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“I’m not into sentimentality,” says Ann Filmer, a director, choreographer, and cofounder of the Aardvark theater collective. “I like more visceral theater, the kind of thing that affects me internally. And I’m not big on theater as storytelling. Books are for telling stories. Theater is about having an experience.”

Since its inception in the fall of 1995, Aardvark has specialized in plays that kick the audience in the gut. In 1999–hoping to showcase “two amazing actresses,” Heather Graff and Laurie Larson–Filmer started scouting around for plays featuring women that weren’t Lifetime Television maudlin. She wound up with three short plays that Aardvark staged together as one evening; she called the whole thing Estrogen Fest and it ran for seven weeks in the spring of 2000. It went over so well–earning Graff a Jeff nomination–that Filmer began planning this year’s festival almost immediately.

She solicited scripts last summer, but “most of them just weren’t right. We found a couple of pieces we liked, but nothing else really fit the concept. Meanwhile, I was seeing these great dance concerts around town with pieces that screamed out, Estrogen Fest.”

She saw Cindy Brandle’s Twisted Sisters at the Next Dance Festival and Mindy Meyers’s Volition at the Chicago Moving Company and was so impressed she tracked down their creators and asked if she could present their work. The pieces exhibited the qualities Filmer wants the festival to convey: strength, humor, a sense of self-ownership, and a notable absence of victimhood.

This year’s Estrogen Fest will feature 25 women doing a lot more than acting. Kristen Neveu’s Cars–an installation of movable mannequins on wheels–will be on display, and a recitation of beat poet Diane di Prima’s invocation “Ave” will open each show. Highlights will include Second City’s Abby Sher performing her playlet Blink, dance improv by Asimina Chremos, a multimedia movement piece by Nana Shineflug, a cello performance by Natalie Brewster Nguyen, and Cake, a “bake-off in one act,” featuring Rebecca Blazer and Laurie Larson.

“We’re going to cross-pollinate audiences,” Filmer says. “If someone comes just to see theater and then they see dance, hopefully they’ll be turned on to another art form.”

Estrogen Fest runs the last four Tuesdays in May at the Performance Loft in the Second Unitarian Church, 656 W. Barry. The program will vary from week to week, alternating “light days,” featuring whimsical pieces, on May 8 and 22, with “heavy flow,” some brooding stuff, on May 15 and 29. For more information, call 773-868-6084.

–Michael G. Glab

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eugene Zakusilo.