Songs for the Struggling Artist


A Taste of Being a Patriarch in the Patriarchy

For most of the last decade, every day, I’ve been using a line of Hamlet as my prompt for daily writing. The Hamlet Project has nearly 100,000 views and most of them are not people I know. I don’t get a lot of comments on it but when I do, they tend to assume I, the author, am a man. I have been called “sir,” for example, and also “bro.” I think, even when I am not explicitly gendered in a comment, I am assumed to be a man. I don’t know this for sure, of course – but there’s something about the tenor of the comments that makes me feel like I’m being mis-gendered.

What is that tenor? Well. The comments tend to be respectful. They tend to endow me with a level of authority I am not used to receiving in situations wherein my gender is more obvious. It’s just kind of a vibe. And it is very nice, actually.

I’m not trying to obscure my gender identity in this venue but in not making it obvious, it leaves a lot of people room to assume that I am the default gender. I’m also talking about one of the most famous male characters in history – featuring one of the most famous patriarchal struggles – AND – I say on my ABOUT page that the project began from an interest in playing Hamlet. Hamlet is a male character. It thus follows, as the night the day, ipso facto, I must also be male.

Except of course I am not. And depending on the piece that someone might read, it might or might not become obvious. I mean, sure, there’s a lot of feminist content that shows up but maybe I’m just a super woke feminist dude. There’s a way that once the assumption has been made, it will be hard to see the “narrator” differently.

That is, until it becomes obvious. Recently, I started getting lots of views and comments from a man whose website describes him as his country’s “most versatile living writer.” For a few days, I knew he was reading because my statistics reflected a lot of views from his country. He commented several times. I clicked “like” on his comments but didn’t respond to them. Then, he asked me a question, so I answered. The act of commenting revealed my picture and my name and thereby also my gender identity. And wouldn’t you know – I haven’t had a comment or a view from his country since.

I don’t think this is a situation of a person realizing I’m a woman and stalking off in fury saying, “By god, I don’t wish to know what a WOMAN has to say!” I suspect I just suddenly become a lot less interesting. A dedicated reader might just wander off for no particular reason, you know. It’s not sexism, no. It’s just – what’s that over there?

This is the thing a lot of people don’t understand about things like sexism (and racism and ableism and so on) – that it isn’t the overt stuff that gets to us. It’s really the indifference that’s adds up over time and wears us down.

It is actually super nice to be seen as the default. The misgendering is so pleasant because it comes with an assumption of capability, authority and collegiality. I know what those things feel like now and recognize that I don’t usually feel them in any of the other venues (like this one) wherein my gender is a lot more obvious.

Before I tuned into this experience of reading as male, I couldn’t have really articulated what experience I wasn’t having. I didn’t have any sense of what it felt like to have male privilege. I’m thinking of that email experience/experiment those two co-workers had when they switched email signatures for a week. We focused a lot on the male co-worker’s eye-opening interactions when he was perceived as female, how formerly easy interactions became confrontational when he was perceived as his female colleague. The story for me felt like, “See! It’s not all in our heads!”

But now I’m thinking more about what the female co-worker’s experience was when suddenly the way was cleared. I think I imagined it a little bit like that Eddie Murphy SNL sketch where he disguises himself as a white guy and people just give him stuff and throw white people parties on the bus. But of course it’s not that dramatic. No one gave that switched email co-worker an award or a pile of money when she was perceived as male, her job just got a lot faster and easier. Similarly, I’m not getting any special kudos or winning awards or praise or pats on the back in being perceived as male with my Hamlet Project, it’s just a more pleasant atmosphere and I get twice as many views.

I’m not saying it’s a paradise over there. An occasional dickhead makes his way there just like anywhere. But the dickheadery is somehow less dickheaded. The vibe over there is nice.

So I’m in no hurry to disabuse anyone of their perception and I might really enjoy using a pseudonym for some stuff in the future, just because it’s nice to roll around in male privilege for a bit.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast episode of this post. (It’s like an audio version of the blog.)

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Who Is This Arts Education Experience For?

Having spent a couple of decades in arts education, in a multitude of schools through a dozen or so arts organizations, I’ve had occasion to wonder who it’s all for. Maybe it seems obvious. It’s for the kids, of course! It’s for the students! Except when it’s really not.

