Potential

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

Crowd source the grant of the future!

Hey friends!

First! I wanted to tell you that there’s big news coming your way from Swim Pony. This coming Monday we’ll be unveiling our next project: Cross Pollination. Cross Poll will be an awesome exploration of artistic mash ups. If you’ve ever wanted to see what happens when comic artist meets a dance company, this project will be right up your alley. So stay tuned for the info on all the details and the artist application to get involved.

And a huge thank you to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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for supporting the Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia. Trust me, you’ll be thanking them to when you see what we’re rolling out on Monday….

Second! I wanted to follow up and say that one of the most popular posts this month on the blog – the one in which I laid out a proposal for a results-oriented grant for gender parity – is gathering some steam. This is a project I am really hoping to make happen for realz in the relatively near future.

Most grants when being developed go through an extensive panel process. They have a lot of people reading and writing and then re-reading and re-writing the application guidelines. They examine the goals and expected outcomes. They look at the metrics that will be used to assess the project. And they think about who will enact these suggestions.

I want to create a grant that has just as much of a review process. And yet, I am just one human with my singular human brain. But what started happening informally after I posted about this the first time was that people started emailing me their suggestions. They asked questions about how things might work. They proposed ideas to make it stronger. And while I know that I wouldn’t implement all aspects of every suggestion, I also know that each one gave me a new perspective on how to think about shaping the thing. They were all super helpful in getting me to think like someone on a review panel.

It makes me wonder if this might be something worth asking for more of.

So here goes. I’ve re-listed the original guidelines proposed below and if you have thoughts about them, let me know!

What are the questions you’d have if you were to apply? Tell me the things that might seem difficult to interpret. Give me suggestions for things to expand that you’d want to know more about. Think about your work and how it might be assessed for this thing and let me know if you see a potential change to make it clearer or easier to take part in.

Think of this as your chance to crowd source the creation of a grant for the artistic world we want to see.

AWESOME LADIES GETTIN’ WHAT’S DUE (ALGWD for short)

Proposed guidelines:

1)   The ALGWD team announces to the Philadelphia-area theater community that starting next season any company, of any size, with access to their own non-profit status or a fiscal sponsor is eligible for an award at the end of a three year period.

2)   The funding awards will be made in two categories:

  • $25,000 will be awarded to 5 companies with the highest percentage of women artists represented across three artistic categories (see below).
  • Any company that achieves 45% female representation across all three categories is eligible to receive $10,000.
  • PS – You have to hit the minimum in all three. No exceptions.

3)   Female artists represented will be calculated based on a statistics over three categories:

  • Number of women playwrights
  • Number of women directors
  • Number of women actors

4)   Other rules and guidelines:

  • Companies will submit their statistics and then have them validated by the grant committee in order to be eligible.
  • The statistics must include all artistic output by a company.
  • Artistic outputs included must be open to the public.
  • A company must meet a minimum of three public works to be eligible for consideration.
  • Funds are string-free. You can use them for whatever you want.

5)   And maybe we could also add this as a bonus:

  • A $1,000 in additional funds are available for any company that can also show an equal parity across all categories of theatrical design regardless of whether they reach the above minimums.

Throw your comments in below. Or send them to swimponypa@gmail.com

You might just get what you asked for…

– A

PS – A big thanks to all those already super engaged in responses to the original post. I’ve definitely been keeping them in the mix!

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

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

3 years and $300,000 and I’ll fix it, for realz…

Alright, enough moping.

So remember how I said that the tough thing about talking about the issue of gender parity, the problem, wasn’t intentions, but a lack of culpability for outcomes.

In other words, how do you get people to not just think about doing the right thing but actually motivate them to do it?

Guess what?

Yesterday, I figured it out.

You just need some money.

You need a funding program that has nothing to do with intentions, because we all have the best intentions. What you need is a reward system that is entirely based on outcomes.

So.

Without further ado, I give you:

SWIM PONY MASSIVELY OVERHAULS THE STATE OF WOMEN ARTISTS IN THREE YEARS AND WHO KNEW IT WOULD BE THIS FLIPPIN EASY GRANT PROGRAM

Also known as:

AWESOME LADIES GETTIN’ WHAT’S DUE (ALGWD for short)

(With support from Pew Charitable Trusts

Or maybe William Penn

Or maybe The Wyncote Foundation

Or The Knight Foundation

Really who cares, someone has to fund this, right?)

