Awesome Lady Squad

A post in which we examine fairness and give Samia some cash

You know what I hate?

I really really hate it when I see an email from someone that I haven’t talked to in a while, someone who maybe I might not be super close with, and I start reading an email that feels like a trick.

It always starts super personal – Hey Adrienne – and starts telling me stuff they’ve been up to. At first I think, “Hey, I didn’t realize so-and-so was doing all this stuff. Well done so-and-so!” Around a paragraph in I think, “Gee. It’s interesting that they are going into such detail about the project.” And then about halfway in I say, “Oh, I get it. This is a kickstarter campaign letter.”

All that earnestness, I believe it’s heartfelt, but without a warning it can sometimes feel just a tiny bit like a bait and switch. So, here’s fair warning so that you don’t feel like I do when I read those emails: I think there’s some interesting and heartfelt stuff explored within the following thousand or so words. There’s also a gentle ask at the end of the post as well.

So. That’s out of the way. Now on to talking a little bit about fairness.

Here is a truth of the universe: success in the arts not always fairly won.

Perhaps that seems obvious. I know we all joke often about “those” creators with all the connections or resource coming into the game. We joke and dream about a life without the necessity of a day job. We talk about the work we’d get done if we didn’t have non-artistic work as a requirement to survive.

It seems silly, almost, to say it. A statement so duh-inducing it’s almost banal.

But even if we know, sometimes we forget to really internalize the truth of it. Even if our brains remember, our hearts don’t always realize. When I’m not careful I catch myself feeling “less than” because recognition is slower to come than I’d like. You might be frustrated that the grants are not rolling in. It may feel sometimes like we are stuck in the drudgery as others jet set around the world.

It’s hard not to compare, no?

And this is why it’s worth reminding ourselves the system is truly NOT solely set up to reward those with the greatest artistic prowess. That’s part of it, of course. But it is in NO WAY the entirety, maybe even the majority, of how the artistic field rewards its participants. The truth is that we all make use of whatever advantages we happen to have, some of which are artistic and some of which are not, to try and get a foothold in this insanely difficult career.

When I sit down with newbies to Philly and chat about how they will find their way in the world I often get asked questions like “How do I begin making my own work?”

I’ve taken to saying this: “If you ask me specific questions about how to get cheap risers or what fiscal sponsor I think is best I will be happy to answer those. But the honest answer to the question ‘How do I start making my work?’ is that you have to figure out how you will be able to make and support your work by using whatever is available to you.”

I can see it is a frustrating answer, even if it’s true.

But because our system is so chaotic and uneven in its distribution of resource, because it is so thoroughly unfair at times, especially at the start, I believe it’s a useful answer. To begin as an artist without a high level of resource is to be a person who has to come to terms with that unfairness. Perhaps not to subscribe to all aspects of the system that supports inequity, but to learn to at lest live with it. For in order to stay, we all learn to scrape and deal and do the best with what we do have. And we do our best not get to sour about what we don’t.

I think all the time about a many things for which I am intensely grateful.

I think about the fact that I studied science. That I spent a lot of time with complex math. That when I had to learn accounting and budgeting and report my company’s data, I had a familiarity with something roughly similar. That I never had to worry that what I was trying to do what too hard for me because I figured it couldn’t be more complicated than multi-variable calculus. (Though there are days… There are days…)

I think about the fact that when I made my first play I had a large network of family who even though not rich were stil willing to donate a little – 5, 50, 100 dollars – to help me pursue this thing that I so desperately wanted to make.

I think about the fact that I came to my career with high-level writing skills. That I’d been pushed to articulate difficult concepts and formulate arguments about creative works in the past. That grant writing wasn’t such a bear because again, I’d had experiences to prepare me.

I think about the fact that I did not have a crushing amount of student debt. That I had my share, but never so much that I felt I couldn’t take a risk on a low paying job or use a bit of my savings to buy a prop or a costume I needed.

I think about the fact that I have been surrounded by mentors who made me trust my own self worth, my vision of my creative product, and that this confidence allowed me to walk into a major historic site at the ripe age of 23 and ask to stage a play there with almost no money to offer in exchange.

