actresses

Ladyfesto!

cooltext1368115366Drumroll please!

A few weeks back I promised you that the Awesome Lady Squad would be soon bringing you its LADYFESTO. In case you don’t remember I said that this document was about

…asserting the things we believe to be true into the world around us: that women are not lesser qualified or weaker, that our work is not niche or in addition to. It’s knowing that there is a space in which those views are supported and those intentions are believed in. It’s a promise that if we are able to articulate it, others will eventually understand the beliefs we know to be true.

Well guess what? It’s here. So, at long last and after great amounts of work we bring you:

THE AWESOME LADY SQUAD LADYFESTO

We*, the Awesome Ladies of the Awesome Lady Squad, hold these most awesome truths to be our evident and awesome tenets:

1)   We believe art is powerful and necessary.

  • As artists, we have the power to capture and reflect the human experience
  • As artists, we have a super power in our ability to influence the broader culture with our work

2)   We believe in supporting and celebrating our community of Awesome Lady artists

  • We see our artistic landscape as abundant and plentiful of opportunity and resource and do not subscribe to model of competition and scarcity
  • We believe that the successes of our peers are beneficial to all of us
  • We believe in mentoring Awesome Ladies of the future and preserving the legacy of current Awesome Lady artists

3)   We believe in an Awesome Lady’s equal worth as an artist

  • We believe in our right to a place in the field and that our artistic products are not “niche”
  • We believe our community should be a safe and respectful place for us as creators
  • We believe in equitable pay for equitable work and in the value of parity of representation for all artists in all aspects of our field – on and off stage, in the board room, and on grant committees

4)   We believe that being a Lady can inspire us but it does not limit or define who we are

  • We see the perspectives and tools we develop as Lady artists as being of value
  • We believe a Lady artist is a multitude of things and that a variety of different experiences and identities intersect within each individual Awesome Lady
  • We believe in challenging assumptions of what “female” art can be
  • We believe our gender is not the only lens through which we understand our individual experience of the world and the work we make

5)   We believe in supporting other marginalized groups

  • We recognize that our voice is not the only voice that is under-represented in our artistic community
  • We believe that the more representative our work is of our community’s diverse population, the richer and more connective it becomes

6)   We believe in taking action according to these principles

  • We believe hard truths need to be stated publically and that there is value in honest and open critique of the mainstream
  • We believe in being uncompromising in our refusal to tolerate such oppressions
  • We believe in the power of the collective to dissolve damaging narratives and structures

 

*Expanding on a couple definitions:

Who are “we”?

We are Awesome Ladies who are inclusive of race, age and sexual orientation. We are ladies who are contained in a variety of body shapes and come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. We can be funny, or not. We are experimenters or follow in a long line of canonical learning. We are history challengers and embracers, listeners and talkers. We are as varied a number of things as can be imagined. The one thing we share is our inherent Awesomeness.

Why call yourselves “Ladies”?

Words like “female”, “gender”, “woman” etc have long and complex histories and definitions that are in a constant state of flux. While some members of the squad may identify with all, some or none of these identities, the intent behind “Lady” is to create a new label that is self-applied for those who believe they have a kinship with the identity of the Awesome Lady Squad.

In other words, an Awesome Lady is an Awesome Lady because they define themselves as such.

And that’s why they’re part of the Awesome Lady Squad.

Thank you for not assuming

cooltext1368115366

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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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

Can we talk about canon for a minute?

I’d like to talk honestly about the canon for a second.

There’s a tiny moment I recently saw a production of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.

First off, for the record, I’m not writing about the particular production. I’ve seen it a bunch and it’s been in there every time. And so while the moment that struck me was indeed performed in this particular version of the play, but my guess is that the lines I’m wondering about are with all likelihood in almost every production of this play.

What struck me was this series of lines:

Brutus. You are my true and honourable wife,
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
That visit my sad heart

Portia. If this were true, then should I know this secret.
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter.
Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
Being so father’d and so husbanded?
Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose ’em:
I have made strong proof of my constancy,
Giving myself a voluntary wound
Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience.
And not my husband’s secrets?

Can you see them? Can you see the ones I want to write about?

I didn’t. Or rather, I didn’t really hear them initially, while I was watching. I just saw the scene for what it was – a woman asking her husband to unburden himself of whatever it was that was bugging him. But then, I started talking about the scene to someone and I was trying to summarize what Portia had said. It was when I did that, and had to put her words into my own, put Shakespeare’s words into modern parlance that I suddenly said, “What the hell?”

Portia. If this were true, then should I know this secret.
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter.
Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
Being so father’d and so husbanded

Right? Now it seems really obvious.

Portia begs Brutus to tell her what’s wrong and he says he can’t and in trying to argue with him that he should she says, “Look I know I’m a girl, and by my very nature that means I’m not as good as you. But you did marry me. And my dad is pretty important. Isn’t that worth something of value?”

