Dispatches from The Awesome Lady Squad #3: In which the vision grows and begins to come into focus

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Did you feel it?

On January 26th at 9pm did you sense the pulling undertow of a wave the coming change? Or perhaps it was subtler, more like an aftershock. A tiny rumble under the feet that you almost could have missed.

Did you sit back and say, “Hey… Did Philadelphia just get a little more… Awesome?”

Well whether you noticed or not the unequivocal answer to that question is a big fat defiant “Oh, HELL Yes.” Because on January 26th the Awesome Lady Squad gathered again for the second time. We chatted some more, shared topics and questions with those who couldn’t make it to the last meeting and even more excitingly began to come up with ideas for how we begin to spread.

Today’s mission on the blog: a recap of the last meeting.

Tomorrow’s: a roll out of some potential projects for the future.

So let’s get to it!

Below is a summary of the three main questions we talked about in the general order we tackled them:

i) What is your work? Does being female affect you as an artist/creator? Does it change the kind of work you make or the way in which you make it? If applicable, has that shifted in any way over time?

ii) How do you get it made? How does your female identity intersect with the ways you get your work into being? Do you think being a female artist differs from being a male one? If applicable, has that changed in any way since you started your career?

iii) What should the future look like? If money, time and other people’s attitudes were no barrier and the world could be exactly as you wish, what would be the working theater community look like? Try and answer as often as possible with “It would have –“ or “It would be – “ versus “It wouldn’t – “

And, as with the notes from the last one, these are some of the things we expressed, written down to the best of my note taking ability and grouped together by my own intuitive categories.

Making Your Own Work

–       I’m curious to know how many people didn’t want to make their own work but started to because of lack of opportunity? (About half the room raises their hands.)

–       My dance company really values showing the opposite of the expected, of the equality inherent in our values. The women also lift the guys because we want to show that women are equally capable.

–       One of the reasons we started making our own work was to look at our perspective as women, especially as sexual people. Turns out that’s very hard and very complicated. I’m 36 now versus 26 when I started. Now I feel a stronger commitment to these issues now than when I was younger. Now I’m seeing more people, especially women creating their own work

–       Does being female affect the work I make? The way I make it? Has it changed over time? Yes. Yes. and Yes. The reason I founded a company was to create opportunities that were lacking in my life.  I wanted to get away from a spirit of competition that was not welcome to me. Philly has always been different than so many other places that I’d done theater. I picked here because that kind of competition wasn’t here when I started.

–       I run a summer theater camp, about 2 years ago I started writing a children’s musical, the lead character was a guy, the best friend was a guy. I realized, I don’t think I’m telling a story that I as a little girl could identify with. So last summer I made sure that the two leads were both female.

The Need to Impress

–       I recently had two young interns, one male and one female. And of course this is anecdotal, but I was so struck how the young woman spent almost all her time trying to impress me and figuring out how to help me do things and the young man spent all this time asking questions about things he wanted to know.

–       It’s the audition paradigm. I feel pressure in this inherent idea that you have to impress. That even when you’re doing the work, good work people like, you’re still auditioning every day. That paradox, that are in tension with each other plague me wherever I go.

–       My personal experience is that you’re applying for a job or going after a role and you’ve got 80% of the stuff they want, a man will apply. But women will say that I don’t know 20% of the job and not apply. That instinct to focus on the 20% unknown versus the 80% we do is part of the issue. In particular as a younger woman I get nervous about speaking something that is truthful for fear of offending. I wonder if maybe the outcome is not as bad as we fear.

–       I was at an audition sitting with 4 or 5 actresses and we’d all done the work of reading the show before showing up. As we were talking we realized that we didn’t love the play. In fact, it was pretty bad and the female roles in particular were really bad. And as we’re talking about it, an actor that works all the time comes in. I asked if he’d read the play (no) and later found out he booked it that day and we didn’t. The point isn’t that I didn’t get cast. It’s like, why did I do all this work on something I didn’t care about? Why show up and get judged for something I don’t know that I even want to do. Young women want to impress. You’re constantly trying to insert “I am smart and just as good” into the conversation but you have to think about who you’re having the conversation with in the first place.

