Songs for the Struggling Artist

Return to the Land of Girlfriends
May 7, 2015, 12:08 am
Filed under: feminism, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

Not so long ago, I wrote a piece about a trip down the rabbit hole of casting. I was disturbed by how the vast majority of the women’s resumes I saw included pole-dancing and emphasized the various ways they might be objectified. Their reels were just as bad. The sense was that each woman was destined to play either the sexy girlfriend, the cute girlfriend or the pretty girlfriend and that’s pretty much all anyone was aiming for. I called it the Land of Girlfriends.

This landscape was awful when I was an actor looking for work and it is awful when I’m directing and looking for an actor. It does not cease to be awful.

It is not the fault of the women – the breakdowns for some of these things are horrifying but even the most benign jobs encourage this sort of thing. Casting notices value appearance over skill almost every time. I loved Kathryn Blume’s rant about a casting notice in her area. An excerpt is posted, below:

There are lots of juicy words used to describe Beatrice, including “frowzy, acid-tongued, alcoholic, intelligent.” Those are all incredibly useful to both actors and directors when thinking about characterization and/or whether or not a particular actor is right for the role.
But then for some reason, they also used the word “attractive.” Why is this necessary? It’s also vague. What kind of attractive and to whom? How is she both frowzy AND attractive? Attractive is subjective to the observer, and has absolutely no bearing on how an actor might play this role.
Then there are the descriptions of Beatrice’s daughters Ruth and Tillie. Ruth is described as “pretty, disturbed, high strung.” Tillie is described as “extremely shy and fascinated by science.”
Ok, for one, pretty according to whom? Also actors can’t play pretty. It’s not useful in the breakdown.
And why don’t we get a description, then of Tillie’s looks? Because shy girls interested in science can’t also be pretty? Again, who’s to say?
Mark posted about this on MAW’s page, and as he said,
“Listing “attractive” or “pretty” as a required attribute is, at best, unnecessary and almost meaningless, and at worst, cliche and sexist. Of course we want performers to be attractive in the sense of compelling. But if you’re talking about physical attractiveness, what does that mean, and what does it have to do with the role?
By regularly describing female characters this way, we are perpetuating the idea that they are there, at least on one level, as eye candy, and I think that does a disservice to both the playwright’s vision and women actors to put this arbitrary, generalized idea of attractiveness out there as a requirement. Actors *are* attractive in the sense of being compelling (at least the good ones) – it’s an inherent part of the craft. Why keep putting this additional requirement of physical attractiveness on female actors? What message does that send to women?”
This is all a heartfelt plea to be conscious of the messages we’re putting out there about the value of women, and the value of certain kinds of women, and the painful overemphasis on a very narrow cultural definition of women’s attractiveness – a definition which leads to mental and physical illness and a devaluation of a broad range of compelling and gifted artists who deserve to have their work seen.

That’s some heroic Facebook posting, there, from Kathryn and this Mark fellow. AND I discovered, while searching for the original casting notice, that the company responded immediately and edited it right away.

I was also heartened to see Cast and Loose call out this casting notice from TFANA (Who really should do better)

This was the character description:

THAISA: 20s She has to be dazzlingly beautiful (of course) but she ends the play as a woman of forty, after the ‘gap in time’ in the middle of the play.

“Of course” this character must be dazzling and OF COURSE the real tricky part will be that the character, GASP! – also has to “end up a woman of 40” – in other words – OLD. So you can’t just be a model, you also have to be able to play a crone. As a woman in my 40s, I should know. Why, none of my female peers are dazzling, no sir, just pack us all up and put us in intensive care, we’re old. We apparently can’t play Girlfriends anymore, so what good are we?

I am already so weary of so much sexist racist boring ass theatre. . things like this just make it harder to imagine seeing anything at all.

But this new trend of calling out those senselessly objectifying casting notices is heartening to me. It gives me the smallest sense of hope that we might one day get to see performers with SKILL and not just conventionally beautiful, attractive, dazzling people.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.56.36 AM

I did a Google Image Search for “Woman” and this is what came up.

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