I’ll give you some examples. This first one happened recently to a musician I know. A group of kids came in for a musical theatre workshop and their chaperones pulled out some high-end cameras and microphones and began weaving in and out of the students who were trying to learn a song. The musician suggested to the grown-ups that having a safe, camera-free space to make mistakes would be beneficial to the learning process. The chaperone said, “No, but I’m trying to get some footage of their growth so this is great for me” and kept filming. Who was this workshop really for?

Or this one: Let’s say you’re putting on a play. And you cast little Jimmy to play the lead. But Jimmy is very quiet. You can’t hear Jimmy when he says his lines. When you tell Jimmy to speak up, the “problem” does not improve. And Jimmy’s not the only one you can’t hear. So you get a sound system and a bunch of mics. Jimmy has his very own lavalier. And Jimmy, because he has a mic now, gets quieter – so the sound guy has to pump the system up all the way just so people can hear Jimmy. But then the kids can’t hear the band so they miss most of their cues. Who is this for? What has Jimmy learned? He certainly hasn’t learned to project his voice. Or even how to use a microphone.

The audience, sure, has a better chance of hearing Jimmy now, however out of sync with the band he is. And the administration can rest easier knowing they’ve invested some money in making the students heard. But none of that was for Jimmy’s education.

Over and over, I’ve watched adults twist themselves into knots trying to put on a good show. They invest their own artistic aspirations into the students’ work and do whatever it takes to get something polished onstage. This is never going to happen. Your students aren’t that good. They’re not going to put on a Broadway quality show no matter how much you yell at them. I’m sorry to break it to you but your students are probably not good. Yet.

And once you realize that student work is not there to be good, you can start to tune in to what it IS there to do. It’s there to give the students an opportunity to learn. They will learn something in the process of putting on a show – no matter how it happens. But if what they’re primarily learning is how to please their director, they are not having the richest possible learning experience.

Putting on a school play is valuable for so many reasons. The opportunities for learning and discovery are endless, really. But for me, to me, privileging the production over the students’ learning is getting in the way of the best opportunities. One of those opportunities is failing at it. If you, for example, don’t learn your lines as well you’re supposed to and then you go out onstage and forget them, that is an excellent lesson you just learned. For me, the most potent part of every theatrical experience in education is when the students unpack all the things they wish they’d done better. That’s learning in action.

But…in my experience, most people who put on plays in schools are much more concerned with how the play looks than how the students are learning in it. They are worried about how it will look or sound to administrators, to parents or to funders. School plays (and concerts and presentations and so on) are 9 times out of 10 – not really for the people putting them on but some authority that their teacher/director wants to impress.

And the reality is, you’re probably not going to be able to change that. But it can be helpful to name it as it’s happening – to be clear that you’re getting a sound system for the principal because she gets so cranky when she can’t hear students or to be clear with your students that you’re spending time on light cues that you could have spent rehearsing because the school board decides the funding based on these shows and they need all the bells and whistles. That’s who the show is for, then. It’s an audition for the school board budgetary committee, not a learning experience. And knowing that can sometimes make engaging in those parts a little easier. You can yell at the students to be louder for the principal and do some character exercises for their growth. Personally, I’d prefer a theatre program that allows for discovery and failure and learning but most programs aren’t built that way. Which is, frankly, one of the reasons why I moved away from arts education.

But before I go completely, I want to share a chapter of a book on Teaching Shakespeare that I’ve been working on. It speaks to this question of who it’s for and what exactly you’re doing when you work on Shakespeare through performance. It’s something I clarified while teaching graduate students in education and as far as I know it’s a distinction that no one’s making and a distinction I think is crucial at this point in the field’s development Shakespeare education.

The text is here on my Shakespeare website and there is a direct line between this post and that chapter. If this topic speaks to you, particularly if you are an arts educator, click on over. But meanwhile even if you are not an educator, this perspective on learning might be useful when you go and see student work. Parents, for example, can be important advocates for more student-centered work. Or, at the very least, you can avoid complaining about not being able to hear little Jimmy. Remember, the show is for Jimmy’s learning, not for you.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Like the blog? Want to help keep me writing?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



In Praise of Violence (On Stage)

While writing my last fundraising email for my company’s feminist Measure for Measure, I found myself going on a bit of a rant about the response to the violence in our show. I realized advocating for violence was probably not a particularly wise way to ask for money, so I stopped myself before I went too far. And going too far is what I was talking about.