–       Often I’m auditioning for a piece I didn’t conceive, for fewer female parts and parts I don’t really like. So now if I read it and I can’t sit in a comfortable place with it, I remember I don’t have to submit for it. If I’m not enthusiastic about it then why am I doing it? I would rather have les work that I’m more passionate about.

Being on the Management/Administrative Side

–       I feel like I come from a different place because I’m a managing director, my experience has been that I came in and there were too many men. I’m really glad I’m here because there are now women. It’s a constant conversation in the office. The way that plays and playwrights are talked about. There’s something really strong advantages to “oh you’re here and at the table.”

–       In the dance world there are a million female dancers, and so many times I see people get to a point where you have a company and working with all women, and then feel like they have to bring in a male dancer to legitimatize dance or funding or get audience

–       I come from a different context, a new discipline, and when I decided I wanted to make performance, I was the only person doing that in Philadelphia at the time. There was no place that could support my work because I need aerial rigging. So we had to make every opportunity for ourselves, had to educate all our reviewers and audiences, and because all our work is inherently about women’s bodies and shapes, I don’t feel conflicted about that at all. I do feel disconnected sometimes but I’m free not to have to have someone else’s conversation.

–       WHY do grants for women always seem to have to have a social change aspect??

Being A Spokeswoman

–       In my company I became the self-appointed gender watchdog. I always made sure that there were equal female playwrights and directors and designers and roles. Sometimes I could feel eyes rolling.

–       As a brand new company doing classical work, I want to help this company and tell these stories equally. But it’s really hard. What I need help with is figuring out how do you talk about it. What to do when I feel the eye roll. What to say when just a little attempt is not enough. How do I be assertive and say this is important? To get out of the place where I feel like I need to apologize.

–       I am trained as performers and show my feelings. And that ends up hurting me sometimes. This matters to me and I hate feeling myself getting red and blushy and upset.

–       I want to find ways to have open and non-defensive discussions about this. Getting men to understand that they don’t understand means more advocates on our side. It’s not a fight against, it’s fighting to bring them with.

–       Being young, I’ve been in a position of having to learn a lot. If I get a gig I take it, if I take it then it seems like I have to deal with anything that happens. I’ve been doing a lot of backstage work – set design and carpentry. There are physical and weight carrying aspects that I see people not letting me take part in. I want to find a way to voice that I’ve not been treated like the others, that people won’t let me be the same. I’m trying to figure out how to voice this as a student, who admittedly doesn’t know as much.

Talking About How Identity and Labels Play Into the Work

–       I struggle with having to make work about being a woman. Can it just be about me as a person, who happens to be a woman, or does it have to be a statement?

–       It’s something I think about a lot. When I’m making work, I’m trying to think of things about sex and romance and body image, female topics, it’s something I struggle with internally, “Here she goes again talking about her hips.”

–       No guy says “Am I just doing this because I’m a man?” I see so many women come in and apologize

–       Because I’m Latina, I have to do Latina work. You don’t have the freedom of being a white man, it’s like being a white canvas, as soon as it’s a white woman, there’s more paint, with a Latina, there’s more even more paint

–       Sometimes with women who’ve had to fight SO hard there’s a sense of I had to bust my ass and get here and you should too

What we’d like to see instead

–       Funding targeted for women that doesn’t carry a social change element

–       Female director and actors in equal numbers

–       A genuine curiosity in discussions we have with people about these issues. Not assuming the worst.

–       Women in funding positions, in places of deciding power over the work that gets made.

–       A chance to practice these conversations and develop language that I am confident in ahead of time.

–       New ways to fund and produce work that could subvert some of the power systems that currently undercut the issues we’ve discussed. Starting a conversation “this is the way that funding has worked” and “here’s how it might work in the future”

–       A re-frame of how we look at each other, remove the model of scarcity, to a model of abundance. That no matter what work I make, not matter what economic level I make it at, to know that we are not in competition.

So there’s what we said. And tomorrow, check back in for some ways that we (and hopefully you too) can start to take action.

– A

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