In honor of Women's History Month...


The dramatic impact of women on the early development of American film

National Women's History Museum website

Women have been central to the film industry since its inception in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As writers, directors, actors, and audience members, women have influenced the trajectory of the film industry. Female stardom was an essential component of the rise of the industry, though many of these women were celebrated more for their appearances than for their acting ability.   While the popularity of certain female stars offered them legendary status, the kinds of roles they were asked to play often reinforced traditional gender roles. That story is the familiar one. NWHM's "Women in Early Film" exhibit intends to reveal a lesser known part of the story. Women actually played a powerful role in shaping the early film industry. As both consumers of film and professionals in the field, both in front of and behind the camera, women dramatically affected the development of American film.

>> View the exhibit online.


Progress seen in NY but not in other parts of the U.S. for female playwrights

The Los Angles Female Playwrights Initiative website [hat tip to Ella Martin]

LA FPI's study revealed that less than 20%of the plays produced or presented in workshops or readings [in the Greater Los Angeles area] for a ten year period (2000-2009) were written by women.  While slightly above the widely accepted national average of 17%, this figure is far from representative of the work that's being created by Los Angeles playwrights.  According to local playwright organizations, approximately 45% of members are women.  New information is coming in across the country.  The Chicago Gender Equity report in 2009 [said] plays written by women constituted just under 19% of plays produced. (If plays co-authored or created by at least one woman were included, the number would reach 30%.)  Guerilla Girls on Tour recently named 114 theaters across the country who will not be producing even one play by a woman on their mainstage during the 2010/11 season.  Statistics support the fact there is incentive for change on American stages.  As reported in coverage of the 2008 Sands study, Broadway plays and musicals by women are 18% more profitable than [those written] by men.  As a result of recent efforts on the East Coast, the NY-area theater scene seems to be shifting.  "We had a huge rise in the number of productions by women in 2010, and a far higher percentage of those female written plays were hits than those [by] their male counterparts," said playwright/activist Julia Jordan.  In addition, the National Theatre Conference recently announced the National Initiative to Celebrate American Women Playwrights. The NTC is enlisting its members to pledge to produce at least one work each year for the next three years by a contemporary American female playwright.


Commentary: The need for women to tell our own stories is greater than ever

The Culture Project's Women Center Stage 2011 [festival] is taking the New York boards by storm this month.  Since 1996, WCS has launched seminal work.  The 2011 edition offers 33 performances by 40 artists over 29 days.  Today, we turn the spotlight on Manda Martin, an Associate Producer at The Culture Project. [Here's an excerpt from her interview:]

Why is it important to have a festival like Women Center Stage?

I'm torn on how to answer this. On the one hand I want to say that we need an even more massive, city-wide WCS with companies all over town presenting work by women together. And on the other hand I think all of us want to reach a place where women are being produced and presented solely on the quality of their work, and not also because we're consciously trying to combat a disparity by drawing attention to gender. I don't know if I want to make the argument for WCS to become totally obsolete, because I think the celebratory aspect of this festival is just as important. But until things level out for women in this industry, the important thing is to create opportunities to just do the work. And that's what WCS is doing.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing female theater artists?

There are a lot, but I think they're ultimately not different from what the rest of the country is facing -- doing more with less and creating our own opportunities. I think women generally are facing serious threats to the jurisdiction over our bodies, and women artists should see this as a call to action both politically and professionally -- the need to tell our own stories is greater than ever.  [Read more about this issue on Manda's production company's blog.]

What gives you hope for women in American theater?

There's a lot of us, and we're really fucking talented.


Actress Helen Mirren on dealing with institutionalized sexism

The Guardian, 3/3/11

Helen Mirren first gave an interview to this newspaper 42 years ago -- headlined "I've been sexy-looking since I was 14." Three days later she wrote: "It is a shame that being interviewed by the Guardian should turn out to be such a miserable experience." Yes, she says with a rueful smile, she well remembers that interview, and its emphasis on her ambition and her looks.  The general media obsession with Mirren's sex life has been replaced these days by a kind of awe, no less misogynistic, that a woman in her 60s can look attractive and happy.  She has spent much of her life performing Shakespeare, and regrets the paucity of parts he wrote for older women. "I don't want to play Gertrude," she huffs. "I want to play Hamlet."  One of the thrills of any actor's work as they get older is the ability to draw on the resonances of their persona or past performances. It's hard, for instance, not to see echoes of Mirren's own professional battles when [her character] rails against institutionalised sexism in Prime Suspect: "In my profession, you're not punished for being young -- in fact you're rewarded -- but it's not the same for most women. I was part of the first generation of women to be educated and go to grammar school even if we didn't have much money. Then that generation went 'OK, great', and went into medicine or the police, and hit this wall of discrimination from older men who hadn't caught up. By the time Prime Suspect came out, those women had been fighting away for 20 years, unable to say anything about it, because the last thing you want to do is whine about it. When they saw Prime Suspect, they saw their struggles on screen."


Commentary: Why Sony Music should devote all its resources to female singers

Jeffrey Rabhan, The Huffington Post, 3/3/11

Out of 2010's Top 15 #1 hits, 8 were from solo female artists.  Sony Music was home to 6 [of them].  Sony's dominance in the category is not isolated to 2010; their successes span decades. From Whitney to Celine, Mariah to Christina, and Alicia to Britney -- there are billions of dollars in net receipts and a legacy that runs strong with Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, Kesha, Pink, and Shakira.  And with more than 30 solo female multi-platinum artists on the roster and in the catalog, Sony should cease all operations involving anything else. The recorded music industry is looking to cut costs and map out a future, yet attempts to artificially engineer Top 40 radio and secure precious percentages of market share continue. Get back to basics and follow the forgotten rule of business -- do the one thing you do better than anyone else.  Why stop at Sony?  Shouldn't Interscope commandeer all of hip-hop in the same manner? Sounds good, but the economics don't match. Hip-hop is historically flat outside of the US, and catalog sales don't withstand the test of time. Boring hip-hop tours cannot compete with the spectacle of Pink on a trapeze, Shakira as a she-wolf, and Beyonce as, well, Beyonce. No other concentration could support a major international label like Sony. Solo females cross all genres with worldwide appeal and major numbers. 

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