O the heavens, we are in the thick of it. O, yes, we are.

I often wonder what exactly I must look like in rehearsals.

The best days I am blessedly unaware of myself, seemingly like the spirit in this play I’m laboring on, a mostly un-embodied ball of energy that floats in and among the room’s inhabitants, sending thoughts and energy to and into them. I am aware of only the echoes of shape and motion – a sweep of the arm, a pacing back and forth, a note scribbled quickly in a book. In this form I feel massive and all encompassing, a thing of air and energy.

The worst days I see myself far more concretely, feel myself sitting on the floor or see the words almost tangibly come out of my mouth. On these days I am small and desperately trapped – by body, by brain, by the limitations of time and gravity. In these moments I often see a room staring at me and in the space of a breath or pause quietly ponder at the insanity of them to have followed me here.

I try to look at them squarely. I try not to shrink under the glare. I try to tell the truth of unknowing while still believing that I (for it is never they that have brought us here) can lead us out of the tangle and wooded thickets we have ventured forth into.

When in directing mode senses come into sharper contrast – sounds either exalt or oppress, the room can be a nest in which to cozy in or an overbearing push that squeezes down on the work like a trash compactor.  It’s like the sensitivity dial is jacked up to its highest point. Even clothes can suddenly itch and scratch with a fervor that seems sudden and unwarranted.

Am I alone in this? Is this why there are nights I toss and turn? Is it why I cannot help myself but to apologize again and again in the room for such sensorial dissonances, whether not I am the cause? I don’t know if it is also the purgatory of other artists to feel this way, to know you must open yourself so wide and full and then chafe at the rough hewn bits that pass through your fingers. To know that the only way to make them smooth is to sit in that roughness and work it out.

In working The Tempest at this moment, I can’t help but feel a little bit of Ariel in myself. I’ve agreed to be here, sought out this particular form of servitude. And I take delight in the use of my powers to create shape and spectacle, to send the inhabitants of this island running, hair up-staring and all aflame like reeds, in many places and then bring them back to meet and join.

But unlike that dainty spirit, I’m sometimes less perfectly certain that I can perform the task to every article, that I can do such worthy service, and do so without giving over to grudge or grumbling. Like this production’s particular version of that entity, which takes its shape not in human form but appears in and about our space’s fabric elements, I am finding that pushing too hard or getting stuck too long forces the magic to be lost. I see how the promises made and kept earlier in this process are no guarantee for pay off and that there is plenty more toil to do.

But when I sit and ask myself on this morning why undertake this service, I cannot help but believe that unlike that spirit, that when it comes to the end of all this I will not gladly demand my liberty. That for me, the strive towards freedom from this earth-bound form is the freedom. That it is not in the finishing of the task, but in the doing of it that we mere humans glimpse at the capacity for magic. That like another in this play, I will miss it well and be sad in giving this work its freedom, even when I know well the necessity in completing the contract to do so.

The time twixt now and the end will be spent by us all most preciously…


Philly reviewers, it is Tim-on to get your shit together

Excuse the bad joke. I can’t help it. I pun when I’m pissed.

Ooo-hoo. Adrienne is angry.  (Can you hear it in the typing? CLACK! CLACK CLACK CLACK!)  I would write in all caps (LIKE THIS!) because that is how I feel, but you would probably stop reading, and I do NOT want you to stop reading.

If you frequent this blog you likely have a sense of what I think about the role of women in the contemporary theater scene.

(In the off chance you are new here, feel free to go back and read this, or this, or this, or this…)

So when I heard that the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective (or PAC) was doing a production of a Shakespeare play – Timon of Athens – that included a bunch of cross gender casting I was interested. Interested because I will be doing a similar (even more substantial) gender re-assigning in Clark Park’s Tempest this summer. Interested to see how they handled this gender switcheroo in context of the classical cannon. But most of all interested to see how people reacted to what they were doing.

And, like one sometimes does when one is intrigued by a colleague’s choices for a production, I read a few reviews about the show to see how it was received.

And now, as previously mentioned, I’m really really angry.

First off: my job here is not to defend this particular production. In fact, I have not yet seen this play. I will, next week. But I write this now, not yet having seen this play, quite intentionally.

There are statements in the reviews of Timon assessing creative choices that I cannot substantiate or discredit.  I do not know if the actors in the various roles are interesting to watch. I do not know if the opulence and greed of the play is borne out in the staging. I do not know if some of the problems that reviewers cite around this particular staging are true. Indeed, given that some of them appear in multiple assessments, perhaps some of the points they mention are quite valid.

But then again, I don’t know, I haven’t seen it yet. And my problem is not with the specifics of one stylistic choice or another.

Indeed, my problem here is quite the opposite.

I will say upfront that there are several actresses in this production I admire and respect, whose work I tend to like very much. And I am making such a long and belabored point of not knowing anything about the show’s specifics because I know that once I have seen the performance I may well be inclined to defend these performers’ specific choices. And I really don’t want that to get all muddled up with what’s really problematic here: the thing that’s really sticky and challenging.

I want to be absolutely and unwaveringly clear that my issue has nothing to do with giving specific critique to these particular people – be positive or negative – and everything to do with the blithe and blanket notions undercutting the women in this production that I see made under the banner of “criticism.”

“Them’s is fightin’ words.” You might be thinking.

You betcha.

Let’s start with  You can read the whole thing if you want to, but I’ll skip to this sentence starting off the final paragraph:

As director, Dan Hodge makes a tactical error in casting women in many of the male roles; it knocks the play off balance (tiny women playing cutthroats and shrill senators), and confuses the issues that have nothing to do with gender.

