Firebrand, a new female-driven musical theater company, is born

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Harmony France (left) and Danni Smith, the co-artistic directors of the new Firebrand Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Firebrand Theatre)

Harmony France and Danni Smith, two veteran Chicago stage actresses with extensive musical theater credits, have announced the launch of Firebrand Theatre, the first musical theater company committed to employing and empowering women by expanding opportunities on and off the stage.

According to the official statement issued today, The company, for which they will serve as co-artistic directors, will focus on equal representation of women and men by seeking out female talent in all aspects of production — from the crew, to the artistic team, to the actors on stage. The theater’s productions will expand the traditional roles of women in musical theater by reimagining classics, producing unknown gems and commissioning new works.

Chicago’s newest Equity company will present its first production in March 2017, with a full season to be announced shortly. In the coming months, Firebrand will focus on fundraising, including an Indiegogo campaign and a Firebrand Launch Party benefit on March 27 at Underground Lounge, 952 W. Newport.  Performers will include: Rashada Dawan, Bethany Thomas, Steven Perkins, Danni Smith, Missy Aguilar, Sydney Charles, Jasondra Johnson, among others.  Tickets ($20 suggested donation), will be available at the door.

“When Danni and I first had the idea to create Firebrand, I searched online for musical theater companies with like-minded missions,” said France, in a prepared statement. “I found nothing. And that brought home how crucial it is that we launch this company. There is a void in our industry, with more actresses than actors, yet fewer roles for women. There are also statistically more women than men in our audiences. Yet most musicals are directed by men, cast with mostly men, with stories about men. Not only do we feel a moral obligation to illuminate female artists in roles that empower them, but we also need to tailor productions to the largest demographic of theatergoers.”

Noted Smith: “For me, Firebrand is an opportunity to be a part of the process in a new way. I love acting and always will. But what I find so exciting is the chance to be a part of creating a safe space where theater artists are empowered to make thoughtful, powerful, truthful musical theater. To celebrate the incredible artistry of the women in this community and create more work to showcase them is thrilling and, frankly, necessary.”

About the co-artistic directors of Firebrand:

Danni Smith, a Chicago-based actor for the past 10 years has been honored with four Jeff Awards and seven nominations. Credits include work with Paramount Theatre, Marriott Theatre, American Theater Company, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Porchlight Music Theatre, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, Bailiwick Chicago, Illinois Shakespeare Festival and Lakeside Shakespeare.

Harmony France is the founding artistic director of Blue Moon Studio Theater, casting director at Bailiwick Chicago and a teaching artist at Actor’s Training Center. She’s been nominated for two Jeff Awards for best actress and is the recipient of a Broadway World Award. She has performed locally with Paramount Theatre, Peninsula Players, Theatre at the Center, Bailiwick Chicago, Porchlight Music Theatre, Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, Profiles Theatre, Windy City Playhouse, Route 66 and City Lit Theatre.

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