Here are my proposed guidelines:

1)   The ALGWD team announces to the Philadelphia-area theater community that starting next season any company, of any size, with access to their own non-profit status or a fiscal sponsor is eligible for an award at the end of a three year period.

2)   The funding awards will be made in two categories:

  • $25,000 will be awarded to 5 companies with the highest percentage of women artists represented across three artistic categories (see below).
  • Any company that achieves 45% female representation across all three categories is eligible to receive $10,000.
  • PS – You have to hit the minimum in all three. No exceptions.

3)   Female artists represented will be calculated based on a statistics over three categories:

  • Number of women playwrights
  • Number of women directors
  • Number of women actors

4)   Other rules and guidelines:

  • Companies will submit their statistics and then have them validated by the grant committee in order to be eligible.
  • The statistics must include all artistic output by a company.
  • Artistic outputs included must be open to the public.
  • A company must meet a minimum of three public works to be eligible for consideration.
  • Funds are string-free. You can use them for whatever you want.

5)   And maybe we could also add this as a bonus:

  • A $1,000 in additional funds are available for any company that can also show an equal parity across all categories of theatrical design regardless of whether they reach the above minimums.

This means for three years there’s a looming pile of cash incentivizing the choice to bring women artists in. It’s not the only consideration, but it’s enough to help counteract a tiny bit of that un-intentional push away from a female artists in the other direction.

And happily, unlike calling someone out or making a stink, this grant doesn’t hurt anyone who decides they can’t or won’t be able to meet the gender equality minimum. You can do all the dude heavy, dude written, dude directed plays you want. It just means you’re missing out on the free money party.

Of the 12 companies I surveyed numbers on last year, a few were pretty darn close – Flashpoint, Simpatico and Azuka – but not one would have hit this minimum requirement across all three categories. But if there were $10,000 at stake, how much do you want to bet they’d tweak their selections just a tiny bit to nudge them over the line? If the next time the AD’s of these companies looked at their numbers and knew that hiring one more female director got them $10,000 do you think they’d think as hard about whether or not to do it? Do you think that the choice between a female playwright and a male one would be quite so agonizing if one picking the former meant they might be one of those companies competing for the top 5 slot?

For most companies, $25,000 or $10,000 in funds that aren’t project ear-marked would make a huge difference. That’s an entire person’s salary in some cases. That’s the budget for an entire show for the really small ones. And even if you’re a bigger dog, one where the scale you’re operating on won’t be totally transformed by this kind of cash, think about how hard you chase donors on this scale. You could just do the work you’re already doing AND save women artists from inequity while getting money handed to you.

The way I see it there are something on the order of 30 – 40 companies in Philly and the surrounding areas who’d be eligible. If I had to guess, right now, there are probably only a handful – 5 maybe – that potentially meet those guidelines already.  From rough estimation it seems like about half those companies could probably hit those numbers with just a bit of effort to add a few female directors or playwrights or plays with more female roles. If I were a betting woman, I’d guess the same half of those 30 – 40 would come out the other side of three years with hands outstretched for their $10,000.

Think about the impact that would make in this community:

  • 5 companies at the top x $25,000 = $125,000
  • ~16 more companies at the minimum x $10,000 = $160,000
  •  ~15 that also hit the design minimum x $1,000 = $15,000

That’s $300,000.

This is really not that much money.

Think about that Philly funders…  For a single upper limit Pew organizational project grant:

  • You could have an incredibly concrete means to measure the impact of your efforts by surveying the stats on gender before the award period and after.
  • You could incentivize not promises or discussions but measurable, quantifiable outcomes.
  • You could reward those companies already employing positive gender parity practices.
  • You could send a message that your organization cares deeply about the status of women artists and is able to take steps to do something about it.
  • You could create an art-making environment in Philadelphia that can be nationally recognized as the most female friendly in the country.
  • You could massively shift everything about the way this city works for women artists.

No hemming or hawing. No yelling or fighting. No pipelining. No apologies for what we intended to do but couldn’t quite make happen.  Just three years to make it happen or not.

Some folks will ask you for a whole new system and ten years or more to implement it.

I’m just asking for three years and $300,000.

Let’s do it now Philly before some other city snatches up our good idea.

– Adrienne

PS – Shout out to Brad Wrenn who dreamed this up in the car with me when I was having a shitty morning yesterday.

Tired

How best do you root this shit out?