Ok. (deep breath)

Let’s play a little mad libs game. Pretend this statement isn’t about a play but a business. Everywhere there’s a statement about theater, I’ll replace it with a corresponding business word. Let’s see what we get:

As CEO, Dan Hodge makes a tactical error in hiring women in many of the male jobs; it knocks the company off balance (tiny women working as cutthroats and shrill managers), and confuses the business plans that have nothing to do with gender.

You wanna publish that in a newspaper and see what kind of letters you get?

I didn’t think so.

Having no women in a play doesn’t mean the play has nothing to do with gender in the same way that having a play with only white people has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with gender: about our conception of what greed is, what it looks like, who is allowed to display it, and the gender with which we associate that quality.

If the play’s issues – greed, ruthlessness, heroism unrewarded – are indeed not about gender, than it really shouldn’t matter if a man or a woman displays those things. The point of the review should be whether the specific actor embodying that role is successful in doing so.

That you make a point to say that “tiny women” should not be onstage displaying those things says to me that you have now made this a play about gender in a way that Shakespeare did not. It says to me that you don’t think tiny women, in general, as a whole, are not suited to being greedy or ruthless. That you can look at a tiny women and know by virtue of her tiny woman-ness that she is neither of those things.

You dislike this particular actress? Fine. Cite the specifics of their performance. But to lump women as a category under the “not viable to play this role” category is demeaning and ignorant.

And don’t get me started on the misogyny inherent in the word “shrill.”

The lesson here is that men playing aggressive roles have the potential to be booming and commanding while aggressive woman onstage are annoying and screechy.  Ladies interested in Shakespeare’s works, please stick to Desdemona or Ophelia or Juliet or Cordelia or Lavinia and go die because you love a dude who is kind of an emotional asshole to you.

Or go be Lady Macbeth and kill yourself.

Or go be Cleopatra and die (again) because you’re an oversexed “gipsy.”

Or be really excited to get married.

Or a witch.

Who wouldn’t be totally satisfied with that?

Moving on.

Here is what Citypaper has to say. Again, feel free to read the whole thing but I’m skipping here to the summation at the end:

And while I understand the need for good women’s roles in an ensemble company like this one, it’s still a mistake to have Apemantus and several other key male characters played by women — Timon’s wretched world of greed and infighting is, in every sense, man-made.

Is it possible that this is worse? I think it is. Worse because of the infantilizing and diminishing way that it’s phrased.  It is the casualness of these words that more than anything makes me want to punch the paper upon which the words are written:

Dan, Dan, Dan… Silly man.

Oops! I think you made a “mistake”.

FYI, this play is male-driven. You might not remember because you’ve been around so many ladies (I mean 50/50 in the cast, but come on, that’s an awful lot for a Shakespeare play).

You forgot it’s about BIG things like “greed and infighting”. It’s not that this particular female performer is not powerful commanding. It’s not that this particular actress you’ve chosen is not ferocious or greedy or money hungry. It’s not that many of the women in your show are young apprentices and might be worth evaluating based on experience or talent instead of gender.

No, no. You didn’t realize that women are not capable of such things.

This story is “man-made.”

Oh, Dan. I hope you don’t make that mistake again…

Because “while I see the need for good women’s roles,” while I see that the two female co-founders of your company are excluded from this very large and powerful portion of the theatrical cannon, while I see the incredibly limited scope of what a woman is traditionally defined as in some of these plays, while I see the subtle and casual limitations that I am placing on them, while I see the constant barrage of definition that many works put on women, a definition they constantly have to battle against, while I see that the logical extension of my argument is that because I don’t usually see women play these roles and it feels weird to me I want you to stop doing it thus ensuring that women are never cast in these roles and making sure that I, nor any audience really, will ever ever acclimate to seeing such a thing –

While I see all of these things, I’d really rather not have to deal with that.

So could you just, you know, not make me think about it?

Punch. The. Paper.

I’m out.

– A

PS –  I sincerely hope that some of these reviews are a product of bad editing. If there is a fuller version, one that addresses some of my problems with generalizing here, I’d love to read them.

And, I would like to point out and credit reviewers like Howard Shapiro who manage to give their opinion about this piece without invoking a lady’s inherent inability to be greedy.

Middle of the Road

Yesterday we looked at the folks on the upper end. Now let’s look at some people in the middle.  Here are data sets for four mid sized companies: The Lantern, Interact, Theatre Exile, and Act II Playhouse.

Using this website I found the “revenue” listed for each of these companies to be in the mid to high hundred thousands. I’m assuming that’s for the most recent tax filing. For comparison yesterday’s figures for the Arden, People’s Light, PTC, and Wilma had revenues listed at 5.29 million, 4.11 million, 3.95 million, and 3.64 million respectively.  So on the whole we’re looking roughly at an order of magnitude smaller.

This is useful to note for two semi-self evident reasons:

1) Larger companies tend to employ more people and therefore a difference in representation in these companies has a higher impact on the community as a whole.

2) We can make a reasonable assumption that jobs at better funded theaters will tend to pay at a higher pay grade.

This is obviously not always true in every instance, but gives a useful bit of context when comparing numbers across company sizes. Still, unfair representation is, obviously, unfair at any scale.

lantern stats

Lantern graph

interact stats Interact graph
 theatre exile stats

theatre exile graph

act ii stats act ii graph


PS –

1) Act II’s data on designers was particularly tough to find (especially for seasons 08/09 and 09/10). This is why the total numbers of designers is lower than the expected based on corresponding number of productions. This data is less complete than the other theaters’ info. If you’d like the raw data feel free to ask.

2) Again, if you want to know how I calculated these numbers you can check back on the PS from yesterday’s post.