A New York theater company is threatening to sue Washington Ensemble Theatre over its name.
Since 2006, attorneys representing Women's Expressive Theater, Inc. have sent Washington Ensemble Theatre four cease-and-desist letters, insisting that it abandon its acronym. Last week's letter included a copy of the 16-page complaint Women's Expressive Theater will file with the U.S. district court, should Washington Ensemble Theatre refuse to change its initials.
There can be, they argue, only one WET—despite counterexamples, including the coexistence of ACT in San Francisco and ACT in Seattle, both significant regional theaters, both on the West Coast.
Since its founding in 1999, Women's Expressive Theater has produced seven plays, 11 fundraisers, and an outreach program for young girls. In 2006, it had a budget of $124,971. Its largest expense was the salaries of founding directors Victoria Pettibone and Sasha Eden, at over $40,000 each. Women's Expressive Theater was awarded U.S. trademark registration number 3,125,889 for the name "WET" in August 2006.
Since its founding in 2004, Washington Ensemble Theatre has produced 12 plays, three fundraisers, and an outreach program for queer youth. In 2006, no ensemble members drew a salary from the company.
The letters say confusion between the two companies is "deeply upsetting to WET" and that the acronym for the Women's Expressive Theater "was deliberately chosen in response to stereotypes of women, in particular those involving sexuality." The letters threaten litigation against the company and against individual members.
"This is a bullying tactic," said Gina Driscoll, an attorney and board member at Washington Ensemble Theatre. "If somebody files a federal complaint, you have to answer—and if somebody is not in a position to fight it, they have to lie down and comply. They've put us between a rock and a hard place."
"What is the state of nonprofit theater in America today," asked Washington Ensemble Theatre member Marya Sea Kaminski, "when one theater across the country doesn't believe we can coexist in a national marketplace, and would rather tie up both their artists and ours in lawsuits and going to court instead of making art?"
Women's Expressive Theater did not respond to requests for comment.
No word whether Women's Expressive Theater is threatening legal action against Women's Entertainment Troupe (Los Angeles), the four different Women's Ensemble Theatres (Chicago, Santa Cruz, Philadelphia, Poughkeepsie), Women's Ensemble Theatre Troupe (Santa Barbara, slogan: "vagin-o-mite!"), WET City Productions (Chicago), Women's Experimental Theatre (the Yukon), or the West End Theater (Gloucester, MA).