#2amt

Thank you for not assuming

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I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an Awesome Lady ally. And I think one of the first steps in becoming an ally to the squad is by looking around and acknowledging the subtle gifts, the extra little pushes, that male artists get that female artists aren’t.

In a recent article I read about the ally movement for racial discrimination, the author “nance” (I looked, I couldn’t find her real name) talks about a funny moment in which her husband rides his bike home one day faster than ever before. He wonders briefly if finally all his months of riding have paid off, if his fitness prowess is seriously improved, as evidenced by his speed and agility during the ride. Soon though, he whizzes past a flag pole and sees the way the the flags are blowing. As he stops he realizes that a strong wind has been blowing at his back the entire time.

In other words, it’s not just his improved muscle tone that’s helping the ride go so exquisitely, it’s an invisible but forceful push that he at first didn’t even realize was there.

The author also references this somewhat “classic” article on the assumptions of white privilege in which the writer sets down a list of ways her skin color gives her advantage in situations, small and large, on a regular basis.

Inspired by these articles, and the corollary of them when it comes to gender privilege I came up with a little list of my own. I call it:

BEING A DUDE IN THEATER IS LIKE RIDING A BIKE WITH THE WIND AT YOUR BACK

Or

STUFF THAT AWESOME LADY ALLIES MIGHT NOT REALIZE AND THAT THEY OUGHT TO BE AWARE OF

–       If I am a director I am most often working on material written by someone of the same gender.

–       If I am an actor I am generally in the majority gender of the cast.

–       If I am a writer no one will read my play and assume I chose the subject matter based on my sex.

–       If I am a designer I will attend production meetings in which my gender is not in the minority.

–       It will not be assumed I want to work plays that have to do with my gender.

–       If I do want to make work having to do with my gender it will not be assumed this is the extent of the kind of work I intend to make.

–       If I eventually make work about my gender I do not have to worry about this defining how people will think of me as a creator for the rest of my career.

–       No one assumes that a grant to work on projects about my gender should be linked with social change.

–       If I bring up an issue with a gender stereotype I will not be told that I’m inserting my perspective into a piece that’s not about that.

–       I am not often asked to play sexually provocative roles.

–       I am rarely asked to wear revealing clothing onstage.

–       If I am aggressive or meek no one will assume that quality comes by virtue of my gender.

–       If I work collaboratively with people of the opposite sex, no one assumes they are the real driving force behind our work.

–       If I direct a play with mostly or all women, I do not have to worry that people will assume I’m doing that just because of my gender.

–       If I direct a play with mostly or all men, I do not have to worry if I’m being a traitor to artists of my gender.

–       I do not have to worry that my successes or failures may reflect on other creators of my gender.

–       I do not have to feel responsible to other artists of my gender at all.

–       I can assume my gender will not be a factor against me getting a job.

–       I can assume my gender will not be a hindrance to me acquiring roles in which the gender is not a major factor of their character.

–       I can assume if I am cross-gender cast that people will look at this casting as an artistic choice and not a gender diversity handout.

–       I can assume when talking about the artistic canon that it is made by people of the same gender as mine.

–       I can assume that when people talk about the “Greats” of my field they will be the same gender as I am.

–       I can assume that the most produced theatrical writer in the world is the same gender as I am.

–       I can take an interest in classical works and not worry that my gender will prohibit me from getting work in this field.

–       I can assume that works in the canon represent a diversity in type of roles for people of my gender.

–       I can assume there are a wealth of lead roles for people of my gender.

–       I can assume when learning about my medium I will be studying artists predominantly of my gender.

–       I can assume my mentors will predominantly be the same gender as I am.

–       It will not be surprising or impressive if I am good with the financial side of my company’s daily upkeep.

–       It will not be impressive or remarkable if I go into sound, light or set design.

–       I will never have to suspect I’m being paid less because of my gender.

–       I don’t have to decide whether it is more advantageous to dress to accentuate my gender or not.

–       If I’m an asshole, this trait will never be linked to my gender.

–       I will never be called shrill.

–       I will never be called bossy.

–       I will never be called bitchy.

–       No one assumes I’m not funny because of my gender.

–       I don’t ever feel like I have to choose between being funny or sexy.

–       No one automatically assumes I have interest in or will be good at working with children.

