New play tackles how women are ‘disposed’ in Philadelphia theater

A local actress shares her personal story in “The It Girl.”

Amanda Schoonover’s biggest concern in theater and film is how women become disposable when “the next big thing” comes along.

Schoonover, a University of the Arts alumna and Barrymore Award-winning actress, is drawing upon her own feelings of expendability for Simpatico Theatre Project’s latest production, “The It Girl.”

The ‘it girl’ theory, Schoonover said, is the idea that “young women in the theater are used and exploited by the industry, and as they grow into their own, they are then being replaced by younger versions of themselves.”

Schoonover serves as the co-creator and main inspiration for the play, and said she was Philadelphia’s “it girl” from 2005-08. The play, directed by 2009 directing alumna Brenna Geffers, premiered Wednesday at The Drake Hotel’s Louis Bulver Theatre at 1512 Spruce St.

Geffers caught Schoonover’s eye in 2006 when they worked on the play “Killer Joe” together.

“She got on my radar because she has this particular skill set in visual storytelling that made her what I needed to create this story,” Schoonover said. “She understands what it’s like, especially in the Philadelphia microcosm, to be an ‘it girl.’”

Allen Radway, the artistic director of “The It Girl,” said for female actors, it can be hard transitioning from a younger actor to a middle-aged actor because the roles become narrower and less dynamic.

“There are better ways to represent women, other than a prostitute or the kooky aunt,” Radway said.

“The It Girl” is the first performance in the new theater space at The Drake. Because the theater was still undergoing construction, Radway said the set design had to be carefully constructed. The crew chose an Elizabethan-style mobile theater to make quick adjustments easier.

“The central piece for the set was the screen for the silent movie,” Radway said, referring to Clara Bow, a 1920s silent film actress and the first character introduced in the play.

“There have always been funny women in film, just like there have been men,” Radway said. “Clara was the number one box office draw and we don’t really know her.”

That lack of female representation in characters is one of the main issues addressed in the play.

“That was one of the reasons Simpatico produced the show,” Radway added. “The industry doesn’t credit actresses’ veteran chops and only allows them to be given certain roles.”

For Radway, “The It Girl” is an opportunity to remind people “that women are not [but should be] represented in the theater.” The pieces Simpatico Theatre Project produces usually specialize in “giving a voice” to underrepresented populations, he said, and are “not necessarily mainstream.”

“This story speaks about how women are dynamic,” Radway said. “Now, the industry is just looking for other women who will play ‘the good girl game’ and do what they want.”

“I don’t understand what’s happening with the theater community,” Schoonover said. “It’s like we are asked as theatre-goers to see plays based on men and what it’s like to be a man and never get the insight of women’s lives.”

Gabriella Miele can be reached at gabriella.margaret.

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