Can you imagine a female character saying this in a modern play? You’d better have contextualized that character out the wazoo to be able to say something like that and not have an army of actresses beating down your door. But here? Nothing. No reaction. No one thinks its weird.

Brutus responds by saying, “O ye gods, Render me worthy of this noble wife!” He clearly holds Portia in high regard. He thinks she’s the best kind of woman that a woman can be.

But the implicit assumption in this world is that the best a woman can be is never going to be as good as any kind of man.

That’s what’s super f-ed up about those lines in that scene.

So I’m asking: Are we ok with this?

Are we ok with presenting not only the antiquated language of these works but their antiquated morals?

(Sidebar: Can we all be honest too, that though there are probably a freaking ton of women who would die to get into this role, it’s a pretty weird one? Who uses the argument, “PS I also happened to have STABBED MYSELF A LITTLE IN THE LEG to show you how reasonable it is to tell me things.” WTF? Just sayin’…)

The power of the canon is one I still have trouble buying into. I don’t doubt the validity of aspects of these works. But I am not sold that these aspects justify some of the stuff that comes along with them. If we don’t remark on these things, we quietly, gently perpetuate them.

A huge part of the reason I don’t often engage with canon is that I tend not to feel like the roles and stories told about women align with my personal politics or with my sense of equity for women in the artistic workplace. Usually, rather than fighting that system I often find is set up to place women in a disadvantaged position, I prefer to spend my artistic energies on creating new works, stories that I DO believe in, that have the potential to become the canon of the future. While I can see the value of these works from the past, and understand why people pursue this study, that value ultimately doesn’t add up to enough for me to choose a classical work unless it can also be a part of my artistic code of ethics be that in terms of morality presented, absence of obvious and unquestioned sexist or racist attitudes, stories that not only offer women interiority and emotional depth but a sense of agency over their surroundings, etc.

Why are those Portia lines still in a modern interpretation of the play? Just because they might have said something like that back then, is that enough reason to keep saying it now?

For me, the answer is no. For me, a passive presentation of such language is also a tacit complicity.  For me, ALL the plays I present have to support my sense of a female character as fully formed a human and narratively important as a male character. And when I have engaged with the classics on occasion, it’s only when those works either already do that, are tailored in small or large ways so they eventually can do that, or are re-shaped to point out the lack of this quality in an actively examined way. If none of those things can happen, for me it’s just not worth doing.

In the past few years, I’ve required that women re at least 50% of the cast in a canon work. That’s true from massive Swim Pony retellings of classics like LADY M, to more traditional takes like this past summer’s The Tempest, to academic productions like my Midsummer at Arcadia this past fall. And in all of those pieces I also made a conscious effort, especially with student productions, to carefully comb the text for language that might include morals from the past that I find presently repugnant. We need to talk about why certain parts of text are (and should be) cut so that it’s clear we don’t agree as a cast, as a creative space, as a community with these statements if they are left unquestioned and unexamined.

Why this past summer did I cut massive portions of Prospero’s language about the importance of Miranda’s virginity and warnings to Ferdinand to preserve it?

Because even though I see that this is clearly written into the character, I personally find that patriarchal kind of dominance based solely on a women’s sexual purity pretty unacceptable. And I think there are plenty of ways to create a deep and complex parent/child relationship without it.

Because in the context of Prospero’s journey, neither Prospero or anyone else remarks on this as a possibly invalid way of valuing his daughter. And because I don’t value that value system, I’m not willing to support that viewpoint onstage.

If I HAD to keep it in there, because of a producer or purist’s objection, I wouldn’t do that play.

It’s the same reason I cut the classic Lysander line about Hermia being an Ethiop and Sebastien’s about Claribel being loos’d to an African. Because I would never allow those kind of casual and unremarked upon racist statements in a play I was making in the present, so I don’t include them in these plays from the past either.

And look, I understand the historical context in which they are made, but that just isn’t enough for me to justify continuing to say them. When such language is discussed or remarked upon, or featured in a new contemporary understanding, as say, many newer productions of Titus Andronicus do, or are explored or exposed in some way to unseat the assumptions they are based on (as we did often in LADY M) then I believe that the audience will see that my take on this work is different than the attitude of the character. But when such language is left in and is left un-examined or un-remarked on, I believe it creates a tacit assumption that othered identities ARE these things that the characters say they are.

So my rule is always, if I wouldn’t tolerate it from a modern playwright, I won’t tolerate it from a classical one either.

I think that there are a lot of folks who will never want these works modernized and clearly, cutting to change a character’s attitude in this regard or cross gender casting IS a modernization: A modernization to reflect the idea that women or people of color can indeed occupy the kinds of positions and embody themes that were only allotted to white men in Shakespeare’s time. And I think that those who chide cross gender casting for not being “real” or corrupting the text in some way are just refusing to see that argument from the side of the people it most affects.

So lately, I just tell myself that they’ll all die out and I will become the lord-ess of the Philadelphia art scene.

Not really.

Ok maybe a little bit.

– A