I make myself think about these things on the days when I get frustrated about not having rich parents. I think about them on days when I think about how much more successful I might be if all my time could be devoted to my career of theater and not jobs that help to keep me fed and housed. And I try and remember that these things were gifts to me that may not be givens for others. That without that access to just a bit family support or set of math skills or a confidence boost I could be in a very different place in my career.

This is not to say that such things cannot be overcome in the long run. This is not to say that those with advantages at the start will always prevail. This is not to say that those who come into the work without trust funds should give up. But it is to say that we should give ourselves a break sometimes in trying to measure up. And it is also to say that when we can do something personally to help level the field and give someone a leg up when they need one, we really really ought to do it.

So here, at long last, is that plea for cash.

It’s a plea for an amazing and talented young person who deserves access to the kind of support one needs when they’re first starting to make their way into their work. Samia, Sam for short, is a phenom. She is a performer, a designer, a soon to be graduated student, and a truly lovely person. This is what she looks like:

samAnd because I stole this picture off facebook she doesn’t know that her thumbs up is now being used as a subliminal code to you readers to thank you in advance for help her out.

Sam is seriously awesome.

When The Berserker Residents and I teched The Giant Squid at Arcadia Sam won our onstage “squid raffle.” As she took the steps up to the stage she literally brimmed with joy and screamed “I won! I won! I won!”  I never laughed as hard at any of the subsequent audience participants as I did when I saw her face realizing her squid “prize” has mysteriously turned a tank of water into boiling ink.

When she played Hermia in the Midsummer I directed last fall she worked with a ferocity and grace and humility that I have rarely seen before in a college student. A colleague I invited to the show saw her and said, “She’s amazing. She’s really going to do this thing for real.”

And now, as a surprise to no one, she’s won a national award for puppet design and needs a little boost to get her to Las Vegas to take part in an 8-week technical theater intensive that comes as a prize with the award.

Look again at this amazing human in a cardigan:

sam and ian

Admit it. She’s adorable.

Who would not want to donate to that face? A face that’s also confident. And smart. And hardworking. And kind.

I have every belief that she’s going to be one of the Amazing Ladies of this community’s future.

So click this link Philadelphia creators and give this awesome little lady a couple bucks. In the spirit of helping another amazing new artist. In the spirit of giving her some gifts that she seriously deserves. In the spirit of making the artistic landscape just this tiny bit fairer. Because she deserves to have the chance to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities afforded her.

HERE IS THE LINK YOU CLICK SHOULD BUT BIGGER THIS TIME.

Do it.

– A

PS – Thanks to Alisa for setting up this amazing cheerleading squad!

Where we go from here

Hey all. It’s March 31st and the official end of my month of blogging here on the topic of gender parity in theater. I recapped the other day some of the projects that this month has inspired and begun, but I also wanted to say a couple things not only about those specific projects but about a few bigger picture things that have slowly amassed over the course of this month on a larger, perhaps more philosophical level.

One of the lessons I feel like I’ve taken away from this month of work is the sense that it’s important to keep perspective on two scales – the very small and personal and the very large and grand.

I find for myself that when I get too stuck in the minutiae of my own little world and my own little perspective on that little world, I can miss solutions or a sense of possibility. It’s easy when we are used to seeing something all the time to assume that it will always have to be that way. There are trends of inequity that have persisted for so long they have become banal and commonplace. And so in listening to other creators, in gathering voices of women artmakers en masse, by looking at my field as a whole and branching into other mediums as well, by looking at this problem not just as a personal one but a community-wide issue, I feel like I’ve gained a feeling of possibility, of mobility that I haven’t had in a while. Stepping back and looking at the larger picture has made me say more forcefully there are things I see in my community that are not acceptable even if they are common.

Simultaneously, I have also gotten better at tasking myself with small concrete things that I can do in and hour or two with a few people. I have become more able to say, “What can I do right now to make a step towards a larger goal?” rather than getting frustrated at an inability to fix everything in its entirety. I have felt easier in making a step forward, even if it is imperfect or not totally complete and saying that something good and finished NOW is better than something immaculate that takes months to perfect.

