Songs for the Struggling Artist

What happened when I wrote it down.
September 26, 2012, 8:38 pm
Filed under: art, feminism, theatre | Tags: , , ,

Thursday at around 6pm EST, I posted this. My blog normally generates about 25 views per month so I wasn’t expecting much of response, just a few friends with some thoughts, you know. By 11am the next morning, there were hundreds of views.  By 12:05, I had a voicemail from the subject of my coda with a request to call him and a brief apology. He didn’t say so but it sounded to me like he might have seen the blog. By 12:58, I had a voicemail from a guy higher up on the chain of command letting me know that he’d read my blog, apologizing for the incident and informing me that there is, in fact, a sexual harassment policy and he’d be happy to discuss it with me, which I did. By 4pm, there were 2200 views on the blog, a dozen new followers on Twitter, several new likes for my company on Facebook and more support than I thought possible or probable.

I started this blog about four years ago. It got more views on Friday than it has gotten in every day previous, all added up and multiplied by 2. Then, 3. And so on. Anyway, the difference is a lot. More people have now seen this blog post than have ever seen a show I made, or even several of them added up and put together. The theatre world, as a whole, has never paid me much a nevermind before but suddenly, poof, over 5000 people from all over the world, just because I got pissed off enough and the people who forwarded and reposted and shared are likely ALSO pissed off enough and good god, can something really be done?! Not for me personally, I’m well on my way to resolving the interpersonal exchange, but for the theatre culture as a whole.

I suspect this post got a lot of attention largely because of the personal bit at the end. I’ve written angry blog posts before. Hell, I’ve written angry blog posts about gender in theatre before! But this one struck a chord and I suspect that the stinky thing that happened at work is the reason. However, one guy being thoughtless isn’t the big problem (though it was certainly a problem for me.) The problem is that the theatre has an extreme gender bias (and a race, and a class bias, as well, just by the way) and that inevitably leads to smaller personal injustices like the one I experienced. Like the ones a lot of women have experienced. Like the ones most women have experienced. I had the (relative) good fortune to be the victim of a completely obvious example of sexism, one that no one has been able to argue with  – but every day women contend with less clear-cut, more sticky situations than this and the theatre community generally rolls its eyes at you when you say something. Not this time. Gratefully. But you can bet your ass that every other time I’ve ever brought up gender bias in the past, eyes were rolling (from both men and women) all the way around the room. Hell, I’ve rolled my eyes at myself sometimes. I was rolling my eyes as I typed the thing up. (“Here I go again. Talking about this gender thing. You know you’re asking for trouble. Can’t I just deal?!”) So, I’m encouraged by all the comments and support and if anyone’s rolling their eyes, I’m not seeing it this time. Which is great news, I think. Maybe it means that, as a culture, we’re ready to deal with gender parity for reals.

I have this fantasy in which scads of people call lots of theatres to book tickets for a show and after asking the usual sorts of questions, they ask, “And what’s the gender breakdown of this show?” And when they’re told 11 men and 1 woman, they say in a voice as sweet and innocent as they can muster : “Ah, nuts. I was looking for a show with more women in it. If I buy a ticket for THIS show, I’ll have to see THREE productions of The House of Bernarda Alba to make up for it and I just don’t think anyone’s doing it at the moment. Can you help me find a show with some gender parity? And bonus points if it’s written and/or directed by a woman!”

The evening I posted my rant, I saw this article about race and gender disparity and in it, August Schulenberg points out that every year this statistic comes out and every year there is a flurry of conversation and then it remains the same. That’s not okay with me. And it seems like it’s not okay with a whole lot of other people. Because I posted what I did, I found out about 5050 in 2020 and several other organizations and people who are working for gender parity. I get to join a chorus of people who feel as fed up as I am. It feels good to know I’m not alone. Like, seriously, not alone.

And thank you. I haven’t said yet. But thank you. To all the people who shared and reposted and tweeted and facebooked and commented and commented on the discomforting comments and to those who just read and gave it all a good think. Thank You. It is extraordinary to be heard and received and supported.

And if you’re still reading, I will confess to you that I feel TOTALLY weird about it all. I feel vulnerable and exposed and uneasy. I didn’t actually mean to get into the middle of a controversy. I just needed to get some stuff off my chest (and here on the internet no one’s looking at my chest while I do it!) In riding this roller coaster of an experience, I realized that a part of me is waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop. Because every time I have ever spoken up about gender politics in the past, I have gotten slammed. It happened last week when I talked about it with a handful of people and my system can only imagine how much more intense the slamming might be by talking about it with thousands of people. I can’t stop thinking about it all, dealing with it, trying to make sense of it, attempting organize it into a coherent response and every hour that I spend doing those things is an hour I’m not spending working on my art.