–       I can assume that if I have kids people will not worry that my priorities as an artist will be impacted.

–       It will not be automatically assumed that I will be motherly, nurturing or emotional supportive.

–       If I am an actor, as I age I will likely be in more demand not less.

–       It is not assumed because of my gender that I cannot carry heavy things or do manual labor.

–       If I have no interest in manual labor or carrying heavy things (because I’m just not fucking interested in it) it is also not assumed that I feel this way because of my gender.

–       When the gender parity going gets tough or the inequity feels too heavy to deal with on a given day, I don’t have to think about it.

And finally, this list is obviously just my own opinion because I intend to invoke the final privilege of the list:

–       No one assumes I speak on behalf of all people of my gender. I can assume I only speak for me.

See you tomorrow allies!

A

Jealousy

Hey folks,

Since there are so many newbies to the Swim Pony blog joining us for our month of lady artist awesomeness, I figured I’d re-share a post from last year that garnered a lot of attention.

It’s not specifically related to being a female artists, but I’m sharing it because I think it’s going to be one of the major principles laid out in the Awesome Lady Squad’s manifesto (coming this weekend!). One of the ways I think we all get cheated out of the arts community we really want is by being sold on the idea that there isn’t enough to go around. And if there isn’t enough for all of us, we end up feeling like we have to fight each other to get any.

Let’s decide this isn’t the case.

Let’s assume there’s enough Awesome for everyone at the table.

Hope to see you next Sunday and Monday.

– A

mon Some people have all the luck

I will admit it. It’s really hard sometimes to be happy for your artistic peers. There are times when someone you know well gets a job, or some big funding, a fellowship and you just think to yourself, “Damnit. I am just as good as them. This is not fucking fair.”

There are times when I hear about people’s successes and my first instinct is to figure out how I could get a hold of the same opportunity. There are also times I despair at the seeming lack of luck, a random set of factors that make their stuff trendy and my stuff totally prohibited from some desirable professional stepping stone:  I don’t do straight plays, I don’t have an MFA, I’m not great with Shakespeare, I don’t act, I’m not part of an ensemble, whatever. It’s harder, not easier, the closer the people…

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Rounding Up #TheSummit

Hey all,

At about the halfway point in the month and looking back at what I’ve been writing so far, I thought it might also be interesting to share Ilana Brownstein’s round up of all the reactions to #thesummit so far.

PS – Mine’s in there too…

Drama Lit Blog 2.0: BU School of Theatre

On Feb 17, 2014, Peter Marks of The Washington Post hosted an event called The Summit — it was a public conversation with several of D.C.’s leading artistic directors. As Peter noted in an article for The Washington Post, “Several months ago, Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage, approached me with an intriguing offer: organizing and moderating a series of discussions, with theater people and topics of my choosing, onstage before an audience at her theater.” It was the first of three planned public fora — the others are scheduled for March 24 (focusing on actors), and April 28 (playwrights and directors). The event with Artistic Directors was not livestreamed, but it was live-tweeted by several attendees, chief among them Elissa Goetschiusartistic director of Baltimore’s Strand Theater. It’s probably fair to say that no one involved expected the event to blow up twitter as it…

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Choice

So I’ve been reading the many articles that have been appearing on HowlRound recently about women directors

First this one

Then this one

And finally this one

All of these to some degree are about the language we use as female directors in our rehearsal rooms.  I’ve been thinking, brewing, about this for a few days now. Thinking about my own rehearsals as a female director. Of my responses to the article and responses to the responses, and then if humanly possible my response to the response’s response.  I’ve been formulating my own opinions about how I feel in response to these articles. And it occurs to me this afternoon that to explain my feelings about how to talk about language, I need to first talk not about words but about voice.

This semester I have a student named Maranda who has the most amazing voice.

Her sound is generally placed pretty low in her chest. It’s not raspy or throaty but it’s lower and further back than the typical standard of placement for most American speakers. I should probably mention she is Jamaican and sports a relatively thick Patois accent, too.

She is usually one of the first to arrive so on the days I teach at her school, I watch students walk into the black box for voice class and greet her sitting in the second row of the seating area.

“Hello, Ma-RAAAN-dah,” most of them say.

“Hello,” she says back and smiles. 