Another lesson learned is the power of a system that can handle multiple points of entry. One of the most awesome things about the Awesome Lady Squad is the fact that there are projects starting to gain momentum that I am not the sole driver of. Projects that I am appreciative of but may not have the expertise or immediate interest in prioritizing. If the Squad is to succeed I think our responsibility must be shouldered by many. Because the truth is some day I’m going to get busy with a project or a life event. Or there will be (maybe already is) more to do that I have time to oversee. And one of my core beliefs is that we will do so much more if we all trust each other to take your idea and run further with it than you knew was possible.

And last, I’ve realized that there is nothing more powerful that one human looking another human in the eye and doing your best to speak honestly and listen to each other.

That sounds mushy.

It is.

But man, is it also effective.

I’ve written thousands of words about these issues, spent hours trying to articulate exactly how I’m feeling and what I want to communicate. And yet, one of the most impactful moments I’ve had was when I sat down talked with some other creators about how their choices affected me and listened honestly and openly to their response.

If there is anything that I take from a month of work trying to advocate for female artists it is this: we have to be brave enough to start saying what we actually think and feel. To do so assumes that real and substantive change is possible. It assumes that our views are valuable enough to be heard and flexible enough to absorb response.

It is hard to tell someone, especially someone you admire and care about, that their actions might have consequences they do not intend. It also feels like the closest I’ve come to actually shifting the way someone will think and act in relation to this topic in the future.

And in this way, let me share where I go from here:

I will continue to work with The Awesome Lady Squad in the coming months. I’ll keep you abreast of those changes.

I will return to many of the questions about sustainability and how to engage in a long and happy life as an artist.

I will send some focus to other special interest groups and work towards a community that is aware and equitable in all aspects.

I want to encourage us, Philadelphia, to start engaging in these harder conversations. The ones that scare us. The ones that are uncomfortable. The ones that might mean we really have to rethink some of the ways we do things. These are the ones that will make us the city that others look to. These are the things that will create a more sustainable and strong community in the future.

Feeling the renewing possibilities of the imminent spring,

A

Recap

Something strange is happening.

In the last two days nearly 1,400 people have looked at this post about jealousy from nearly a year ago. I re-blogged it about a week ago where it was viewed a few hundred times through the re-post link and then all the sudden yesterday, when I expected lots of traffic for the Cross Pollination application, this post starts getting huge numbers of people visiting the page. From the original link. And they’re all getting referred from facebook I might add. But not, as far as I can tell from someone I know.

Weird.

Not complaining. But, weird, right?

If you’re responsible and you’re reading this: Who are you? How did you make that happen? Reveal the mystery!

Anyway.

Onto things of a more Awesome vein…

cooltext1368115366It’s March 27th and the month of writing about women in the arts is nearly over. For me however, I feel like the work is just beginning. And there have been a lot of beginnings that I’m hoping to continue working on throughout the next year. Part of that will be solo, a lot of it will be through the work of the Awesome Lady Squad. I know that for much of it I’ll want enthusiastic supporters to help take these ideas further than any single human is able.

So I thought I’d look back at this month and share some of the things that this writing has sparked and highlight some of the projects that have developed legs and started walking in the event that you might want to walk along with them. I give you:

STUFF ON GENDER PARITY THAT’S HAPPENED THIS MONTH AND WHERE IT GOES FROM HERE

–       The Awesome Lady Squad met at the end of February and created a document of stuff that we’ll be working on over the coming weeks and months

–       The Squad chose as it’s first project to create a Lady-Festo to define its core ethics and beliefs. Look for it’s final edited version in the next week or so.

–       I got to e-know a bunch of other advocates for female artists and am planning to meet up soon. I hope to create some kind of multi-city forum to share thoughts and methods.

–       I made lists of female directors and designers that folks who are looking for women to fill their artistic projects can use. This list may soon move to a permanent spot on the blog so that it can be accessed easily forever. Keep sending names, I’ll add them.

–       I threw out a proposal for a grant that would incentivize representation of female artists. It got a lot of positive feedback. It’s still in progress. But with the help of a few other folks it looks like we’re actually going to get this in front of the faces of some funders for consideration in the near future. And I still want to know ways you see to make it better.

–       I’ve started gathering stats for this coming season akin to the ones I found last year. If you want to help data tabulate, let me know. And if you notice an imbalance in companies you know and love, there’s still time to ask them to take action towards a season you believe in.

