BWB began as a group of women who decided to create their own opportunities, in the hope of inspiring others to do likewise. Our initial showcase, in 1997, was conceived by founder Dawn “Sam” Alden as a two-day presentation of fights and monologues, intended to bring to the Chicago art world an awareness of the large number of stage combat-trained women it had in its midst whose talent was being consistently underutilized. The loosely-organized troupe, helmed by Alden, that grew out of the showcase, produced 5 company-authored sketch-style shows and, in partnership with R&D Choreography, a combat chess match.
In mid-2003, Alden sent an open email to all of the troupe members, announcing her intention to convert BWB to an ensemble, and requesting assistance with the process. Interested parties were invited to attend a brainstorming session in December 2003. 13 women responded, forming the core decision-making group for the reorganization that followed. Perhaps most importantly, the group committed to an hiatus from producing, in order to concentrate on building a solid foundation for the new ensemble.
Over the course of the next year and a half, our fledgling ensemble achieved 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status; composed a mission and mission statement; set our first batch of 1, 2, 5, and 10-year goals; created and filled the positions of Artistic Director (Alden) and Managing Director (Amy E. Harmon); created an organizational chart populated with various standing committees; and held multiple fundraisers. Members set a formal definition of “company member,” including participation requirements, and committed to both monthly meetings and yearly retreats.
Finally, lest Chicago forget about us, we offered limited artistic programming, including making appearances at local showcases such as Logan Square’s Vaudeville Underground; sponsoring free quarterly self-defense workshops; participating in an outreach program for the National Museum of Women in the Arts; and partnering with Chicago Dramatists for their Spring 2005 Deadline Workshop
We continue to refine our ensemble, including establishing ourselves as an Illinois Charitable Organization, writing our first strategic and business plans, beginning to build a board, and transitioning artistic leadership from Alden to Stephanie Repin to current Artistic Director Leigh Barrett. We regularly attend developmental workshops, including those sponsored by the League of Chicago Theatres and the Arts Engagement Exchange. We won our first grants from such organizations as the Illinois Arts Council, CityArts, and the Donnelley Foundation, and, with their feedback, revise and update our fundraising strategies.
And in fall 2005, we returned to producing, with our sketch show Cliffhangers! We’ve been going strong ever since.