So far this semester I’ve led Maranda and her classmates in exercises on playing resonance in different parts of the body, in articulation exercises, and projection. I’ve tried to give them skills to open up access to all the sounds their voices are capable of.

One of the first realizations to come in my class is there is no such thing as a person’s “voice” in the singular sense. Around week 3 my students always begin to write about their voices in plural. They talk about how their sounds change over a range of different contexts and in relation to different people. The voice they use for a boss or teacher is quite different than the one they might employ for their friends, entirely different from the one they use with their parents, and different still than one for performance. These voices, they are begin to realize, are not the same. Consciously or not they are employing different sounds to try and achieve a different relationship with the listener.

And it is around this time that they read an article about vocal habits and explain what the author Patsy Rodenberg means when she says that habits are only a problem when they are no longer a choice. It is also around this time that I begin to hammer home a point that I will make through the rest of the course, a moral that underpins everything about the way I approach voice work: there is no such thing as a voice that is “better” than another voice. Ethically, morally, aesthetically, there are no “bad” voices.

There are simply voices that are useful in communicating and achieving what you want, and voices that aren’t.

Which means a high-pitched tiny “girly” voice can be fantastically useful in some contexts just as much as a low basso commanding one. A quiet sound just as powerful as a loud one depending on what you’re using it to do. It just depends on what you’re after.

Most of the students, to some degree, read the article and understand that the point I’m after is that your voice, your tendencies, your style is just as “good,” as long as it’s serving you to get what you want and as long as it is your choice. So when they start making sounds that at first feel funny in their bodies and mouths I say that I don’t care if they talk that way, but I do care that they have the option. When I make them stand in front of each other and speak I ask them constantly what they are trying to make the audience think and feel. The class and I collectively listen to each person and think and talk about ways we can use the voice to get us to the goal the speaker is aiming for.

Each vocal quality is a different choice that will provoke a different effect. That effect is their choice to make. I’m simply trying to give them tools to have as many ways to do that as possible.

This is what I think about when I think about the conversation regarding language and female directors. Each kind of language is a choice. Each one will elicit a different response. Each one is useful in some ways and not in others. It just depends on the tactic the particular directing is using to get to the end goal.

Can assertive language be effective? Sometimes. It can also be aggressive and off-putting.

Can accommodating language be perceived as weak? Sometimes. It can also be welcoming of a variety of perspectives and lead to an open and collaborative environment.

There are processes where I mostly ask questions. There are others where I mostly tell everyone what to do. And I don’t think the answer is picking an answer as to which is “right.” Because inevitably that “right” won’t be right for some people and some works of art. What troubles me in the task of trying to define the best type of female directing language is that it actually removes the choices that we so desperately seek to empower these female artists with. Better, I’d say, to ask whether the kind of language you use is getting you what you want. Better, perhaps, to ask if the language you use is one that you feel you own and have agency over. Better, I’d propose, to ask if your language is a habit over which you have choice.

Most recently, my voice class has been focused on an assignment where students bring in pieces of text that they have to present in front of each other. The text cannot be their own writing and this means that each of them must think about how to shift their voices to best communicate the language they have chosen to share with their audience. Last week, when Maranda went up she looked just a tiny bit nervous.

“Can I ask something first?”

“Sure.”

“The character in my book… Do you care if I talk like a white girl?”

Everyone giggles for a second.

“You can present the text however you want to.”

And Maranda’s voice, with its resonant and lilting Jamaican accent that has charmed the class for weeks, transforms into a nasal flat Midwesterner. Close your eyes and you literally wouldn’t believe it was the same person.

Our mouths collectively hit the floor.

The next class I watch again as the students enter.

“Hello, Ma-RAAAN-dah,” they say as always. And she laughs as I tell her it’s obvious they are jealous of her sound.

And she smiles because she I can see she knows it is true. And I’d guess it’s not only because of the beautiful voice that comes naturally but also because she has the power to shape the way they hear her. She could sound a different way if she wanted to. She can be those other kinds of voices when she chooses. She can go to all the places my exercises ask her to. But when she finishes, she doesn’t stay in those other sounds.

She goes back to the accent.

Because she has the choice.

– A

One more small thing you can do RIGHT NOW

How often does an Artistic Director get a heartfelt email, call or letter about their company?