Many don’t experience Measure for Measure the way I do – they don’t feel the multitude of injustices stacking up against the women in this play as anything to get too upset about. It’s a comedy, after all! I mean, sure Angelo’s a hypocrite, but he just wants to sleep with an aspiring nun, is that so wrong? Sure, the Duke sits by and watches people’s lives torn apart, actively participating and lying to make their experience more dramatic and painful and setting up sadistic scenario after sadistic scenario – but it all works out in the end, right? And he marries Isabella! (Apologies if you don’t know what I’m talking about and you’re not familiar with Measure for Measure, stick around, there’s more non-Shakespeare violence to come.)

I understand the prevailing feeling that these men are not so bad and therefore don’t deserve to be murdered in a blood bath at the end of the play, for example. (Yes, that was our ending. Spoiler alert!) Certainly, yes, there are worse men. Lavinia’s rapists, Imogen’s almost rapists, Kate’s rapist husband…oh wait, you probably mean murderers.

Violence is used against women over and over throughout Shakespeare’s plays and also the entirety of Western literature and entertainment. And over and over again, in text after text, image after image, women just have to sit there and take it. Men avenge women’s deaths and rapes but the women themselves are just dead or damaged. Or made dead due to their “damage.” (I’m looking at you, sweet Lavinia.) Never never do the women get to avenge themselves. Never do they get to grab a sword and make everyone pay for their agony. And you know what? That’s what I need.

Catharsis has been for men for as long as there has been drama and it’s about goddamn time women got some of that sweet sweet catharsis ourselves. When I started this Measure for Measure experiment, I was clear that catharsis is what I was seeking and clear that only violence could do the job.

Not everyone agreed with me. Despite being a cast of women, there were many among them who did not feel that blood needed be drawn. Many felt that the sins committed by the men in power in the play were not so bad. The blood bath I had in mind did not seem commensurate with the crime. That’s probably true. Probably there are many men in Shakespeare who deserve to get murdered by angry women more than Angelo and the Duke do. I’ll leave those deaths for someone else to stage – but for me, to experience a genuine catharsis at the end of a show was worth every possible injustice in it.

I have seen so many women assaulted, raped and murdered on stage and on screen. I could not begin to count the victims I’ve seen in my theatre going, TV watching, film viewing lifetime. For ages, a woman’s presence in a work of drama was for the sole purpose of getting the hero justifiably angry so he could have his catharsis at the end. Women have mostly been cast to be the victims. That’s what an ingénue is for.

I have a theatre friend who moved to LA to work in film and TV and has had a fair amount of success. She has played almost exclusively victims. Her reel is just, like, a parade of violence and abuse against her. Did she deserve any of that? Did all the women who have been abused, assaulted, raped and murdered onstage and onscreen deserve all those things?

But it was all for men’s catharsis.

I need some damn catharsis now.

You think Shakespeare wasn’t interested in violence? I mean, crack open a copy of Titus Andronicus! It wasn’t enough for Lavinia to be raped by her stepbrothers – no, they had to cut out her tongue and cut off her hands as well. Then her father kills her out of “mercy.” Did Lavinia deserve that?

I killed Angelo and the Duke (and Lucio, just for fun) onstage not just for the women in the play, for Isabella and Mariana and Mistress Overdone, but also for Lavinia. And you know what? It’s also for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – because we can’t drag her assailant out of the Supreme Court without causing a whole heap of trouble. So we kick The Duke in the balls. If we kick The Duke in the balls, maybe just maybe no actual balls will need to get kicked.

If we don’t find outlets for our fury in the safety of our stages, if we don’t get catharsis in some way or another, I can’t promise the rage that has been building, lo, these five thousand years won’t burst forth into a real live bloody revolution. If the woman on man violence makes you uncomfortable to watch, that’s appropriate. That’s what it’s been like for women watching women be victimized all these years.

