Songs for the Struggling Artist


The Women’s Lane

Rebecca Solnit recently posted this essay that Mary Beard wrote back in 2014. It’s about women speaking in public and the ways classical culture was built around telling women to shut up. Also about how that trend has continued.

It’s brilliant for all the reasons Mary Beard is often brilliant but the thing that feels like new information for me is the bit about women generally only being allowed to have a voice on matters that pertain to women. The one exception to the impulse to silence women is when they speak of things that are in their lane. Women are (sometimes) permitted to talk about women’s rights but not about the war.

This makes me think about Phyllis Schlafly. Or at least the Schlafly that was depicted in the (somewhat problematic) TV series, Mrs. America. Schlafly was very interested in foreign policy. One might even call her an expert in it. While I certainly wouldn’t have agreed with her about it, she did seem to know an awful lot about these things. She ran for Congress twice. And lost. But then she gained fame by campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). That is, when she started focusing on women’s issues, then folks took notice. (Much to the detriment of American women.)

I’m trying to figure out how this concept of a women’s lane applies to my own writing practice. I haven’t seen a lot of success on any subject, really – but I have seen a relative spike in recognition on subjects related to women, usually some wrong that’s been done to me or to women in general. In other words, I get listened to the most when I’ve been the victim to someone or something. I’ve always assumed that I’m just at my best when I’m fired up about feminist issues but now I’m not so sure. Is my furious writing on women noticeably better than my fired-up writing about artist’s issues or, say, PDFs? I’m not sure it is, frankly.

As a woman who struggles to be heard, to be noticed, to be recognized, I am always alert to what factors might be supporting my visibility and what factors obscure me further. I have often felt that my tendency to write plays about women, with a bald-faced feminist slant, is what has kept me shut out of the pipeline. My sense has been that theatres don’t tend to want to produce overtly feminist work. But this doesn’t square with what I’m learning about this women’s lane. Or does it? I guess, in the theatre, it’s the women’s plays that are explicit about their woman-ness that cross over into the mainstream: The Vagina Monologues, ‘Night Mother, Crimes of the Heart, Uncommon Women.

Now that I think about it, this does help me to understand something that has often felt mysterious to me. How did a play like The Vagina Monologues break through when so much of American Theatre is so hostile to women and women’s work? How was it that theatres put on seasons of almost exclusively men, and also The Vagina Monologues? It’s very logical, I realize now. You cannot get more in the women’s lane than The Vagina Monologues. It’s a kind of apotropaic magic, a spell against feminist criticism. You put on The Vagina Monologues – which is cheap to produce and markets itself and no one can excuse you of sexism for at least a few years. It is the perfect balance for your Mamet season. Most theater companies would rather produce The Vagina Monologues many times over than to produce a woman’s play about something not particularly womany.

Maybe I just need to write a play called The Woman Woman. I mean, The Women is a fabulous (and very successful) play from the 30s. Maybe it’s really just a matter of laying out the category in the title? It’s something to consider. Look forward to my upcoming trilogy: The Woman Woman, Girls and Women and Girls and Ladies in Ladyland. It can’t be so simple, can it? Honestly if this worked, I’d change so many titles in a flash.

My play about Medusa could be called Girls Getting Stoned or I could just rename any old play Women’s Bodies. Or Boobs. My next play is now called Boobs.  

This is an illustration from Oscar Wilde’s Salome. If he was a woman, he’d just have to call it Boobs.

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Rejection Midsummer 2018
August 10, 2018, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , , , , , ,

FEWW – The Leah Blackburn

I don’t know what to tell you about this award. I apply every year – because I am a woman and a playwright. But so does every other woman in the country. So…nope!

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Woman Arts

I submitted a song to the Woman Arts song contest. They were looking for a song to celebrate women and the current moment and my song was really more angry than celebrating so I’m not surprised I did not win.

But this is my first music based rejection in a while!

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Millay Rejection – always – again. Rejected again.

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In theory, the Women’s Project should be just the right situation for me. In practice, I’ve rarely been a fan of the work I’ve seen them do. I thought maybe the tide was turning when I saw one of my favorite artists there – someone they supported in a way she’d never been supported before. They produced a whole new work of hers there. I saw it twice.

So I thought – maybe it’s a whole new aesthetic now – maybe it’s worth applying for their thing – maybe, if they got Monica Bill Barnes, they’ll get me, too.

But they didn’t. Or don’t. Or I don’t know.

Anyway – it may, in fact, be business as usual over there. I’m pretty sure they also rejected another kick-ass feminist playwright I know – so it could be that they’re still pretty status quo-y over there.

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In other rejection news, I applied for this kind of intense residency in Tulsa. I didn’t particularly LONG to move to Tulsa for an extended period – but I do long for extended support and recognition so I would have been delighted to get it.

But apparently 700 other people also would have been delighted to get it because 700 people applied. We could all start a new town with that amount of people.

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Accidental Preemptory Rejection

Before I submitted my Comedy of Errors play to American Shakespeare Company for the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries project, I went to their website, saw a whole different set of plays for the project and I promptly flipped out. I thought I’d missed the deadline for the Comedy of Errors play and I was distraught. So I started a Midsummer Night’s Dream play – because – a – I don’t know. I’m a sucker for punishment?

Anyway – I realized soon enough that I hadn’t missed the deadline for Comedy of Errors plays. I’d just stumbled upon the next round. So once I’d finished the Errors play (and various other projects) I returned to the Midsummer one. I was pushing my luck – but I figured I could do one last push before the deadline on August 5th. That was before I got on the website on August 1st and discovered that the deadline was actually August 1st. And the amount of work the play still needed was way way more than I could do in a couple of hours. And so I missed that deadline and wrote (most of) that Midsummer sequel in vain. I’ll still finish it – because you never know. But it is a bummer. I’m not sure how I got that deadline so wrong. But I did. Alas.

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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.

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

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