Probably not as often as you think.

It seems like a lot to take the time out of a busy schedule and send a missive. Despite the ubiquity of communication in our technological world, if I don’t actively seek their opinions out, it’s pretty rare that I get to hear directly from folks who aren’t my friends and colleauges about my work.

Which is why if one person writes a really impassioned thoughtful email I really pay attention.

Yesterday I gave you a tiny task: email the heads of theater companies you care about and let them know you’re watching their season selections for gender parity.

Today you can take that a step further.

Every one of you has people in your life that go see theater. Chances are at least a few of them are also non-arts professionals. And chances are also that many of them probably also care about seeing equal representation of women in the arts. 

Today, I want you to reach out to one or two of them and ask them to speak up for the role of women in the arts as well. Ask them to write to an AD or a board member or a Managing Director (or all three). Send them the letter I gave you yesterday to make it easier for them to do so.  Maybe look up the email addresses of the people they’d send that letter to so it’s even easier.

And then sit back and bask in the knowledge that you’ve just made a huge difference. Because I promise, such a letter will definitely mean a lot to those folks who receive them.

– A

One small thing (that’s also huge) that you can literally do RIGHT now

I’ve spent a lot of time the past couple weeks writing about my feelings. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the things that I’m trying to do to make Philadelphia a more equal place for artists who are women.

Today, instead, I’m asking you to do something.

Take a look at the websites of your favorite performance companies. See what seasons they have lined up. Or see if they haven’t announced them yet.

And for ones that are still undecided, and ESPECIALLY for ones that have announced seasons with imbalance toward men, send a quick email to the Artistic Director, Managing Director, and head of their board.

Tell them you are their audience base.

Tell them you want to see women employed by their company.

Tell them it matters to you that this happens.

You can do this today. It might take you 15 minutes It could change an entire year of programming.  That’s how powerful your voice could be.

And if you aren’t feeling creative, I’ll even give something badass and awesome to cut and paste into an email:

“Dear _______ Theater Co/Ensemble/Theatre/Whatever,

I love your work.

I also love female art makers.

And I’d really love to love both of those things at the same time.

I want you to know, because of how much I care about your company, that I’m concerned about the inequity of representation for women artists in next year’s theater season. As a member of your audience base, I’m letting you know that one of the ways I will make choices about what I will or won’t see will be based on whether I see women getting the space on stages they deserve.

I care about seeing female characters. I care about hearing female voices. I want to see women in directing and design positions.  And because I want to believe you want this to, I’m reaching out.

I’m asking you, as an audience member, as a fan, and as part of the community your mission seeks to serve, to please look long and hard about the work you’re bringing me next year and make sure that gender parity – for playwrights, for designers, for directors and actors – is a priority in the work you present.

Because I know it is for me.

And I hope you make me proud.”

Steal, change it, do whatever you want, just DO it. Right now, this very moment, you could make a difference.

– A

The Problem Still Exists

Hey All,

I recently wrote a little something for TCG’s blog on gender parity in the arts. Obvs, I figured I’d share it here as well.

If you prefer to read it on an orange background with a silly picture of me sitting backwards in a chair you can click here. Otherwise, the full text is below:

———–

The Problem Still Exists

 (This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)

Diversity & Inclusion blog salon: Gender Parity in the American Theatre

JACQUELINE LAWTON: Year after year, research shows that approximately 17% of all plays produced in the United States and the United Kingdom are written by women. We’re stuck at this number and it’s hard to comprehend. Last year, Forum Theatre convened a symposium to investigate the gender imbalance in theatre and posed this question: Is there a female dramaturgy (ie. a specific point of view that female writers bring to theatre)? If so, what does it look, sound and feel like?  Who holds the agency for it?

ADRIENNE MACKEY: I think that any artist can’t help but create out of the materials of their own experience. Being a woman in the world means dealing with assumptions about how women are and can be.

I work in the devising community so my plays don’t come fully formed and ready for rehearsal. The space between the story/material at the work’s center and those tasked with representing it is a much smaller one and therefore less tricky to navigate. What is the makeup – it’s look, sound and feel – of the female dramaturgy in these works? Its the mixture of the women taking part in the process. And the agency for it is held by the particular women creating that particular piece at that particular moment.

