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February 24, 2024

Where Women Go: Director Aimée Hayes Discusses Tina Howe’s Final Play


In 2020, Concord Theatricals wanted to find a way to support playwrights when theatres were dark due to the pandemic. What emerged were a small handful of commissioned plays specifically meant for the non-professional market, so they could be produced by everyone without a very large professional production.

One of those commissions was with the mother of American Absurdism, Tina Howe. Early conversations with Tina revolved around her desire to stage women in infinite forms: old, young, tall, short, every race and creed; just all women and the universality of their experience. Tina ended up writing a collection of three short plays called Where Women Go. Each play placed women in a different space: a dermatologist’s office, a Subway sandwich shop, and a sidewalk clothing stand. All of the plays dip into the fantastically absurd – while pointing at existential truths like fear of dying, the joy of friendship and the magic-like power of music.

In April 2023, Concord partnered with The Tent Theater Company – a company focused on nurturing, supporting and advocating for theatre makers later in their careers – to produce a reading of the play for Tina and her close friends and family. At the end of the of the reading, Tina stood up to thunderous applause and exclaimed, “Three cheers for the theatre!” The love surged through every single person in that room. Where Women Go would be Tina’s final play as she passed in August of that same year.

The Tent was determined to find an opportunity to fully stage this final play on behalf of Tina, and in February 2024, Where Women Go premiered at HERE Arts Center in New York City.

Aimée Hayes, Co-Artistic Director of The Tent and director of the production, sat down to answer a few questions about the development of the play, the resulting production and the lasting impact of Tina Howe.

Your company, The Tent, champions theatre makers later in their careers. How does Tina Howe’s work exemplify this mission?

Tina centers an older character that tracks through all three short plays that make up Where Women Go. There are moments of vulnerability and fragility in her that directly relate to aging. Aging is lonely. When artists age their gaze very often moves to the process happening to their bodies and minds and to the emotional toll of losses of husbands, children or ways of being. What I sense in this piece is the character standing at the precipice of loneliness. It is such a gift then to becoming essential again – as a human female spice rack, or having young friends at the Subway, or making an impromptu community that ascends with you to heaven. The Tent is also about friends, collegiality, connection and community. The play uplifts these ideas in tandem with our aims for The Tent.

What has it been like to be able to develop Where Women Go from a reading to a full production?

It has been a dream! Readings abound but full productions are the goal. Until you let the actors be freed from a binder and head buried in script, the play can’t come alive fully. Specifically with Tina’s work, the wild imaginings of her worlds are so rich. Costumes and crazy props make the story sing too.

Not having Tina in the room to work on the piece with you must be difficult. How have you found ways to bring the spirit of Tina into the rehearsal process?

We were really lucky to have Concord as partner, as they did get to work with Tina on this play a little bit. We also were in communication with Eben, Tina’s son, who visited rehearsal. It was wonderful to ask him questions and to share the work in progress. A funny thing for me was that he gets the humor completely. Tina’s worlds can be bewildering for audiences. It was gratifying to have an insider give a thumbs up to what we were making.

What has been the most rewarding part of directing this play?

Directing absurd worlds requires a system of belief. The cast completely gave over to the logic of Tina’s world-building. What an incredible group of actors! Being in the room with them as we made sense of lichen planus, or developing a four-minute dumb-show about waiting, or finding ways to unsettle a street vendor whose life will never be the same. It was such a satisfying process in all ways.

Sarah Ruhl said you had to be careful about telling Tina you liked something of hers, because she would instinctively give it to you. What has Tina given you and the company in this play?

There is a generosity to Tina’s imagination. It is playful and wise. She weaves strands of sentences calling back lines, imagery, interactions. This kind of brilliant writing is a gift. It is the ground we can build on. So perhaps the gift here is one of delighted surprise at each connection.

You’ve talked about making theatre with as little as possible. How does Where Women Go lend itself to a production with fewer bells and whistles?

The language and music give a producer and team such a rich backdrop. You don’t really need much else. I am always a fan of minimalist worlds. Let’s hear what the writer is trying to tell us! What do they want from us? I will go see anything anywhere because you just don’t need a big budget and “bells and whistles” to experience a writers’ aims. To know a play. This play is truly dependent on the company of actors being in sync with each other.

Music plays an integral role in the show. What about the music in this piece, or in general, elicits such a strong response?

I think Tina hears things in music we think we know. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a great example. What does it mean for that character to sing that song on a NY street, alone, being an immigrant? The unexpected music of Scarborough Fair – which will forever have new meaning for any visitors to Where Women Go… Tim [Sanford, co-Artistic Director of The Tent] really dug “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Into this sweet, innocent play (ha!) comes a song about wrath, guns, vengeance… but God is OK with it. The community all dives in and comes together in the singing of it. Why? During Covid, I wondered at first if it would unite us the way some wars had done or violent acts unto our nation. I wonder if in reflecting the US’s most divisive war and the utter conviction the Union had to win despite all obstacles, if there was not a little wish in there, if Tina was hoping our global conflict could stop and maybe we’d sing together by finding common ground. It feels like a gut punch to think about those characters singing together, resolving their differences.

What is the one thing audiences should take away from Where Women Go?

Everything is everything. We are all connected by atoms, energy, and in community. Yes, we are talking physics here.

When other theatres produce this play, what is one thing they should know before starting their process?

Take the time to make these worlds real and resonant for you and your company. Nothing is in this play that was not considered and placed where it is for a reason. And you don’t need to add to it – the play is the thing.

To purchase the script or license a production of Tina Howe’s Where Women Go, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.