I’m kind of imagining some restorative dramatic justice. For every rape or sexual assault or domestic violence plot, I’m going to need two kicks in the balls and at least two violent murders. And we’ve got a lot of catching up to do, theatre and cinema-wise, so we might have to kick and kill in some grey areas for a while. Maybe what Louis CK did wasn’t so bad on the shitty scale, not as bad as rape, certainly, but in anything he’s in next, he’s going to need to be brutally attacked or he’s never going to work again. So sayeth the scales of theatrical justice.

Photo from our workshop performance of Measure for Measure, featuring Connie Rotunda, Katherine Lee, Brooke Turner and Sonia Villani, with fight direction by Dan Renkin

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This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me keep making cathartic work?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



A Big Disappointment (and How to Go On)

When I was in college, I had one goal and one goal only and that was to be part of a particular Shakespeare company I’d been inspired by a few years earlier. While I was still in school, I auditioned for them and secured my very first acting job at what was then my dream company. The fact that I was making $50 a week did not matter to me in the least. I was on track for the life I wanted. I thought I’d just keep working there forever and my artistic destiny was set. But then I had rather a rude awakening when none of us were cast in the next season.

I picked myself up, dusted myself off and worked in Atlanta, Roanoke and Memphis before returning to audition again a year later and got to do another season of Shakespeare with them. It wasn’t long after that that I moved to NYC and away from performing.

But that theatre where I started is firmly imprinted on me. It was formative in my aesthetic, my career path and my sense of self. I’ve done a LOT of other things since then and grown and shifted in lots of directions I’d never have predicted – but there’s something about that company that will always have a quality of home for me.

So when this writing opportunity with them came up, it had a sense of fated poetry to it. Artist returns to artistic home in a new role to a new beginning. It also had a curious quality of uniting what has always felt like two parallel tracks that would never meet – that is, my Shakespeare identity and my feminist playwriting identity. I just generally assumed those two aspects of myself would never have much call to meet (aside, of course from the devised Shakespeare piece I made a few years ago – where I used my dramaturgical skills to “write” with Shakespeare’s words.)

Anyway – something about the call for submissions for this just felt like little blocks of fate, slotting one into another. I wrote a play VERY QUICKLY that grappled with things in Comedy of Errors that I have always struggled with and found I’d woven together two strands of my artistry that I hadn’t known I could. Because I know the company well, I wrote it with them in mind. I saw their space, I saw their actors. It came to me more easily than almost anything else I’ve ever written. Part of me thought, “They’d be crazy not to select this play. It is for them. It is their aesthetic. It will showcase their particular skills. It gives their actors – particularly the women – opportunities that they don’t often get – and because I’m a former actor in their company from twenty years ago, this press release just writes itself.” As a friend of mine said, “That’s a marketing gold mine. They’d have to choose you for that alone.”

But I am pretty used to rejection and pretty used to not being the choice of the status quo so I was actually pretty delightfully surprised to be first a semi-finalist and then a finalist for what would be a life-changing prize and a kick ass opportunity to return to an artistic home.

When I received the email that I was a finalist, I started to fantasize about what would happen were I to get it. I’d return, not just to a theatre that was once a home, but also my home state. I’d finally get some recognition as a playwright in a well-publicized prestigious situation. It would have paid me more money than I have ever made in a year.

I began to acknowledge to myself that it was something I really wanted. (Generally, I try not to do this. I just apply for stuff and move on.) I thought about it a lot. It started to feel a little bit like when I was in college wanting to work for this company. I started to feel like the poetic circularity of the thing meant that I was destined to get it.

When the rejection came this morning, it hit me harder than any rejection has in a long while. The O’Neill was hard but I never really thought I’d get even as far as the semi-finals so I wasn’t surprised not to get an acceptance there. But this one, I knew I had a shot. The poetry of the story was too good.

But real life doesn’t really work like a story. I seem to have to learn this lesson over and over again. I suppose that’s the peril of being a story maker. I am infinitely vulnerable to good stories. (For example: I cannot be 100% positive that I didn’t partly choose to go to the graduate school I went to due to the serendipity of my sharing a name with it. This would not be a good reason to go to a school, btw.)

