PICTURED: Makena Hammond in Black Woman in Deep Water, at The Actors Company, Los Angeles, in August 2021. She will bring that play to Women’s Voices Festival on Oct. 15.

by Emily Dodi

Can you hear that? It’s the sound of the Women’s Voices Festival coming to NAMBA Performing Arts Space in Downtown Ventura Oct. 8-15. The event features a culturally diverse lineup of award-winning one-woman shows. The eight different performances represent an eclectic mix of experiences and points of view, shared by women who boldly tell their stories with unabashed honesty, transparency and astonishing creativity. 

The festival opens on Friday night with Mommy Monster, written and performed by April Wish and directed by Brandon Sean Pearson. “Achingly, lovingly and daringly personal, Wish lays bare the realities of mom rage and examines a mother’s love that is so big, so wild, it burns like the sun.” 

It’s followed up on Saturday with Wild At Hart, Kamakshi Hart’s tale of sexual assault, survival and healing; and The Book That Won’t Close: Confessions of a Love Addict, a dark comedy written and performed by TL Forsberg (directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson) that explores the playwright’s “cultural fluidity, personal isolation, and experiences in bad relationships.” Forsberg, who identifies as Deaf, and director Jessica Lynn Johnson have created a production that is “fully accessible for both hearing and d/Deaf audiences.”

Sunday, Oct. 10, will have a packed schedule, with three separate plays on offer: Mamaisms, (Sonia Jackson), I Heart Maroc (Azo Safo) and She Stoops to Scandal (Chamber Stevens). This selection traverses the globe, from the United States to Morocco to Regency Era England, to share stories that touch on wisdom, growing up, travel, finding oneself, romance and mystery. 

The festival’s second weekend features just two more pieces, both performed on Friday, Oct. 15. But what the lineup lacks in size it more than makes up for with its compelling themes. 

In the funny and heartfelt TransSetter, Veronica Carey Matthews tells the story of her previous identity, Carey, and his journey to accepting his true self as a transwoman. Written and performed by Matthews and directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson, TransSetter won the 2021 Hollywood Fringe Festival Encore Producers Award.  

The multi-award-winning Black Woman in Deep Water is “inspired by the incredible true story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave.” Written and performed by Makena Hammond and directed by Jane Fleiss Brogger, the story “is told through Margaret’s own eyes, the eyes of her imagined West African ancestor, and Yemoja, the West African goddess of water . . . who seek to remind Margaret and all people of African descent of our royal heritage, our courage, and our shared bright futures.”

Question and answer periods will be offered after many of the shows. 

The women behind the festival are producer and founder Robyn Migel, and NAMBA Chair Tamara Varney. As Varney recalls, it all started with a brilliant idea. “I got Robyn to the theater and said, ‘Here’s the space. What do you think?’ Robyn said, ‘I know what we can do!’” 

Migel’s thoughts immediately turned to the Hollywood Fringe Festival. No stranger to HFF, Migel made a splash at HFF 2018 with her play Lucinda and the Wolves, and again in 2019 with Tales from the Powder Room. HFF 2021 was the obvious choice to find inspiration as well as material.  

“We watched a lot of plays,” Migel says. 

It was also the first year that NAMBA presented its theatrical Splash awards at HFF to “performers that made the biggest impact.” The winners were TL Forsberg and Makena Hammond.

Overall, choosing which shows to include in Namba’s festival came down to “diversity and that A-Ha moment,” Migel explains. 

“With our 14-month closure, this is a heck of a way to get going again. This is the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” adds Varney, who hopes to make the festival an annual event.   

“Women need to be heard,” Migel says, noting that Namba is the perfect setting to open people’s minds. “It all starts with little theaters.” In other words, “It’s going to be fun.” 

The Women’s Voices Festival takes place Oct. 8-15 at NAMBA Performing Arts Space, 47 S. Oak St., Ventura. For tickets, full schedule and more information, call 805-628-9250 or visit www.nambaarts.com.