Category Archives: Producer
I have learned so much this week from curating an interview series on the Works by Women San Francisco site, TACTICS: Theatre Artists’ Collected Thoughts Insights Challenges and Strategies for gender parity advocacy.
I expected to learn a lot about what individual advocates have been doing for decades, what the idea of gender equity has been doing for centuries, and what new initiatives are popping up now in the age of technology and constant connection. I did not expect to learn how easy it is to be blind to your own biases, even when you think you’re aware of them.
The first eight TACTICS profiles we posted are stellar. I am very proud of the series so far, and very excited about the pieces that are still in the pipeline. The interviews feature a mix of longtime advocates, artistic directors, and individual artists. I was pleased to notice that they feature women from different generations and a couple of LGBT voices. I also noticed that these wonderful, intelligent, articulate, passionate women all happen to be white.
Happen to be. This is the phrase that artistic leaders use when they’re excusing their season of plays that happen to be written by, directed by, designed by, and starring mostly white men over 40. This is the phrase they use when they want to say “I don’t want gender and race to interfere with my artistic choices.” This is the phrase that suggests that women and people of color just aren’t making the kind of work that the artistic director wants to do at his/her theatre – it won’t resonate with their subscribers, or it’s not good enough.
I didn’t intend to interview mostly white advocates for gender parity. Going in, I was even consciously aware of this long-standing bias in the feminist movement. I deliberately brainstormed women of color to ask for interviews. I emailed many incredible women of diverse backgrounds. I followed up on leads from friends saying, “Have you talked to so and so yet?” As responses started to come in, my focus shifted to the logistics of getting the features up on the site. This has been a busy week for gender parity on Howlround’s blog and weekly Twitter conversation – as well as being my first week of rehearsal for The Helen Project. I stopped thinking specifically about artists of color. The diversity of the TACTICS profiles was still in my mind, but no longer at the front of my mind.
And then today, a good friend emailed me with congratulations on the interview series, and the question, “Will we see an artist of color soon?”
The easy answer is YES, in fact, the very next interview is from an artist of color. But the real answer is yes, I can do better. I can look harder. I can reach out to people I already know and I can educate myself on the organizations that are specifically serving female artists of color. I found some really inspiring companies around the country that focus on Asian American, Black, and Latina playwrights. I’m now following them on Twitter so I can continue to keep them in my field of vision and help stop the blindness coming back.
Let me be clear: I don’t want a cookie for making a little extra effort. I was missing something, got a nudge from a friend, and took some simple steps to self-correct. It remains to be seen how successful I can be at improving diversity in the interview series. It remains to be seen how I will keep diversity in the front of my mind, vying for attention with my conscious and unconscious biases. This is the effort I always need to be making, to counterbalance the input I am getting from the whitewashed world around me.
This is the effort I am asking artistic directors to make when they’re choosing their seasons. If their seasons just happen to be filled with middle-aged white men, then questions of gender and racial diversity are not getting enough space at the front of their minds.
I know many artistic directors who are consciously trying to improve representation for women and people of color in their seasons. Sometimes they make it, sometimes they don’t. I know that season planning is insanely complex, and that gender and racial representation are intertwined with a whole host of other challenges, too. Lack of parity is a symptom of a white-male-dominated national culture, not a deliberate intention of any theatre to program more men than women in their season, or more white artists than artists of color. No individual is responsible for our white-male-dominated culture, and no individual theatre’s season can fix that culture. So why shouldn’t your local theatre do Eugene O’Neill instead of Maria Irene Fornes? What difference does that production make?
We’re asking our artistic leaders to have faith that their actions will help to change the tide, even if it takes a long time, and even if it takes extra effort. We’re looking to theatres to break the self-perpetuating cycle by deliberately programming greater diversity into their season, even when it’s hard. It requires not just awareness but active commitment and constant vigilance.
Day 4 of Directors Lab, for me, was all about embracing my own intensity. After the Theatre Bay Area conference last week (I think it was last week – I’m not really sure what day it is anymore), I was “feeling like a crazy person.” After four days of the Lab with 36 of my peers and some incredible guest artists, I’m coming around to the idea that “feeling like a crazy person” might just be the only way I’ll know that I’m doing it right. Ah! Two big reliefs in one revelation: 1) that it’s OK to feel crazy and 2) oh my goodness, can you believe it, there is a way to know that I’m doing it right!
Yesterday began with Anastasia Coon’s movement workshop, an eclectic mix of exercises ranging from running from an “enemy” and getting close to a “beloved” (an exercise we’ve actually done three times now at the lab, but Anastasia was the first to endow it with emotional stakes) to neutral mask work. Oh man, mask work! I have only ever put a mask on one other time, in Eli Simon’s clowning class at UCI. Both times I was astonished by the immediate and powerful emotional response, and the inventive physicality the mask can produce (when you can’t use your face, you use your body). I’m seriously considering getting a set of masks for training and rehearsal to explore more. Let’s see how long it takes me to work that expense into a grant request…
Later in the afternoon, we visited A Noise Within at their beautiful, brand new theater. The building is incredible, sleek and modern, outfitted with a spacious and inviting lobby, rehearsal rooms, administrative offices and library all with a lovely picture-window views of the hills, a costume and scenic shop, kitchen and dressing rooms, as well as the theater itself, a 280-seat thrust stage. We had two and a half inspiring hours with the artistic directors of A Noise Within, husband-and-wife team Julia Rodrigues-Elliott and Geoff Elliott. Our session with them was entitled “What Doesn’t Kill You,” after Geoff’s assertion that “what doesn’t kill you just didn’t kill you.” A few fantastic nuggets from our conversation:
- “Starting a theater is real estate.” You’re always figuring out where you are going to be. A Noise Within started out in a Masonic Temple and recently completed a $13.5 million building in time for their 20th season.
- “We didn’t mean to do this.” This sentiment is one that I have heard echoed throughout the Lab, and elsewhere in my conversations with people who have started their own theaters. As someone who has set out to create her own company, I wonder if my experience will be easier/faster/better because of my deliberate intention, or if “whoops, I started a theater” is an essential element for success!
- “Everything is hard. You might as well do something you want to do, that you think will make a difference. You’re probably going to knock your brains out either way. Being a banker is hard, too.”
- On repertory acting company: “You want both the energy of new people challenging the status quo, but there are things that happen with an ensemble of people who trust each other that could never happen in a 5-week rehearsal period.” And “any longterm relationship is hard work. You have to continually reinvest in those relationships.”
- On audiences: “When they have opinions on the type of toilet paper we should have in our new bathrooms, you could get upset – or you could realize how great it is that they feel like the theater is their home.” With a repertory company, some of whom worked the box office in the earlier days, the audience has a long-term relationship with the actors. They have seen them onstage again and again.
- On growth: “It’s easy to get into a desperate mentality and make bad decisions. You have to step back and invest in the long-term infrastructure.” As in Hamlet, “readiness is all.” “It’s all about hard work, and then faith.” (There’s that idea again, faith.)
I’m not sure that my journey will lead me to a $13.5 million dollar brand new facility. Who knows what the next 15 years will bring for me and for Inkblot Ensemble. The possibilities are endless – and all possible. I have faith. I have drive. I have vision and taste and compassion and leadership. I embrace my intensity. I am high on the future.