Songs for the Struggling Artist

In case you missed it buried in the comments. . .

After the big storm of interest around my blog dissipated a bit, I found I couldn’t stop thinking about this one comment from a big fan of Peter and the Starcatcher. I wanted to address it because I think a LOT of people loved the show and a LOT of people didn’t see it the way I saw it (and by a lot, I mean MOST.) This is for those who are still a little confused about what I’m pointing at. Then it takes a left turn into a thing about young people and the power of theatre.

To the young lover of Peter and the Starcatcher who defended its feminist honor on my blog:

I understand that you are a big fan of Peter and the Starcatcher and get the sense that you may, in fact, be a young person yourself. As a theatre maker, I am thrilled that you loved a piece of theatre so much that you felt compelled to defend its honor here. May we all feel so much love for the shows that move us! I have no desire to take that love away from you. And actually, I’m going to suggest that you stop reading this now. I’m not really writing it for you (I would rather you go on loving the show than convince you otherwise) but I felt I needed to respond to you because I know you are not alone in your affection for the show and your bafflement about what in the heck I’m talking about. For those people who are still wondering what I’m on about with this show, I felt I should respond to you.
You’re right. Molly is a strong, admirable hero. But the show sells her short, first, by dismissing her as soon as she becomes a woman, then ultimately by banishing her from the stage. And Peter’s repeated line that “She’s the real hero” doesn’t actually help with that problem. To me, those lines are a bit like Xander proclaiming to the villain that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the real hero (or some more contemporary reference- it sucks that this is the most recent female hero I can think of) OR to gender switch it, it’s like Robin saying to the villain that Batman is the real hero. Of course Buffy and Batman are the heroes, we’ve just experienced a whole story in which they’ve been at the center, behaving heroically. But neither Buffy nor Batman would be silenced, married off and then banished from the stage while Xander or Robin takes over.
I’m glad you enjoyed the show and glad that you found Molly heroic but I guess I wonder if you would have enjoyed it even more if, after the villain dismisses her, she’d kicked him in the balls, for example, or gotten into a rockin’ sword fight with him where she either wins (yay!) or loses, and dies a hero (sad for the loss, but a much more heroic end for an heroic figure.) The show that is on stage is very different than that and I believe that it is 100% the creators’ right to make it that way and 100% your right to enjoy it. I just didn’t. Not at all.
Here’s how I experienced Molly’s story: You’re fierce and fearless as a girl. You’re heard. You’re a leader. You don’t take any nonsense. Then, one day, the world notices you’re a woman now and starts treating you as a sexual object (just a pair of tits, or a milkshake) and before you know it, you’re not fighting your own battles anymore. You’re hustled from the stage by a patriarch while the young man next to you, who hasn’t done much of anything (aside from learn what you taught him) is elevated to the hero’s position, literally lifted on the shoulders of men, his name in the title, while you disappear unnamed.
I think the show is very realistic in enacting the very thing that often happens to young women, I just don’t think it knows it’s doing it.
I wouldn’t discourage a friend from going to see it, though. There’s enough inventive staging in it to justify its place on the stage. I might tell a friend not to bother with the 2nd act. Or to go with her trademarked Feminist Protection Goggles on. (If only such a thing existed!) But I would tell a friend, if she’s buying a ticket, to try and see three other shows that feature 11 women and 1 man to make up for it. The fact is that finding even ONE of those, on a big-budget stage, is impossible. And that is the big problem here.
In working with young people, I see a huge gender imbalance in the other direction. Girls outnumber boys in theatre classes at least 2 to 1, if not more. If you’ve ever seen a middle school musical, you probably saw 23 girls and 2 boys populating the cast. The enthusiasm and joy of girls in the theatre is palpable, exciting and inspiring. But teaching them, I am often torn in two directions:
1) I’d love to for them to be able to chase after this thing they love (what I love, too, we’re the same!) to become more vibrant, richer human beings for their exposure to the art
2) I know that the odds are stacked against them as soon as they become women. As a culture, we are betraying them and their future by creating a professional theatre with no place for them.
I often feel I’m selling girls a false promise when when they fall in love with theatre under my watch. Or maybe not a false promise, just a recipe for heartache and frustration. The odds are in NO ONE’S favor for a career in theatre, man or woman, but, those odds get even more outrageously skewed once you add being female into the mix. And that’s true for actors, directors, writers and designers (and probably quite a few other positions, too, shout ‘em out, Internet!) You sign up for a career in theatre as a woman, you sign up for either denial (these are usually the lucky ones) or frustration. I’m not sure which of those I’d recommend sometimes. I would almost prefer not to notice the myriad ways the American theatre sells women short, but awareness comes with its rewards, too. And one of those rewards is getting to think deeply about stuff and maybe make a difference in changing it.

Fundamentally, my hope for the theatre is that it can give us new possibilites rather than thoughtlessly enacting the old ones. I think we can be better. Our stock and trade is the imagination. We can use those powers for good, right?!

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Thank you for another insightful and important commentary on what it’s like to be a woman in theatre.

Comment by cslplaywright

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