It’s no secret in the theater world that more plays written by men get produced than do plays by women.

“There was a Dramatists Guild (of America) survey, and only 17 percent of the plays in the latest survey were by women,” says Carolyn Allport of Arizona Women’s Theatre Company.

Instead of lamenting the statistic, her group shines a light on women’s work, spotlighting 14 new plays by female playwrights at this weekend’s Pandora Festival.

The plays were selected by a jury from 150 entries submitted from across the country. They’ll be presented over three days as staged readings by local actors, directors and backstage techs — most of them women.

“Each director is staging her reading a little differently. The mandate is to keep it as simple as possible and focus on the words,” says Susan Gitenstein Assadi, who will direct “Afterlife at the Cinema,” a play by her daughter, Hannah Lillith Assadi, at the festival.

The play is about a woman who must face the impending death of her father amid the demands of everyday life and a career that’s beginning to skyrocket.

“This issue of baby boomers dealing with their parents dying is a big one out there, and I’ll do some partial costuming to evoke a little bit more sympathy and identification with what these two characters are dealing with. We’re working with an extremely simple set, using only chairs and music stands to hold the scripts,” says Assadi.

The plays encompass a broad range of topics, from a look at the U.S. health care system to a teen’s efforts to raise money for her high school cheer squad.

“Remnants of Dream,” a full-length play by New Mexico playwright Ruth Cantrell, uses the “calavera,” an iconic figure of Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday, to tell stories of life and death on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. After the play, Arizona State University professor and prize-winning playwright Guillermo Reyes will moderate a talk-back session with the audience.

Other plays will wrap up with talk-backs hosted by playwright Laurie Brooks. In many cases, the playwrights will attend.

Allport says people often assume Arizona Women’s Theatre Company productions must harp on exclusively “women’s issues.” But, she says, the plays more often echo topics — such as autism or coming out — that both genders think about.

“They always seem to hit on what you could call hot-button issues of the moment, things that are really on people’s minds, things that people have questions about and are starting to talk about.”

The group aims to present a selection of Pandora Festival works as fully staged plays in a November “Pandora Showcase.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6818 or

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