i'm a white writer. in new york. original, no? i've been blogging since october 2002. this blog picks up in october 2008, when i moved from DC to NY...(and then I moved to Maine in 2012)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

THURSDAY SLICE O' PIE: Closing the Loop and Opening the Door

Was it really three weeks ago that we all were parsing apart the Primary Stages issue around their all-female season of plays?

Yes, yes it was.

I loved that, everywhere I went both in NY and in DC in the following days, people were eager to talk about this issue. I loved that so many people were coming here to read about it, and appreciated that people were commenting so thoughtfully. And I wanted to share more information about the issue. (Also, I'm looking forward to attending the seminar on Gender Disparity on June 22 sponsored by 59E59 and Primary Stages.)

But...

In those three weeks since, I've worked my 3 jobs, finished a script, travelled to DC for a reading, helped to produce 2 panels for a conference, worked one fundraiser, attended another, seen 6 shows, gone to Atlantic City, attended two professional networking events, worked on a grant application, prepped for a speaking engagement next week, and built the graphics for the web, press release, banner ad, and postcard for one of my summer shows.

(And I started an online dating profile. You know, because I have so much free time on my hands.)

But the real reason I've held back on posting further, was that I wanted to sit with my own feelings on this matter.

Obviously, I have strong, personal feelings about this. And I am always suspicious of strong, personal feelings. Not in a bad way--I think passion clues us in to what matters most to us--but in a skeptical way. As in, What's really going on here?

And I realized that what's really going on here is that I can't even pretend to be objective, and that I can't make a logical argument for why it is important to produce women playwrights. I actually think logic works against this idea, that an argument for parity, for numbers, somehow misses addressing the essential nature of what's askew in the first place.

And so I've decided to write about this topic solely from my own personal viewpoint, acknowledging the whole time that it is completely subjective, and influenced by many specifically personal events in my own life.

But I'm not doing that in this post, and it will take me a little while to gather those thoughts on paper.

But I will share some interesting after-events from the time this issue was raised three weeks ago:

Primary Stages responded to a follow-up email I sent asking what sort of response they were seeing in terms of subscription numbers. They said that there indeed was an impact, but they did not list specific numbers:

Since this string was posted, we have received more than a few inquiries about purchasing subscriptions for worthy female playwrights, and I certainly hope those numbers continue to grow. It has been, and continues to be, fulfilling for Primary Stages (as an organization and as individual staff members) to connect young playwrights with a community of supporters.

We often use the term "Primary Stages family" because we know it takes much more than our little staff to make theater happen. Thank you to all who are joining that family. We look forward to entering this milestone year with you.


Then, on June 3, a friend who supports Round House Theatre forwarded me this e-blast that RHT sent to their mailing list:

Round House Supports Women Playwrights

Round House Theatre has produced five plays on its Bethesda
main stage this season. Four of those plays were written by accomplished female playwrights. And though it's already June, you still have a chance to support this kind of work by attending our final production of the season — Melanie Marnich's new comedy A Sleeping Country, running through June 21.

Theatre stages are, in general, still dominated by the work of male playwrights. A recent study by the Dramatists Guild noted that only 11% of the plays produced in New York City were female-authored. Here at Round House, we're trying to change that. Just look at who came out to play this year: Karen ZacarĂ­as, Mary Hall Surface, Sarah Ruhl and currently Melanie Marnich. These are amongst the most talented and creative voices working in the theatre today - male or female.

But sometimes, we just need a little reminder. Supporting their work matters. A lot.

I could be wrong to assume a causal connection to the conversation we all were engaging in two weeks prior, but I'd like to think that this is an example of a theatre realizing that overtly supporting women playwrights, and telling their audience why it's important, can get people to the theater, and can make subscribers a little less squeamish.

The very same hour, I kid you not, I got an email from another DC friend. She had just gotten her Studio Theatre season brochure in the mail and was dismayed it features only male playwrights.

The fact that this friend noticed this underscores what I suspect is one of the disconnects between the genders about awareness of this issue. I know that every time I look at a table of contents in a magazine, or a theatre's season listing, when it's all men, it really stands out. And believe me, it happens a lot. (And often, when women are included, they are dolled-up or admired for a saucy, cultivated foul-mouthedness.) Each week I get an email from the New Yorker telling me what's waiting for me in my mailbox at home, and so many times the entire list of writers is men.

I caught part of the Tonys while I was in Atlantic City, and I was struck by how purposefully women seemed to be included, whether it were a wife brought on stage by a male Tony winner, or another award winner making sure to say that God of Carnage succeeds because of Reza's script, that the director and translator did not fix or improve it (I'm paraphrasing, but you know what I mean).

So I believe that, as often as I have seen male colleagues roll their eyes or disengage from this conversation (oh the sting of not being listened to), there are many more male colleagues (many of them married or with daughters at home) who care deeply about this issue. And I believe that progress will be exponential. Well, I hope so anyway.

And for those men who might want to understand more viscerally why this is such a huge issue for women, I recommend a specific book to read. It's a classic piece of writing that had an enormous impact on the conversation about women's issues when it was published in the 1970s, and it had an enormous impact on me when I read it decades later. It specifically speaks to the creation of art, and to the creation of art by women. It explores, succinctly and powerfully, the many reasons women are often silent, or are silenced. It's aptly called Silences, and it was written by Tillie Olsen, who passed away a few years ago.

It's around 300 pages, but if you just read the first section (there are three), which is about 50 pages, you'll see why it is such an important piece of writing. (And you'll probably be so fascinated that you'll continue reading.)

When I went to the MacDowell Colony, I went around my studio looking at all the names written on the wall of who had been there before me. Tillie Olsen was one of the names. I re-read Silences while I was there, and an artistic director of a theatre, who knew of my admiration for Olsen, suggested I write something up inspired by her work. I spent a few days inquiring about rights and got nowhere. I wrote Olsen a letter. She died shortly after.

I never wrote my piece on her, and I don't think I ever will. It's a fool's endeavor to try to re-work something that is already in its perfect form.

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