–       I’ve started wondering, hard, about what the legacy of canon means. I’m wondering if it isn’t time to start asking some hard questions about this kind of work.

–       I’ve started thinking based on some responses to posts about the definition of “Lady” and “female” and “gender” and have been wondering how that question can play a role in these conversations

–       I’ve had some private, tough, conversations with people who are honest in their pursuit of becoming Awesome Lady allies. They’ve inspired me and I’m working on how to share some of that process with you on the blog.

And finally, I’m continuing to look for ways to help share the many forward moving directions this work is taking. So if you have seen or read or thought about something in regards to this that you’re passionate about, wanting to help or maybe even take the lead on something I’ve outlined, LET ME KNOW.

Because a few words feverishly typed alone in my office every day can make this great an impact, I can’t wait to see how much more we can do as we expand forth.

– A

Lady-festo is coming!

Hey all,

photo 1

Do you know what those giant sticky notes are? They are some incredibly awesome and hard work by a whole bunch of awesome ladies these past few days. We’ve made some awesome progress and we’re really close to a full on Lady-festo. And I wanted to share just a little of what we did in these two meetings, for those that weren’t able to join us.

As I prepped for it, I read up on a bunch of other people’s manifestos. And I thought, “What exactly is a manifesto?”

So I found a few definitions from different dictionary sources online:

A public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives, as one issued by a government, sovereign, or organization.

A written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer

The word’s root is Latin – manifestare – which means to be clear and conspicuous. To be unambiguously public in these beliefs. It’s the idea that if you share the view of the world you see around you others will also become aware of it. What struck me about this is that it is not a document about wishing or dreaming or becoming. It’s about what you know, deep down in a fundamental way, to be true. Which means the things that we define in our manifesto are not our future, but the things we already know in this moment.

It’s 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.

So we spent time articulating these ideas as beliefs. We tried to write down all the things that we know about Awesome Ladies, even if we don’t always see that reflected in the world. We tried to articulate those things as positives (“I believe X” rather than “I don’t believe Y”).

Then we shared those first ideas, clarified and honed them. We linked the things that seemed connected and then we worked to figure out how say them in the most simple and essential ways. We put forth great effort to get to the very core of our Squad’s essence.

And soon, I’ll get to share that with all of you.

I’m pretty psyched.

I think it will be awesome.

A huge thanks to everyone who made it out to one of (or both!) our Lady-festo nights:

  • Melissa Amilani
  • Hillary Asare
  • Dawn Falato
  • Arianna Gass
  • Colleen Hughes
  • Emily Johnson
  • Rebecca Joy
  • Gina Leigh
  • Jane Moore
  • Erlina Ortiz
  • Catherine Palfinier
  • Gabby Sanchez
  • Hannah Sandler
  • Meryl Sands
  • Catharine Slusar
  • Isa St. Clair
  • Sarah Schol

– A

Applied Mechanics gets an Awesome Lady Squad Commendation!

Hey friends,

Many, many things a brewin’ here at Swim Pony HQ.

I know I promised you Cross Pollination would unveil here today but this weekend was just too terribly full of fantastic awesomeness and I need just a couple more days. So Wednesday it will be! (This time I promise, for real…)

Awesome Lady Squad is in high-level action mode! We had the first meeting to for the Awesome Lady Lady-festo last night and I am humbled and awed at the fantastic minds of Philadelphia creators. Look for updates on that soon!

Today, however, I thought I’d share something new. While much of our attention in this space has been on shedding light on things I’d like to change, I think it’s also worth pointing out the amazing artists who are already modeling the kind of work that ALREADY gives voice and space to women creators (and gaining a stellar artistic rep at the same time). So every once in a while I’ll be asking some questions of folks doing just that so they can share how they are successfully getting their work into the world in a way that the Awesome Lady Squad commends.

Today, get a bit inside the mind of Applied Mechanics. I chatted a bit with Becky Wright (a good friend) to find out more. But first! A pretty picture of their work to entice you:

IMG_2378b

1)   How does gender parity and awareness of women in theater play a role in selecting your material?

