Songs for the Struggling Artist

Inclusive Gatekeeping

The application form asked my age, so I answered the question and submitted my application. But after I did, I started to worry. Should I have skipped that question? Should I have submitted it to Honor Roll, the group of women playwrights over 40 that works to combat ageism and sexism in American theatre? Had I just set myself up for being rejected by revealing that I am 48? The form asked. I answered. I’m not yet used to being vigilant on this topic. I tried to be attentive to ageism before it was relevant to me but I wasn’t prepared for it to come for me so soon – or at least before I had anything impressive under my belt.

It was one of the first things I’ve submitted to in a long while and the whole exercise sent me into a bit of a funk. In the year and a half that theatre was been shut down, I’ve aged into ageism and now all the doors that have been closed to me are extra closed. I read a book on creativity that suggested that the science says we are most creative in our first few years with our art and after that it’s just a steady downward trajectory.

What is that ageist science nonsense? It’s possible I was more creative in my youth. I’d say my songs were full of some naïve innovations – but I am a much better writer now than I was in my 20s. And also, the American theatre is not very keen on innovation – so it may be an asset if I have, indeed, lost creativity over the years.

Anyway – this whole spiral was brought to you by the series of questions on the application that tend to happen around demographics and attempts to be more inclusive. I suspect this questionnaire asked my age, not so they could be ageist at me, but so they could make sure to include some young playwrights. However – one does privilege the other. You want to get more young writers, you’re discriminating against the old. You want to combat ageism and pull in the older writers, you’re discriminating against the young.

When we apply for things, we have no idea whether we are helping the organization discriminate against us, or give us an extra boost. Somehow arts organizations think that they can solve their racist, sexist, ableist biases with tools like this.

As my friend put it, “Right now across the nation, arts administrators are sitting around tables trying to figure out how to do more inclusive gatekeeping.” I have not been able to stop thinking about this phrase since he said it.

Because that’s the thing. American Arts institutions are built on gatekeeping. They are spaces designed to keep people out. The velvet rope was invented in NYC by someone in the hospitality business but Arts institutions are the ones who’ve really taken the idea and run with it. Sometimes with literal velvet ropes and sometimes internal ones. Having people in or out is the whole deal. The people who have salaries in the arts are not the artists but the gatekeepers.

As a culture, we clearly value keeping people out more than the actual art. But the gatekeepers have been challenged to shift the demographics of who they let get past the door of their clubs. Most of the clubs have been chock full of white guys with a handful of white women and some token people of color. But ultimately, after all these years of hanging out in those clubs, those clubs are really white guy clubs. And mostly they’re clubs full of white guys who went to Yale and occasionally some other people who also went to Yale. They’ve congregated there for so long and they want to keep hanging out there and they want to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them; They just don’t want to be accused of racism or sexism. So they ask the bouncer to let in enough “others” to not get in trouble about it anymore. So the bouncer tries this new inclusive gatekeeping. He’s trying to keep the club the same as it always was but include enough of the RIGHT new faces to keep this club out of the news.

Actually, they think they just need to approach this problem at the ground floor and make sure to send more diverse people to Yale, so they can make their gatekeeping more inclusive because you get in the club immediately that way. So – they rename Yale Drama School after David Geffen so he’ll give a bunch of money to Yale so they can make it tuition free in the hopes of making it more inclusive and voila! Problem solved, right? Must be!

I can’t wait for all these super inclusive shows that will tell us all about what it’s like to have studied at Yale. Oh, the fresh perspective we’re going to get! Oh, the extraordinary inclusivity that awaits us from all the different people who might have gotten in to Yale.

The thing is we’re sort of in this mess because the gatekeepers get their power from choosing, from who they select – which is, significantly also about their power to say no, to refuse people entry to the club. To have an actual equitable club, there would be no bouncer and our gatekeepers would have no power. We might get to stop guessing whether our demographics will hinder us or help us and just, say, hope for a good lottery number. Honestly, could we do worse?