I have twenty plus years of practice at dealing with rejection. When the American Shakespeare Center (then known as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express) didn’t hire me in 1996 as I expected them to, it was a shocking betrayal that took me a while to recover from. Here in the spring of 2018, I saw that rejection email from them, felt the blow to my solar plexus and then just got on with making things. I finished recording a song for the podcast and practiced the choreography for the Nelken line I’m joining this weekend. I’m grateful for the decades of artistic practice that has helped me put my eggs in multiple baskets so that when, say, the playwriting basket falls to the ground and all my eggs break, I can just reach into the music basket or the blogging basket, as I’m doing now, and I know I’ll have eggs enough for an omelet later.

I can’t say I’m not sad to not get to see my play performed on that damn beautiful stage by those actors I tailor-made that play for. I am fucking sad about it, no doubt. But, I now have a play that is much more easily produced than most of my other work. I have a prequel to Comedy of Errors that maybe one day someone else might want to do.

It’s sad. I’m sad. And the Hope Hangover (a phenomenon and song I wrote about recently) will be brutal, I know. But I have weathered disappointment consistently for the last two decades. I can do it some more. The thing to do when you are disappointed by art is to make more art. It is the only way through.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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You can help me deal with disappointment

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Keith Richards Wouldn’t Worry About His Bra

Like magic, a sparkly pink electric guitar came into my life a few months ago. It came to me with no amp, no chords, no case – just its sparkly pink self. And even though I’ve played guitar for a couple of decades, I had never played an electric before. It was a whole new world. I learned power chords, y’all. Before I started messing around with this, I did not even know what power chords were. I think I thought they were just regular chords you played real loud. I was stunned to realize that a lot of what all those big hair guitar dudes were doing on TV was not actually that hard. It was a whole lot easier than the finger-picking folk guitar I was used to, at least.

Anyway – the guitar was one thing. But then I got an amp.

I had been playing plugged in to my computer– and you know, it was cool – but when I got an amp, well, the whole world just cracked wide open. And it wasn’t just the amp, y’all – no. See, what happened was, on the morning my amp arrived and I plugged in, my in-house sound guy helped me set it up. He turned some dials. He nodded when I played some power chords. And then he turned up the volume.

The apartment is small. There are neighbors in every direction. But he turned up the volume to LOUD. And when I played, I giggled with so much rebellious glee. I mean – is this okay? What if I upset someone with my neophyte electric stylings? And then suddenly, I really didn’t care if I upset anyone. I felt the power of playing loud, no matter my skill. I didn’t have to be the best player in the world to turn that amp up and play loud. I could be the worst and still play loud. That’s the gift of rock n roll guitar, in fact. And it is a powerful gift.

This is an experience I want every woman to have. I want every woman to have the opportunity to have her sound amplified beyond other people’s comfort level, maybe even beyond her own comfort level.

At a Shakespeare panel discussion years ago, I remember Liev Schrieber talking about how transformative it had been for him to play Hamlet. He said he thought that everyone should get to play Hamlet once. He didn’t think we should have to see them all, because that would be awful – but everyone should get the chance to do it. I think everyone should get a chance to play Hamlet and ALSO everyone should get a chance to play an amplified electric guitar. (Maybe even at the same time. Go crazy!)

Playing like this is so antithetical to my feminine socialization that it is both challenging and exhilarating. It feels like seizing the reins of male power that I had never had access to before.

There are a lot of reasons that guitar playing can feel like a masculine kingdom to which I am not entitled. For example, I cannot think of a single guitar shop I’ve ever been in that was not populated almost entirely by men. Nor can I think of one where I felt completely welcome. I am always an interloper in male territory in a guitar shop.

But – in discovering the thrill of playing loudly and not particularly well, I felt like I understood something about male privilege that translates across media. A dude playing electric guitar loudly and badly is like a clueless mansplaining dude at a meeting; he’s not worried about how he sounds, he’s just enjoying the power of his amplified voice. And now that I’ve played my electric guitar loudly and badly, I too understand how I might enjoy being bold and loud in uncertain circumstances. It will be harder to turn down my volume than it once was and I may be less concerned about saying exactly the right thing. Turn me up, y’all. I’m ready to rock.

