Filed under: art, Gender politics, theatre | Tags: artistic directors, Australia, chutzpah, female, feminism, Malcolm Gladwell, mic, panel discussion, token
At a theatre conference not long ago, I went to a panel discussion about theatre in Australia. All the Artistic Directors on the panel were interesting, talented, innovative leaders in the field. And every single one of them was white and male. This struck me as:
a) familiar – if we’d had a panel with the most successful Artistic Directors in the US, the panel would likely be the same and
b) peculiar, given that there was, in fact, a female artistic director THERE at the conference. I wondered: Is this how Australians want their culture represented? Is this the face of Australian arts? Even if it is dominated by white men, is that how the country wants to be seen by outsiders? I’d be horrified to see a panel of American theatre makers without a single woman or person of color on the panel. But it would be representative of who’s holding the power.
I mostly kept thinking of the female Artistic Director who wasn’t on the panel, despite her presence at the conference. Was she not invited to be a part of it? Possible. Very possible. Or was she asked to participate and declined? This is something I’d understand, particularly since she would have been the token woman on the stage. (See this brilliant Malcolm Gladwell talk about tokens for why this might be problematic.) Since I don’t know the answer to whether she was asked and refused or not asked at all – it made me ask myself how I’d feel if someone asked me to be a part of a panel on which I’d be the only woman. And I’d hesitate – for all the reasons Gladwell points to – but I have to hope that I’d take the hit and say yes anyway – out of a sense of service. I’m not clear whether it would be service to my gender, my country or to theatre but I feel like it would be my duty, if asked, to Represent. I’d need to do it, if only to provide a role model for other women trying to do the work.
It’s complicated. Part of me wonders if the organizers had said to the lone female Artistic Director, who maybe turned them down, “Hey listen, you’d be the only women on stage, if you turn this down, Australia’s going to look like a sexist stronghold. Are you sure you don’t want to join us?” Would she have joined them?
Prior to a couple of years ago, I would have thought gender equity was only a problem in this country. I was sure that at least other Western powerhouses had gotten a handle on the inequity. I know from the worldwide attention my blog got that this is not the case. So I understand that a bunch of white dudes representing a country is likely very accurate. But isn’t a panel a sort of idealized vision of what could be? Even if the community itself is still inequitable couldn’t we make an attempt to even out the imbalance in front of other countries?
I couldn’t help but notice that in the AUDIENCE of that panel discussion were female producers and performers from Australia. Could not this particular panel’s idea of theatre-makers expand into roles beyond artistic directors?
The executive producer of the female Artistic Director’s company was present in the audience (also female) and in order to contribute to the conversation, raised her hand and made a comment about her work and the field – essentially participating in the panel from the floor. So did a female Australian performer. No mic. Just chutzpah. It feels like that’s what we have to do to get in the doors of such things. When no one gives us a mic, we have to speak up and out of turn.
Speaking out of turn is not my natural impulse. But I was inspired by the women who, when they weren’t invited to the party, just turned up anyway and made their presence known. They’re my new role models. And if someone asks me to be on a panel, I fell like it’s now my duty to participate, even if I don’t want to. Give me the mic. Or I’ll take it.
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