I mean, I don’t want to be cranky about it, but I haven’t seen a really innovative piece of work in maybe a decade. Choosing the same sort of people all the time, whether it’s their race or gender or grad program, does not innovative art make. Maybe we could give up trying to do inclusive gatekeeping and try to just do away with gatekeeping altogether. What if we tried that?

We might have locked you out but we LOVE you! Look at that! It’s a heart on the lock we locked you out with! Isn’t that so sweet and inclusive?

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Bill and Ted’s Bogus Handling of Older Women

We did it. We watched the new Bill and Ted movie. The trailer made it look kind of charming and our Gen X nostalgia for the original was strong enough to put us in front of, what we knew would be, a very silly movie. And it was! They brought back all these cast members from the original. Ted’s Dad. Ted’s Dad’s girlfriend. A hologram of George Carlin. But significantly, despite the medieval princesses’ appearance in the earlier movie, the actresses who played them did not play them in this new movie. Instead, the filmmakers cast two women who are about ten years younger than the original princesses. This made me mad. And curious.

I investigated the women who played the original roles. Maybe they were too busy to play the parts. Or maybe they were dead! I mean, if one of them was busy playing Hedda Gabler at the Royal Shakespeare Company, I could understand that she might not want to do a sequel to Bill and Ted. But no. Their IMDB pages suggested that they were still acting, though not with really high profile credits. A couple of years ago they were photographed at a Bill and Ted convention event. In other words, they were probably available – the makers of Bill and Ted just didn’t ask them.

I’m assuming. Maybe there’s a great story about this that isn’t the usual sexism – but I somehow suspect that it is the usual sexism. The two women in their 50s were not hot enough for film anymore. (Though, frankly, I’ve seen recent photos of these ladies and they’re gorgeous.) So while the producers were happy to look at Bill and Ted with male middle aged bodies – they needed younger models to represent the hot princesses they married. That’s pretty gross and sexist but, you know, fair point. If I recall, correctly, the original princesses weren’t written to be much more than hot – so if the actors’ hotness has faded, then perhaps it was necessary to get new ones to represent the one trait they possessed.

But even hot people age and not all of them look like Catherine Zeta Jones as they do. Even hot medieval princesses might get a few lines on their faces or find the shapes of their bodies changing. But this movie chose to focus on the hotness instead. They gave Bill and Ted new wives, who were still hot, even though they were in their 40s! (Please read Gen X sarcasm there.)

And I mean no disrespect to the women who ultimately played the wives this time around. They’re both very funny women and I’ve enjoyed their work in other things and even, briefly, in this, where they were given almost nothing to do but complain that their husbands were losers. (Man, women are such a drag, aren’t they?! – Gen X sarcasm again)

But I am furious on behalf of the women who originated those parts, whether they wanted them or not. The film’s treatment of them as expendable is so common and so careless and I noticed it constantly as I watched the movie. In early scenes with Bill’s wife and daughter, I found myself asking “Which one is the daughter again?” Jemima Mays may be 41 but she still looks like she could be twenty something.

And so, despite the sort of feminist message of the men passing on the torch to young women, the movie made clear that older women can take a hike. Women who look like they could be the mothers of children in their mid-twenties are not to be looked at or admired on the screen. They’re not the sort of mothers Bill and Ted would fight for their marriages for. They somehow need hot chicks for the plot to make sense that way.

In some ways, the new Bill and Ted movie wants to be feminist. It wants to say that the future is female and that the people to change the world will be the young women. It has something to say about fathers fighting to keep their families together. That’s often a trope for female characters and it is refreshing to see two dudes try and save their marriages and their children. It feels like a shift.

But if the future is female, it is only for hot young women, not older women. Holland Taylor plays the ruler in the future and she is fabulous as ever but her character does not look like a hero in the end. The movie seems to suggest that old women need to step aside and be replaced by younger women who are more chill and know what’s going on.

Were there some fun moments? Sure. I would watch a spin-off buddy comedy between the couples therapist and the killer robot. And surely the original movie was not a beacon of feminist thought. They have made progress. But someone get me a phone booth so I can go back in time and tell these guys that feminism is not just for young women. It’s for everyone. The movie that denies them is bogus.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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


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


Want to help me fight sexism and ageism?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page


If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi –


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