BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle

Funded by the Pussycat Foundation

The Pussycat Foundation and Northern Stage announce an unprecedented new program to support women artistic directors in professional theaters across the United States. The BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle, funded by the Pussycat Foundation and led by Carol Dunne, Producing Artistic Director of Northern Stage, will provide $1.25 million in support for Northern Stage and four other theaters run by women artistic directors during the 2018-2019 season. Each theater will receive a $250,000 grant. Its mission is to create a network of women artistic directors in professional theaters across the United States and empower them to address the issues preventing women from advancing in theater leadership. The BOLD Circle will offer major support of artistic initiatives focused on women artists and will create a formal mentorship program to train and prepare future women artistic directors to lead, to create, to innovate, and deepen the impact of theater on the American culture.

Women have never held more than 27% of leadership positions in the American regional theater. A recent study commissioned by Carey Perloff, Artistic Director and Ellen Richard, former Executive Director of American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco and carried out by Wellesley Centers for Women, revealed that the dearth of female theater leaders is not due to a lack of candidates but a clearly observed glass ceiling preventing women from assuming the artistic helm of professional theaters. The study points to a lack of trust from Boards as they interview women candidates, a lack of mentorship focused on women leaders, a complicated work life balance that can dissuade women from even pursuing these leadership positions, and a lack of fundraising and producing experience.

The BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle addresses the issues preventing women from advancing in the theater by offering major support of women artistic directors and creating a formal mentorship program to cultivate future women artistic directors. Circle Members will be funded in their artistic programming, cultivation of new works by women, collaboration with women artists and the mentorship of a chosen Associate Director whom the BOLD Circle member will train in all aspects of theater leadership, including board relations and fundraising. The BOLD Circle and their associates will come together twice a year to work to answer the need for more women’s voices in the American theater, especially in the area of artistic directorship, and will create shared programming and initiatives across their five institutions.

Each BOLD Circle member will receive annual funding of $250,000, with a one-year beta and a vision for a three-year BOLD Circle sponsorship. The funding MUST support:

  • Four women designers, writers or directors per season.
  • A woman Associate Director position with competitive salary. (Should the applicant already employ an Associate Director, funds can be used to support the Associates’ salary as the Associate will join and be mentored by the Circle.)
  • The nurturing and development of a new piece of musical theater by at least one woman artist among the creative team each season. Helen Gurley Brown was a great fan of musical theater, and it is the foundation’s wish that this love of theater and cultivation of new musicals by women be supported by the BOLD Circle. In addition, the grant is also to support non musical play development by women.
  • Membership in Theatre Communications Group, the pre-eminent professional theater consortium, to connect the BOLD Circle to other professional theaters and deepen its impact on the theater world. It is expected that BOLD Circle members will attend the annual TCG conferences as well as the BOLD Circle semiannual conferences.

The grant may support, at the discretion of and upon agreement with the BOLD Director:

  • Magic Grants for Artistic research, viewing and travel related to BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle collaborative efforts.
  • Initiatives to nurture and empower women in the American theater.
  • Underwriting of the Artistic Director’s salary up to $80,000 similar to an academic endowment or sponsorship.

The program will take applications until November 15, 2017 with BOLD Circle members chosen by February 15, 2018. The BOLD Circle will launch during the 2018-2019 theater season.

Artistic directors may apply who meet the following criteria:

  • Hold the position of Artistic Director or Producing Artistic Director of a theater and identify as a woman.
  • The theater must have been in operation for at least five years.
  • The theater must have a working agreement with Actor’s Equity Association and employ at least 2 AEA actors per show.
  • The theater must produce at least 3 plays during the season.
  • The theater must have a staff of at least two others in addition to the Artistic Director.
  • The theater must have an annual operating budget of at least $500,000.


Upon acceptance into the program and before funding is dispersed, the selected BOLD Circle members must:

  • Commit to hiring a woman Associate Director to begin within 60 days after the start of the grant period, which is June 1, 2018. The Director will serve at the pleasure of the Artistic Director, and will be nurtured in all areas artistic and administrative including main stage directing opportunities.
  • Commit to the nurturing of one piece of musical theater by a woman artist in the new play program each year of the BOLD Circle membership.
  • Commit to professional visits to BOLD Circle members’ theaters to further each other’s work and build a collaborative relationship.
  • Commit to semiannual meetings contiguous to TCG conferences to further the mission of the BOLD Circle. Meetings will include guest speakers, executive coaching, fundraising intensive training or simply the sharing of ideas and projects.

The following criteria will be used to measure effectiveness of the grant.

Three-year benchmark goals:

20% more female directors and designers hired by BOLD Circle Theaters

  • One new musical produced as an experimental production, a workshop, or a main stage production by a Circle Theater.
  • Five projects led or directed by the BOLD Circle Associate Directors on the main stage.
  • BOLD Circle members setting and achieving enhanced development goals for the sustainability of their company.
  • BOLD Circle members identify key issues that women face at each theater and create a plan to address and rectify gender-biased constraints including work-life balance, board representation, and remuneration.
  • Each theater will complete the requirements stipulated in the BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle grant contract.
  • In addition to these measurable outcomes, we would like to see two Circle Member Associate Directors move into Artistic Director positions within five years.

A panel of distinguished theater practitioners will convene to choose the recipients. The 2018-2019 BOLD Circle members will be announced on February 15, 2018. Northern Stage will administer the grants and the grant period will begin on June 1, 2018.

For information, you may email with questions.

The Pussycat Foundation is a Private Operating Foundation in New York, New York, and is the philanthropic legacy of the late Helen Gurley Brown, founding editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine. During her lifetime, Brown began giving her money to organizations focused on transforming the lives of underprivileged children. As a trailblazer and devoted feminist, she believed that every girl, every woman should feel empowered to pursue an education and cultivate a fulfilling career. Since its advent, the Pussycat Foundation’s charitable contributions have funded literacy and educational programs in various museums and universities. It is one of the largest organizations of its kind in the United States. 

Northern Stage is a regional non-profit LORT-D referencing professional theater company with a mission to change lives, one story at a time. Located in White River Junction, VT, Northern Stage actively involves its audiences with ambitious productions and expansive educational programs in its new home, the Barrette Center for the Arts. Founded in 1997, the company has offered more than 120 high-quality professional productions of new works, classics, and musicals. The company is now in its 21st season and annual attendance is over 30,000. 

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