Are you wondering what Keith Richards has to do with this?
Well, the same morning I played loud for the first time, my in-house sound guy took a little video of my amp’s first outing. I objected to this video, when I saw it, as I was still in my pajamas, my hair was a mess and I was not wearing a bra. And then my kick-ass, supportive, rock n roll sound guy asked me, “Would Keith Richards worry about his bra?”

And the answer is of course not. Keith Richards does not care what he looks like. Most guitar rockers are similarly disinclined to style or grooming. And almost all guitar rockers are men who, of course, have no bras to worry about. That is rock n roll male privilege, man. But rather than rail about it, I’m going to turn up my amp and channel it. I might worry about my bra sometimes but whenever possible, I want to access the loud, messy, imperfect soul of a male rocker with endless swagger and a reckless audacity. I want us all to feel that sense. May we all have the opportunity to speak Hamlet’s perspicacious text and play Keith Richard’s bra-less rock n roll lifestyle loud.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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You can help me be of service

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



The Imbalance of Talent Crushes

When I was in my twenties and touring the country doing Shakespeare, I was struck by a curious phenomenon. Everywhere we went, women threw themselves at the men in our company. Girls everywhere became besotted with our boys, especially the ones with swords.

But the reverse never happened. Boys in our audiences didn’t chase after the women in our company, we didn’t have groupies. We didn’t have admirers. One of the women got a secret admirer message once but it turned out to have been from one of our fellow actors in the company.

In my years as a performer, I saw this happen over and over. Men onstage inspired desire while women onstage did not.

I started to think about this again recently while I listened to an interview with Rhett Miller and found myself thinking how intelligent, curious and committed he is. We’re about the same age. He even went to the same college as me, briefly, right before I got there. He’s a dynamo onstage and a sensitive thinker. Ever since I saw his band open for Cake in 1999, I’d see him perform and sigh. This time, though, I heard him and thought, “Oh, I’m actually LIKE him in a lot of ways.” I mean, he’s prettier than me but otherwise, we have things in common.

I thought, “Why not only be the change you wish to see in the world? Why don’t you also be the man you once wished to be with in the world?” This is a thought I’ve had before but somehow this was the first time I felt it viscerally.

There are some philosophers and psychologists who frame desire for others as a calling to some part of ourselves. They theorize that we are attracted to things that mirror and amplify our own qualities. Me? I have discovered that I am a sucker for anyone who takes their art incredibly seriously. And I take my own art incredibly seriously. So. Of course. But until I met my current partner, I’d never met a man who was as interested and invested in my artistic journey as I was in his.

Throughout history, women have found men doing things/making things attractive and slipped into the supporting role in partnerships, to play help-meet to the “real” genius in the family. The Thank You for Typing phenomenon is a great example of this (this is where “great” men thank the women in their lives for typing their work and you realize that the women did much more than type. Like, they actually wrote the book, for example.) Or even Albert Einstein’s wife, who was, some theorize, more of a partner in his work, if not a dominant voice, than anyone realized.

I think there is something in the water that encourages women to find achievement attractive and that same thing (very possibly) socializes men to find achievement unattractive in women. I have only very rarely heard of a man developing a crush on a woman because of her book or her play or her leadership or even her acting prowess. The trope is that he will fall for her in spite of those skills. If she’s pretty enough, a man can overlook her accomplishments but because of the accomplishments? Not so much. Is this true of every man? Of course not. But it is the dominant cultural impulse.

And, of course, I am mostly talking about hetero-normative behaviors here. I know it is infinitely more complex than this. But it does seem important to identify this undercurrent that flows through our dominant culture.

Women develop talent crushes. Men (generally) do not. This is a hugely damaging pattern that hinders many women’s achievements. In the interest of attracting a man or even to just seem attractive, women may downplay their intelligence, hold back at their jobs. It happens. I’ve seen it happen so many times. Case in point: Hillary Clinton. She is the epitome of a high achieving woman and the dominant response to her is distaste. Women across the world developed crushes on Obama. And I don’t want to think about it, but there those who find our current men in government attractive.  Is there a man out there with an achievement crush on Hillary Rodham Clinton? I’ve never heard of one. I’m going to guess not. Is there some dude out there who finds Elizabeth Warren impossibly hot due to her political prowess? Is there an Angela Merkel fan club? Or a dude who finds Theresa May’s rise to political power irresistible? I doubt it.

