SheATL Summer Theater Festival elevates the voices of gender-marginalized playwrights

"Sister Braid My Hair" by Sarahjeen François will be performed at the SheATL Summer Theater Festival Aug. 18-28. (Courtesy of Sarahjeen Francois

SheNYC Arts was founded in 2015 with a mission to elevate women and gender-marginalized artists in their journeys to becoming playwrights each summer. They produce a theater festival in several major US cities, one of them being in Atlanta. SheATL Summer Theater Festival opens tomorrow, Aug. 18, and runs through Aug. 28. The festival will present four full-length plays, and one of the selected playwrights, Sarahjeen François, joined “City Lights” producer Summer Evans via Zoom along with SheATL co-executive producers, Erika Miranda and Caitlin Hargraves.

Miranda explained the founding philosophy for SheNYC and its sister festival in Atlanta. “For so long, so many perspectives have been blocked out, whether or not it’s intentional,” said Miranda. “There are so many perspectives and stories that haven’t been seen, heard, or felt across our stages across the US, and it’s time that we share a light and that we give them a platform because their impact is huge.”

Over the past three years since the beginning of SheATL, submissions have tripled. This year, Miranda, Hargraves and their team of volunteer readers selected from 60 plays, each read several times by different readers to ensure a strong diversity of perspective and feedback. “We provide all of the tools that make up the ‘night-of’ of a production, so, box office, tech, sound designer, lighting designer. This year we’ve hired intimacy coordinators. We also provide a small stipend for the shows, all in order to give the playwright an opportunity to focus on the creative,” said Miranda.

Featured playwright Sarahjeen François will produce her play “Sister, Braid My Hair,” which will run for two nights, Aug. 20-21. “‘Sister, Braid My Hair’ stems from a new myth that I’m creating,” said François. “There are four sisters who are trapped in a frame, and they exist as living figures in a moving tableau. They find ways to escape the confines of the frame to experience what the real world is like, what life in the real world is like, and what they find is that it isn’t – well, my tagline is that it ‘isn’t as pretty as their picture.'”

In her play, François looks at the Black female figure from a view inspired by painters like Monica Stewart and choreographers like Katherine Dunham. She includes moments of ballet and meditations on female sensuality while celebrating the ancient tradition of African hair braiding. “What inspired me is the conversations that occur in these moments of intimacy and hair-braiding, the knowledge and wisdom that’s passed down in the act of communion,” François said. 

The other selected plays for this year’s festival are “To Serve the Hive” by Julia Byrne, “Walls” by Sofia Palermo, and “You’re a Weirdo, Annie Best” by Erin Shea Brady. Hargraves said, “Each show is so individual, and not just in their writing style, but in the way that they’re being staged. So I think we’re giving Atlanta audiences an opportunity to engage with something that maybe you’re not going to find so easily at any other Atlanta theater.”

The 2022 SheATL Summer Theater Festival takes place Aug. 18 – 28 at the Schwartz Performing Arts Center on Emory University’s campus. Tickets and more information are available at