We are a very collaborative company, founded by women, with majority female members and an alternative-model labor-sharing administrative structure.  Every piece we’ve ever made has come from an idea or a spark of inspiration from a company member, so in a sense the work is always reflective of the concerns of the group.  I think it’s safe to say that most of us identify as feminists and that our artistic motors have been shaped by our experiences as women in the world, as female artists—and, for our one male company member, his experiences as a gay male artist.  Collaborative art-making involves such intense processes of interrogation, exploration and reflection—so I’d say, overall, gender and female-artist awareness play a major role in everything we do.

To speak more specifically, we’re currently working on a piece inspired by [Russian feminist art/punk activist group] Pussy Riot.  This idea came from two company members who were following their story particularly closely at the time of their arrest.  We all intuitively leaped on this seed of an idea; as we began research and exploration (the early stages of our development process) we quickly discovered that a big reason why Pussy Riot’s story and the questions it brings up resonated with us so deeply is specifically because they are female artists.  Their story is our story.  And they have done these powerful, dangerous, earth-rocking things with their position as female artists, claiming that position as one of profound subversive power and gigantic imaginative and radical influence.  Our piece has expanded to encompass questions about contemporary feminism, its oppositional relationship to global capitalism, protest art, 21st century resistance, and the socio-historical qualities of a moment when artists’ voices are politically important. These questions are close to our hearts and central to our ongoing artistic project.

One thing that’s been really nice about working on this piece, the first of ours that takes on explicitly political content, is that it’s made us realize that we’ve actually been dealing with these questions all along: all of our past pieces in some way engage questions of power and control, allocation of resources, society’s power to shape identity, and the possibility of communities to affect change.  These questions are central to feminism.

Again, some brief specifics: in our recent piece Vainglorious, a large-scale historical fantasia about Napoleonic Europe, we had a woman playing Napoleon and a man playing Josephine (and lots of other cross-gendered casting, mostly in the form of women playing men, throughout the world of the piece.)  While we made this choice based purely on company members desires and personal qualities, we had to recognize after the fact that the choice “says something” about gender.  Embracing this allowed us a deeper exploration of the power plays and politics of that piece.  We’ve also made pieces with trans characters (Portmanteau), de-gendered characters (Some Other Mettle), and always always make pieces with strong, unusual female characters.  It’s worth mentioning, too, that our performers create the characters they play—so the women of Applied Mechanics, through engaging in our group authorship process, have a huge amount of agency in their theatrical and artistic output.

In all these ways, I’d say gender parity and women in theater are at the heart of our material.

A tiny post-script: I think there was a while in there where some of us in the group would worry about not having “enough male energy” in the company.  And then at a certain point we were like, “why are we worried about this?”  It’s amazing how pervasive the norms of the dominant culture can be.

2)   Does this inform your working and administrative structures in any way?

It does, actually.  We have worked really, really hard to cultivate an egalitarian working model that embraces all participants, distributes company labor, and values communication and consensus over hierarchy.  For me, this is a self-consciously anti-patriarchal model.   It looks at the ways most theaters run, the received narratives created in overwhelmingly large part by straight white men (and thus designed to reward male-socialized habits and aesthetics) and says: we reject that, and reject the goal of gaining access to it, and we claim the space to work in another way.  This is often difficult, and certainly does require a great deal of energy, presence, and mindfulness from all company members, but the result is that we have this thing, this company, that allows us a sense of shared ownership while granting us all agency and a supportive artistic home.

3)   Do you know your statistics (number of actors, directors, designers, etc) in terms of representation? Can you share them?

For several years, the company consisted of five women and two men.  It has now shifted to consist of six women and one man.

Of the 32 “outside” actors we’ve hired in our history, 21 have been women and 11 have been men.

Of the 4 guest designers we’ve hired (to work with company designer Maria Shaplin) three have been women and one has been a man.

Of the 5 stage management/production assistants we’ve hired, four have been women and one has been a man.

There are also an assorted bunch of folks we’ve hired for one-off work/labor calls; this is an estimate, but I think on those we’ve been about half and half women and men.

4)   What would you say to a female artist feeling discouraged about her place in the arts community?