I think real progress in creating spaces for women’s achievement will happen when men start to find women’s achievement as attractive as women find men’s achievements or talents or skills. The moment when women are seen as sexy, just for making something or achieving something, for expressing something or leading something, for being funny, or talented, or smart, or brave, or for their expert sword skills – that is the moment we will have finally turned the corner on equality.

I’ve seen ladies get talent crushes on Falstaff, y’all. Falstaff.

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Juliet Capulet, Feminist Role Model
August 31, 2016, 10:29 pm
Filed under: feminism, Shakespeare | Tags: , , , , , ,

While working with some 9th graders on Juliet’s “Gallop Apace” speech in Romeo and Juliet, I opened the door for the students to tell me what was happening. They worked it out faster than most groups do and quickly leapt to interpretation. One girl reported that Juliet was scared to have sex for the first time. I asked her to tell me where she saw that in the text and the line she pointed to means nothing of the sort.

 

In response to all of this, I did something I try to never do when teaching Shakespeare. I declared a meaning. I declared that, in fact, there doesn’t seem to be a stitch of fear in this speech. I felt bad about denying this girl her interpretation (which, let’s face it, is, of course, really about her own fears) and felt like I’d dropped my teaching ball a little bit. It happens. And when it does, rather than put myself in the corner for failing to live up to my own standards, I try to figure out why I slipped.

 

My guess is that this is an example of my Shakespeare teaching agenda intersecting with my feminist impulse. This culture tells girls that sex is the most important thing and simultaneously suggests that it is something to be afraid of. The cult of virginity is such that many girls come to believe that sex is something that will be painful and irrevocably transforming. The good girls, the nice girls, the one’s many of us identified with, wouldn’t WANT to have sex! Gasp! Horror! We’re nice girls! We don’t have DESIRE.

 

But here is Juliet. No fear. Just desire. Just excitement. She knows she’s supposed to put on a show of disinterest about her feelings for Romeo – but she doesn’t. In the balcony scene, she dismisses propriety and coyness and she’s like, direct. “Dost thou love me?” She then suggests they get down to getting married ASAP. Once she’s married, all she wants is for night to come so she can be with Romeo. And maybe it’s not explicitly sexual. Maybe the consummation of the marriage isn’t what she’s looking forward to. But in any case, she wants Romeo. She wants Romeo as soon as possible. Even if she hasn’t the slightest clue about sex (which I doubt, she was raised by the Nurse – who does not hold back in discussing the body) she is till clear that Romeo is what she wants.

 

And then of course, they do consummate the marriage, and she is very satisfied with whatever happened in that exchange and she does not want it to end. Juliet has desire upon desire and she (mostly) gets what she wants. She’s a feminist role model.

 

I am so very tired of this culture telling girls that they must be sexually attractive but not sexually active. I am weary of girls twisting themselves into knots to be appealing objects while simultaneously negating their own desire. We, as a culture, need to learn how to allow girls to be sexual subjects, to take ownership of their bodies and their desire.

 

There are a lot of women working in this arena. There are Ted Talks. There are academic papers on sexual subjectivity. There’s an anti-slut shaming podcast. We have Caitlin Moran advocating for Lady Sex Pirates. There’s an expanding sense of changing how we deal with women’s sexuality. It’s hugely important work. But it feels as though it will be a while until this sort of things makes its way down to girls who are coming of age now.

 

Meanwhile, there’s Juliet Capulet, a character that almost every girl in high school will encounter. And yes, that 400 year old character had to get married to enjoy her sexuality and yes, it’s true, ends up dead. But not as punishment for sexual transgressions (as many more contemporary stories would have it.) Juliet models an enthusiasm and yearning that is culturally significant, even now, so many years after she was written.

 

That’s why I tripped over myself a little bit on this topic. It was all a little bigger than I was prepared for. I couldn’t not advocate for Juliet’s desire. Juliet’s desire is as boundless as the sea.

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