.org, to read more about Risk Takers).
Help WET change the way the world sees women and the way women see themselves, one girl at a time. Visit www.wetweb.org.
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions: Victoria
Favorite Place to Eat: Artisanal Bistro
Favorite Place to Shop: My local wine shop!
Favorite New York Sight: The view of Manhattan at night from an airplane (Victoria has her pilot’s license)
Favorite New York Moment: Walking down the middle of Park Avenue with a friend with our shoes off at 5:00 AM after a night out
What You Love About New York: New York is an extension of me
What You Hate About New York: I yearn for open space
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions: Sasha
Favorite Place to Eat: Babycakes
Favorite Place to Shop: Barney’s
Favorite New York Sight: Central Park after a first snow
Favorite New York Moment: Seeing Woody Allen walking down the street
What You Love About New York: Every borough is so different, it’s so inspiring
What You Hate About New York: How expensive it’s gotten
The 2010 LOVE Honorees
The We Empower Together Award Presented by Nora Ephron
To Lynda Obst, Acclaimed Producer, Writer, Mentor
Sleepless in Seattle, The Invention of Lying, Contact, The Fisher King
Celebrating a woman in media whose extraordinary accomplishments have paved the way for women to succeed by changing the way the world sees women and women see themselves.
The Risk Taker Award
To Maria Zuckerman
Vice President of HBO Films, Grey Gardens
Recognizing a woman in the midst of her career who is developing, shepherding and producing groundbreaking female-driven projects.
Five Short Plays about Love Featuring Performances by:
Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage)
Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married)
Carla Gugino (Watchmen)
Mamie Gummer (Taking Woodstock)
Ron Livingston (Sex and the City)
Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter)
Hamish Linklater (The New Adventures of Old Christine)
Maulik Pancholy (30 Rock)
Zachary Quinto (Star Trek)
Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man)
Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein)
Glennis McMurray (I Eat Pandas)
Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live) and