It can take a while to find your people.  Don’t worry: you’ll find them.  All of my collaborators I met through working other gigs, going to see stuff, or coincidences born of just doing my thing.  It makes a huge difference to have people you love to work with.  It makes it easier to feel like, at least in some respects, you have your own place and your own community.

Keep your eyes open for folks you admire and are interested in working with or for.  It’s not that hard to track people down in this town, and it never hurts to ask for a coffee—or an assistantship.

And I know this will sound a bit “follow your bliss,” but—follow your bliss!  Don’t wait for permission to make the art you want to make.  Do what you think is cool.  Claim the space to do it.

Art life is a weird life without a clear path.  There is so much bushwhacking to do, and so much stumbling.   I think men and women tend to be socialized differently, and it can often be harder for women to access the kind of assertiveness and entitlement that’s so useful sometimes in getting gigs and attention and carving out a niche.  But I also absolutely think that self-doubt and failure and periods of frustration are natural parts of the artists’ life.  Finding a way to accept those stages of the cycle without being too self-punishing can make it way easier to fight the necessary battles—whether that’s about accessing particular kinds of assertiveness or asserting other ways of working.

5)   Anything else you’d like to add?

When Maria Shaplin and I started this company, it was because there was art that we wanted to exist that didn’t exist yet.  We realized we could make it exist by making it ourselves, and we realized no one was going to give us permission to do it.  So we had to just do it.  So we did it.  And we were incredibly fortunate (still are) to have access to a community of brilliant collaborative artists who were down to do it with us.  The company, which grew out of that initial project, consists of the people who stuck around and were excited about working on the artistic and organizational experiments that Applied Mechanics has come to pursue.  I don’t think that the experience of wanting to make art and having to give ourselves permission to do it happened because we’re women (it happened because we’re artists) but I think the lesson of claiming space and asserting new working models is vital to the feminist project.  I’m not saying it isn’t a worthy battle to fight for access to existing systems, but I also say it is a necessary battle to fight for new systems.  For me, this goes for both artistic concerns (structural, as well as aesthetic) and organizational models.

Thanks Becky!

You can check out Applied Mechanics bio below or their website for more info: http://www.appliedmechanics.us/

Applied Mechanics is director Rebecca Wright, designer Maria Shaplin, and performers Jessica Hurley, Thomas Choinacky, Kristen Bailey, and Mary Tuomanen, and stage manager Bayla Rubin.  This ensemble of artists collaborates to make work that challenges conventional ideas of theatrical space, narrative, and performer-audience relationship: they create visual landscapes for the audience to wander through, and multiple intersecting storylines for them to choose how to watch.  Their plays are immersive, multi-sensory, and choose-your-own adventure.  Their process is collaborative, democratic, and based on a commitment to organizational and artistic innovation.

Applied Mechanics’ pieces include the apartment plays Selkie and Ses Voyages Sauvages; It’s Hard Times at the Camera Blanca (Fringe 2009) which took over a Fishtown Bar; the invasion play Portmanteau (Fringe 2010) which, following its Philadelphia premiere, toured from Texas to Louisville to Maine; the dystopic environmental piece Overseers (Fringe 2011); and the large scale historical fantasia Vainglorious: Epic Feats of Notable Persons in Europe After the Revolution, which involved a cast of 26 Philadelphia actors and which  remounted to great critical acclaim in the Philadelphia International Festival of Art (PIFA) in April 2013.

Awesome Ladies meet tonight and tomorrow!

 cooltext1368115366

Reminder! Reminder!  The Awesome Lady Squad is meeting March 23rd (tonight) and 24th!

That’s right Awesome Ladies! We’ll be meeting from 7 – 9:30 at Headlong Studios (formerly the Parlor) at 1170 S Broad on both the 23rd and 24th to come up with the AWESOME LADY MANIFESTO – our code of ethics for how the Squad will work.

  • If you’ve already let us know you’ll be there: GREAT! We can’t wait to see you!
  • If you know you’re coming and feel like dropping us a line: FAB! Email swimponypa@gmail.com to help us get a sense of the group size!
  • If you want to just drop in and bring a friend: DO IT! You can totally still come if you realize last minute that our meeting is exactly where you need to be.