There is a whole heck of a lot that’s bubbled up as a result of my speaking up. And it all veers off in different directions. There’s the bit where I’m grateful I wasn’t wearing a different shirt on the day of the incident, because it was therefore impossible to blame myself. There’s the bit where I think about my recently discovered awareness of, and pleasure in, my own introversion and how my actual response is an example of how introverts respond differently than extroverts and how I’m okay with that now in a way I didn’t used to be (so when I got criticized for not speaking up in the moment, I didn’t take it as personally as I might have in the past.) There’s the bit about how particularly moved I was by the response of the men in my life. I was fully prepared for the men around me to shrug and say, “What’s the big deal?” and they 100%  did not. There’s the bit where I want to respond to all that’s been said so far, across the world. There’s the bit where I want to dust off ye olde women’s studies books from college and get back INTO it, man. And there’s the bit that would like to just crawl back under my covers and be very very quiet for a while.

But I’ve got a show to put on this weekend, so I can’t be getting all tangent-y and perfectionist, trying to squeeze a lifetime of dealing with gender stuff into a single blog post. So I’m going to leave this here for the moment. And just say Thank You to everyone who heard me, understood and made me feel less alone in it all.

7 Comments so far
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Thank you so much for both of these posts on sexism in the theatre. A member of the International Centre for Women Playwrights posted the link to the “Starcatcher” piece on our email list, which is how I found it. Like you, I’m fed up with plays in which the mother-who-does-not-speak is the only female character and am ready to mount the ramparts. Or where the male playwright dutifully inserts a female confidante or pseudo-feminist female adventurer–and then deprives her of all agency or perhaps allows her to have one objective, to get the guy.

Note: Symmetry Theatre in Berkeley, California has made it their mission to mount plays with at least as many women as men and at least as many equity contracts going to female actors as male. They are struggling to survive. If anybody reading this can give them a boost, please do:
(I am not connected with the company, just a fan)

Comment by cslplaywright

Wow. Thank you for your sensitivity, thoughtfulness and vulnerability. Thank you most of all for telling your story even as you struggle with your unease…Wonderful writing….. For those of us who are reticent to complain, who are trying to get on with our art, who do not feel entitled to get angry because we may just feel deep down that we are somehow complicit in our our own diminishment…you have rung a personal bell that resonated deeply and in a far-ranging way for women. Thanks for your rage AND your civility. It’s really encouraging.

Comment by Molly Noble

Thank YOU! And yes, people should definitely support Symmetry, which does lovely work as well as proudly hiring women. A couple of their founders worked with me when I ran an all-female Shakespeare company, of which there are several around the country. In the SF Bay Area there is also a monthly salon called “Yeah, I said Feminist” and, I believe, a group that is working on gender equity within Equity. We are finally getting more female playwrights writing on a wider range of topics and playwrights of all genders creating greater ranges for their female characters. Those of us who have produced woman-centered theater that is more than “chick-lite” topics have noticed that, wow, men as well as women love our shows and support them with their butts in seats and with their checks. It’s beyond time for us to take our numbers to the theaters that aren’t on board yet and both demonstrating that they won’t lose audiences by working equitably with women and demanding that they give us our time on stage. We are more than half the population and, what, 60% or more of the theater ticket-buyers—we deserve chances to see ourselves be the heroes, the adventurers, the ground-breakers, the people around whom other characters define themselves. Thank you for reaching your last straw and allowing so many more of us to feel heard at the same time. You fully deserve all the support you’re getting—and you deserved it before you wrote the piece. Never give up. Little by little we are chipping away at the biases, and though you may not always see your own progress, know that there are many more of us chipping away nearby and all our individual efforts are adding up to huge change.

Comment by kamikazecook

As Kamikazecook says, women are the majority of theatre patrons in the US (70% of the ticket buyers, I believe I read on HowlRound). So not only do we deserve to see ourselves onstage as fully-dimensional human beings whose fears and desires drive the story … we can make it happen. We can, as suggested, challenge inequity when we see it; we can put our butts in the seats and our cash in the box office till for women-centered work. And more: we can actively seek out, recognize, and support the (most likely, cash-strapped) organizations who are working for equity. Let’s name names: Symmetry, Woman’s Will, International Centre for Women Playwrights … And speaking of the ICWP, this organization will soon be naming the winners of its first annual 50/50 award for theatres whose season includes 50% or more of plays written by women.

A question: What do you say to the Artistic Director who says, “Gosh, I’m sorry. I wish we were doing more plays by women but we just couldn’t find any”? (I am Woman playwright. Watch me seethe.)

Comment by cslplaywright

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. And good luck with your show!

Comment by Velina Brown

I don’t know so much about the gender breakdown in shows, but Guerilla Girls keeps an updated list of theatres doing 50% or more shows written by women every year. Great resource. There’s also a meet-up group, if you live in NYC, called Works by Women. It’s connected to 50/50 in 2020 and they use their ticket-buying power to support shows directed and written by women.


Comment by Lucy Walker

I just joined. Thank you!

Comment by erainbowd

I'd love to hear from you. Gentleness and kindness encouraged and appreciated.

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