Diva Fest first started as the the NUVO new play contest where playwrights could submit stories and the winner had a free entry to Indy Fringe.
"What came out of it was a number of African-American playwrights, women playwrights an opportunity," says Pauline Moffat, the executive director of Indy Fringe. "So we decided to start
Shortly after came Onyx Fest (for African-American playwrights).
"It wasn't enough to just give away one slot," says Moffat. "We needed to make the opportunity happen for them."
She recalls that there was an overwhelming demand for a space to host female playwrights.
"We are all about creating opportunities for performance, says Moffat.
"What we have seen is this incredible growth," says Moffat. "But it's not just the growth, it's the artistic integrity of what they are doing. So we have been able to over the years offer the opportunity for playwrights to revise their plays, to do readings, to go to the writers center and work on writing. All of those things have helped build the quality of the plays and educate our playwrights, and give them a focus."
According to Jan White, the writers center has brought a lot of playwrights out of the woodwork and honed the craft of the more established. Moffat elaborated and noted that working shipping plays is what builds the artistic muscles of productions, giving writers the tools to craft their work throughout the year, so when Fringe or another festival rolls around the scripts are developed much further.
Jan White is one of Moffat's favorite playwrights to come through the festival.
"She would bring everything but the kitchen sink on stage for props," laughs Moffat.
For White, Diva Fest has been a space that has allowed women a point of access in theater.
"There aren't a lot of female playwrights who get to put their work on stage," says White. "Diva Fest allows a place for that to grow. I hope it will grow some more so we can get people from other parts of the country."
This year White will be showing one of her own plays, one that is very personal. White recently buried her 42-year-old daughter after a long battle with cancer.
"How do I write about what it's like to lose a child and not have everyone walk out going 'oh my god, why did I have to see that,'" says White.
Her story follows several woman who are all trapped in different stages of the grief process.
Deborah Asante, founder and artistic director of the Asante Children's Theatre, also sees Diva Fest as a point of personal and communal growth.
"We are a group of people who are concerned about the health of the arts community in Indianapolis," says Asante. "And we came together over that ... Over the years we have worked together."
Asante has worked with Indy Fringe over the years. Typically the Asante Theatre focuses its programing on children. However, this year they are 26 years old and want to turn their focus to adults as well. Diva Fest will be the first time they have presented something that is by adults instead of solely young artists.
"To include them in the production helped us push the training to a higher plateau," says Asante, discussing the process of having alumni from the program come back and work with the kids and even produce their own plays.
"What is good for the community is good for the child," says Asante. "So we start with the children. I program to community development not just youth development.
This year she has written a piece about the life of Zora Hurston, using Hurston's own research, words and actions as material.
"At every turn the more I learned about her she inspired me. Her courageousness, her standing up to what she believed, her love of culture ... all her life she spoke her love through that culture, and there was never an apology for — in a time when Black artists were being encouraged to assimilate and to show that they can project your opinion based on influenced art. Where Zora, being from an African-American place, and throughout her life promoted those artistic ideas and seditions. She used dialect — her masterpiece "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is written in dialect. She traveled on her own as a woman to research. She wasn't just a writer, she was a cultural anthropologist. Some of those stories that she collected would have been lost if she didn't have that mindset and high regard for that culture."
Diva Fest historically allowed artists and organizations to try new things and push themselves to be better and now it might give birth to a new direction
"We have become a place for young artists to come and learn skills and develop their confidence, and a place where families look to us for enlightening entertainment," says Asante. "I would like to also be edgy enough that we are asking the adults in our community provocative questions, and the perfect place to do that is in a darkened theater."