JL: Where do you live? How do you feel your community has addressed the issues of gender parity? How has this particular issue impacted you and your ability to practice your craft?

AM:I live in Philadelphia where it feels the artistic community exists in two spheres – the half that works in the traditional regional theater mode of season programing and the half that works in a generative and original collaboration style without a set amount of content to be produced. Though the two halves are very fluid (many performers traverse between these two worlds often) I make this distinction because I see gender parity playing out very differently depending on which of these two worlds you’re operating in. Most of the women here in Philly, myself included, who feel a high degree of ownership over their artistic output and less at the mercy of others’ biases towards women artists are making their own stuff. They are self-generators and self-producers and they aren’t stuck waiting for roles or slots in a company’s season.

Last year on my blog I surveyed 12 different season-based theaters over the past six years in Philly for numbers on women directors, playwrights, performers and designers.  (https://swimponypa.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/true-story/) The results were mostly skewed towards men in all categories (generally with 2 men for every woman) and were most pronounced in this regard the larger the budget size of the company. I see how the weight of that imbalance can simply corrode a person’s soul after a while.  So I feel lucky that I am mostly in control of the work I make and my ability to create and program plays that are representative of a world where female narratives are an important part of the conversation. The only real barrier to feeling total equal is my sense that funding organizations may also be mirroring the trends we see in the theaters. My next project probably ought to be the number breakdown on funding sources and whether their support is equally gendered across their grantees…

JL: Do we need gender based theaters? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community? What is lost?

AM: I don’t know if I think we need gender based theaters per se. I think it’s an impulse to equalize the numbers and while I have nothing against it, it doesn’t help integrate the female perspective into the spaces that need it most. We need women in all theaters so that the next time a work has potentially misogynistic imagery or themes, there are women interested in talking through and discussing them. I personally want to give our male allies the eyes with which we see these works rather than simply secreting away.  I believe this will pave the way to true equity faster.

Better, I’d propose, to create financial incentives for companies that consistently display a parity of representation in its performers, writers and directors. Reward the outcomes not just the intentions. Try and tell me that a $25,000 grant at the end of three seasons of equitable gender distribution wouldn’t motivate AD’s to find themselves plays with more women writing, directing or performing in them.

JL: What practical action steps would you recommend to local, regional and national theatre companies to address issues of gender parity?

AM: Assume the best intentions of all creators, that no one wants inequity. So when you have these conversations, work hard on both sides to remember not to pull into defensive postures or aggression towards the folks that might want to change but just don’t know how yet.

Find measures that are quantifiable that you want to meet and share them with others.

And while I don’t necessarily advocate for only doing all-women works, I do most definitely advocate for creating an all-female spaces to discuss and strategize how to tackle these issues. It is nothing against one’s male colleagues to say there are certain struggles they just can’t really understand. There are times you need to talk to people who have dealt with the same issues and one of the unfortunate outcomes of an unequal field is that if you don’t seek it out, it’s rare to find that many female creators gathered in one space.

Most recently in Philadelphia, my company Swim Pony launched the Awesome Lady Squad – a forum to meet and use the collective brain power of women to systematically tackle the inequities we see here in our community.  In two short meetings I created a longer list of actionable steps to start working on this issue than I have felt able to do on my own in the past several years.  (https://swimponypa.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/dispatches-from-the-awesome-lady-squad-4-on-the-topic-what-wed-like-to-see-instead/)

JL: Why is it important that we continue to have these conversations to address issues of gender in theatre?

AM: Because the problem still exists.

When it’s done – when I see an equal distribution of female artists across the theaters of Philadelphia – I’ll stop talking about it.


Adrienne Mackey is the founder of Swim Pony, dedicated to works that are loud, strange and never seen before on earth! She has directed SURVIVE! – a 22,000 square ft installation exploring the universe and LADY M – an all-female take on Macbeth. Most recently, Adrienne directed THE BALLAD OF JOE HILL at Eastern State Penitentiary boasting a completely sold out run and a profile on NPR’s Radio Times. She has received two Knight Arts Challenges, an Independence Fellowship, a Live Arts LAB fellowship and New Edge Residency. Adrienne also sings backup vocals as “The Truth” for Johnny Showcase and the Mystic Ticket.


Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com