Attend one or both. Our aim is to have a version of the manifesto to share with the world by the end of Monday night.

Hope to see you soon! (And as always, thanks for being awesome…)
Adrienne

Reframing

Sometimes when I spend a long time talking about myself as occupying a disadvantaged position it makes me a little depressed.

In writing about women in the arts I’ve found myself sometimes feeling frustrated this past month. And I think it’s because when you define yourself in this way – as a person who is being to subjected and trying to navigate a system that is not always set up to your advantage – you can start to see the problem in everything.

In the general sense, I do think women get less of a fair shake. On average, I believe it is true that we’re under-represented in almost all aspects of the field.

But I think we can probably all agree that thinking that way is no way to live. It’s just too tough constantly imagining oneself as a victim of an intractable problem. It feels too large, it feels to impossible, it seems pointless to even try, if you spend too much time in that mindset.

At least it does for me.

This, I think, is why some pretend it’s not a problem. They have to shut out any disadvantage and just keep plugging away as if things were totally equal because it would just be too depressing otherwise. I’m not chiding these folks too much, because I understand the impulse. No one wants to feel powerless. But I also don’t think that I can join them, because at a certain point I think most female artists just see too clearly the power difference.

A few years ago I listened to an interview with the famed brain scientist Oliver Sacks. I was surprised as he spoke to learn that he in fact suffers from a variety of neurological issues himself. I was even more interested in a statement he made that was something along the lines of this: I don’t know that I’d have been able to discover all the amazing things I had if I hadn’t had an abnormal brain myself. That interview made me think back to reading Jill Bolte Taylor’s book about how a stroke’s paralysis of certain kinds of “left-brain” style thinking gave her an appreciation for “right-brain” thought processes and a new outlook on life.  It made remember a friend of mine from college who was in a serious car accident and who said that she could feel the palpable difference between the kind of person who was “normal” and the way that her mind was now different, how she’d developed a sense of both the neurologically-dominant perspective and her new one as a recovering patient.

That interview planted a seed in me that’s grown into a guiding principle: I just have to believe that all the things that I believe are my weaknesses – my introversion, my status as a female artist, my lack of trust fund, my sometimes weird aesthetic impulses, my thorough dis-interest in classical works of the theatrical canon – all these things that sometimes make me feel like an outsider, are actually my secret superpower. These things that separate me from the dominant viewpoint are the things I can uniquely wield as weapons that those supposedly more in power can never hope to employ. These are the ways that I will be able to innovate. These are the things that will make my art works full of a fuller perspective. They are the things that will give me an angle in that others just can’t see.

This is nothing new, this idea. Lots of people know this. But it’s the thing that really helps on the days when the problems feel so big. When all I can see is how much harder the obvious road will be for me than for some dude with the same skill set.

Those are the times when I say to myself, “You just have to believe that in the long run this makes you stronger. You just have to believe in the long run you will be better for seeing differently.”

It’s the moments when I look at the obvious path and realize if I just cut through the bushes I might get to the top in a totally new way. It’s the moment I realize I have a machete in my hand and can start hacking at something new.

It is a problem in one lens, and I can jump into that perspective when needed to make progress on an issue I see.  But it’s something I can also reframe in my own mind to give me a sense of strength and destiny.  And while it might seem as if all this is a bunch of self-delusion, it’s those moments where I’ve really embraced the outsider in me, rather than just feeling frustration with it, that wonderful things emerge.

Things like a squad of awesome ladies, many of whom I’ve never met who suddenly are some of my most ardent supporters.

Things like creators in different cities who I am suddenly planning to meet because of our shared interest.

Things like an interview for a national theater organization because of my vocal views on an “outsider” subject.

Things like a renewed vigor for a writing forum that I’d let slide more than I wish in the past few months.

This onslaught of new and positive activity all came from just deciding to sit down and reframe an issue as one I can use as a leverage point rather than just being something that pisses me off. It’s become a power I can wield. And I like that.

Yes, it’s still a problem. Yes it’s one I’m solving all the time, and mostly likely will be the rest of my life. But it is also in my capacity to use it to my advantage.

Even on the days it doesn’t feel that way.

Especially on the days it doesn’t feel that way.

I see this as my chance to have choice.

– A