The brilliant contributors of Women’s Theatre Festival are the driving force behind its mission and artistic vision. Our team is constantly expanding, calling on the expertise and diverse experiences of people who are now working remotely from all around the world. As WTF prioritizes continuing education and inclusive representation in our leadership, we welcome two new board members who embody everything that theatre can and should be.
As they settle into their new roles, both Maren Stephenson and Rebecca Jackson-Artis told me a bit about their backgrounds, current projects, hopes and dreams, and everything in between.
Can you tell us a little more about who you are, professionally and personally?
Maren Stephenson: I’ve been a tax accountant for nearly five years. About a year and a half ago, I moved into a very strategic role at my new company, where I focus on high-level tax strategy around the world. I’m also a devoted fiction writer.
Rebecca Jackson-Artis: On both sides, I come from very highly educated black families. I was born on the South Side of Chicago, raised in the north suburbs right down the street from Northwestern University.
I began training at the Piven Theatre Workshop in seventh grade–it was like church for me. They poured their talents and knowledge into me, and it was just such a safe space. I did some things in high school and college theatre-wise, but I eventually ended up at Second City with the conservatory. I’ve met some amazing people, worked in some amazing cities.
I eventually went into maternal and child health for nine years but changed courses to get my MFA in screenwriting from the University of Georgia. Since then, I’ve created my own short film and web series called Totally Becky.
How has your identity shaped you as a theatre artist?
Maren: You know, I don’t really feel like a theatre artist. I would describe myself as a goofball. On a regular basis, I love to wear costumes to accounting meetings. Like I’m leading a campaign to shut down a bunch of legal entities, and we’re finally getting close; so last week, I ran and I got my grim reaper costume hood thing and went back to the meeting. I’m not an actor. I’m just myself.
Rebecca: Growing up, I felt this need, this issue that I wasn’t light enough but still had better opportunities to reach my goals. In high school, I talked like a little white girl, grew up in a white community, and my parents had money. But when I got into black spaces, I learned that I didn’t have to compromise my blackness to be a great performer. The world, however, still asked that I modify my blackness to fit their space. By my late twenties, I realized that I didn’t have to deal with it.
In my writing, especially, it’s my goal to make a safe space for black people and make white people feel uncomfortable because that’s the only time you grow. I also try to insert knowledge of being African for my black audiences, since we’ve been taught from eurocentric ideals. I do comedy, and I think that’s one of the best ways to receive all of this.
Can you describe the intersections of your work with WTF?
Maren: I first auditioned for a show with WTF around four or five years ago, so I’ve known most people within the company since then. My writing partner has actually written plays for the festival, and there are a lot of other little connections I have to the community. I also participated in Freakshow earlier this year.
WTF’s mission really resonates with my heart–especially on the basis of accessibility for marginalized genders. I want to help with giving people of all walks of life opportunities. There are some things that I’m not totally informed on, but I love that WTF is making space for these important conversations.
Rebecca: For a couple of years since 2016, I came really close to working on various projects with WTF but couldn’t because of other prior commitments. I eventually met Rebecca Fox, who was unknowingly part of my past, and we created the comedy duo called The Rebecca Show. We created a show called What If I’m The Becky?, and WTF asked us to perform it at Fringe.
When I found out that the board didn’t have a black person on it, I reached out. We can’t talk about dismantling racism without putting black people in powerful positions or opening our doors to these rooms that make decisions. I’m really happy to be serving on the board.
You’re currently based in Raleigh. What kind of opportunities have you had to work virtually?
Maren: I wear a lot of different hats while working remotely: Maren the tax accountant, mom, cat mom, performer, writer, and so on.
I’m still settling into my responsibilities as a board member, but WTF is actually in a really unique position right now. From a financial perspective, we don’t have all these expenses; but we do have digital resources and really brilliant people ready to do things. The WTF team has seized so many opportunities, and we’re gonna do something that no one’s ever done before.
Rebecca: Pre-COVID, I would travel to New York, Chicago, and Atlanta, and even had plans to go to LA for a few months. That, of course, had to be squashed. Now, I’m building this career from Raleigh, NC.
I’m working on my podcast right now, Black Becky Speaks, which blends in both of my worlds: politics and the arts. It’s gonna be like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but a black woman’s gonna lead it: me. It encompasses very diverse black women with different political backgrounds and perspectives, and I’ll be interviewing experts on various topics that black people need to stop and focus on.
Despite our circumstances, things are really working out. I have to celebrate it.
We are so grateful to Rebecca and Maren for joining the WTF family. Their guidance is essential as WTF grows, becoming more what we were meant to be every day!