I have been seriously trying to think on this one in the past couple days.

I keep thinking about #thesummit and I’m still not sure how best to proceed, both when it comes to talking with folks who are semi-anonymous AD’s I don’t personally know and with my close friends and peers. There are a couple of recent specific incidents that have sparked this post’s train of thought, but it’s also an issue that I’ve struggled with for a while, and, based on convos from the Awesome Lady Squad, a phenomenon that I think is much much bigger than just me.

It’s easy to make a list of female directors. I’m glad I did it. But it’s harder, by a lot, to actually get people who are making artistic choices, to take that list and hire them. I really believe that almost everyone, in theory, supports that list. Is there anyone in this community who would admit they don’t want women to hold an equal place? But somehow, seasons get chosen, shows are cast, and it continues to happen. If we all agree it’s bad, how and why do such inequities persist?

The problem, I think, isn’t that any one choice is particular misogynistic or horrifying. I think that’s actually pretty rare in this community. What’s more likely and perhaps far tougher to solve, far more problematic, are singular well-reasoned, well-intentioned choices across many many companies that still add up to a gender inequity in the community as a whole.

The problem, I think, isn’t intentions, but a lack of culpability for outcomes.

Which is why trying to tackle such a thing is so tricky. You don’t want to feel like you’re attacking any particular person or company, any particular choice, because of course those people have well reasoned and thought out plans for why they’ve chosen the way they have. It feels mean. It feels punitive. But then what exactly are you supposed to do about the fact that women are still vastly under-represented on and off the stage in almost every theater in this city? How in particular does one try and make a dent in this?

I’m trying. I’m trying to throw darts at what I think might be the board. I’m trying to initiate conversations with a fair number of different people on both the very tiny and very large scale of company sizes to see if I can get them to engage. I’ve been having this conversation everywhere, from theater lobbies to parties and even in my own home with my own fiancée who has his own company.

But I’ll be honest, right now, I think I’m failing. Right now, this morning, it’s feeling like a real uphill battle. And at this moment, it’s feeling a little defeating. Because despite trying to be intensely careful about my wording, despite continuing to reiterate my respect and admiration for folks, it still feels a little like I’m the one who has to constantly justify what I’m seeing. That if I perceive an imbalance that I want to unpack or converse about, I have to ensure that I’m completely grounded in my observations before we can engage. That it is my job to make sure I don’t put people on the defensive, even if my aim is to provoke and question an aspect of their work. That I better walk in knowing an awful lot about the person or company and their reasons for doing what they’re doing or I’m doing something wrong. It feels like I’m the one with the onus to prove there’s a bias.

And that’s hard to do. And it feels a bit like an impossible task at this moment. It’s hard to know everything about why someone selects a season, why someone has picked a particular play. It’s hard to be sure that under intentions, there are less obvious things that still might be worth addressing.It’s hard to know exactly how the issue is feeding into the situation, especially the closer in you zoom.

What I do know is that as I’ve looked at a few companies, I still see that fewer actresses will get cast and fewer female playwrights will be produced next year. That’s what I wish I could fix.

When I talked about this conversation with my fiancée he said this:

“The thing is, I just think it would be sad if people felt inhibited to talk about things. Or if their imaginations were squashed because they were trying so hard to be careful.”

I thought,  “I feel that way so much of the time.”

I feel that way whenever I try and bring this up. That if I’m not so terribly careful, I’ll make people feel unfairly labeled and then I’m the bad guy. That I’m not giving them a chance to show their side of things. Sometimes I so get tired of always having to hear the other side of things first. Because my aim is never to put people on the defensive but it feels like regardless of my tactic this is always the result.  And many times, the risk of alienating someone doesn’t feel worth it in a given moment and not bringing it up is the only way I can ensure someone won’t get their hackles raised.

So sometimes I don’t.

And sometimes when I do, the result doesn’t always feel that I’ve been able to communicate what I’d hoped. More times than I wish, I’ve walk away feeling further from the person I wanted to engage than when I started. And this in particular makes it harder to do the next time.

This must be part of why these things persist, no?

I don’t want to squash the imagination of others. But it sometimes feels to me, and I hear from other women that they feel this too, that this problem squashes us all the time. And it’s hard to know what to do when I don’t think people aren’t trying to do it. It’s hard because it feels like for me to ask for what I think is fair, I’m also punishing or taking something away from someone else.

We’ll have to think on this one a bit more…

– A