Commentary: "That bitch, Corey Madden..."

Corey Madden,, 5/27/12

Though theater is highly collaborative and plenty of women work in it, it's unusual for a creative team to be mostly female. In a rare example, I was the commissioner and dramaturg of a new play written by a woman that was being co-produced by a large East Coast theater recently taken over by a woman artistic director. I expected the working atmosphere would be especially congenial and my role on the project central. Instead, at a funder's reception I attended, I became distinctly aware of being shunned by the artistic director as she bragged about the play and playwright to her funders. Okay, whatever. I'm a big girl. I drank my wine and got over it. However, the next day I asked to use the office of a more junior female director on the theater's staff who had also previously been an intern at our theater. I sat down at her desk and there on her computer screen was a journal entry that began, "That bitch, Corey Madden..." and went on to complain that I had ignored her at the reception and while she was interning at our theater. So consumed was I with my own psycho-professional dynamics, this woman hadn't even registered in my consciousness at the reception or during her internship. I feel I owe this former intern an apology. Aren't we all guilty of shunning other women at some point in our lives -- if not for competitive gain then simply because we're distracted by our own bullshit? Are our competitive instincts working against our common good? Last year Emily Sands, a Princeton economics student conducted a study to analyze why less than 15% of the plays produced annually are by women. Her research revealed a startling finding: that female literary managers and artistic directors consistently rated a script submitted by a "Mary Walker" lower than the identical script submitted by "Michael Walker." Equally surprising, male counterparts rated the script the same whether authored by a man or a woman. While it's not clear exactly why women de-valued plays written by other women, the finding that our own gender may be a part of the problem makes me break out in a hot flash.


Response: Putting the Sands study into perspective

Susan Jonas, in the comments section of the post above

I very much appreciated this essay. I did want to address a misapprehension regarding the report by Emily Sands. There were some serious flaws in the study, but it was a great effort for a college student. Literary Managers have very little power at most theatres and, as it is an underpaid job, it is often filled by a woman. Because so few plays by women are produced, often a literary manager will anticipate rejection by their artistic directors and not push work in which they find great merit. (This is what many of the Literary Managers cited in the study said to me.) The media got a hold of a partial truth and turned it into a cat fight, and Sands, who has no knowledge of theatre, was not able to put some of her assumptions in context. 

Commentary: Thoughts from a loud-mouthed feminist theater girl

Meghan Arnette, founder/producing artistic director of Live Girls! Theater,, 5/11/12

In the last few years there has been a fresh wave of attention paid to the lack of plays produced by women. I have never been able to find any statistics that show more than 19% of new work being written by women. I have heard the claims that producing work by women is not economically viable (not backed up with real evidence) but the real questions posed directly to me are often the most surprising:

Why don't you just do good plays?
Who doesn't want to do good work? Everyone is trying to do good work. But posing the question insinuates that I won't be able to find enough good work by women to, you know, do all good work. That by choosing to do all work by women I will probably have to do some bad plays.

(Name of company that does theater relating to women in any way) exists, why do you need to?
As the statistics show, we have a long way to go, so the more help the better. We have a targeted mission to hit the problem of gender inequality from a specific angle. The less obvious problem with this question is that it is an example of how easily people lump us into a generalized "lady theater" category while paying little attention to what we actually do.

Why are you biased against male writers?
It is possible to support one thing without being against something else. Really. It is. Please consider that making room for the ladies does not have to be a threat.

So, what if I wrote a play and I said I was a woman and you didn't know I was a man and you really liked it, would you produce it?
Seriously? (Insert eye roll here) I have been asked this question very seriously. Very often. I don't feel compelled to actually debate it anymore I hear it so often.

A Quick Question for You
Quick!  Name three female playwrights you like. How did you do? Did it take you long? If not, you are the exception to the rule. If it did, don't feel bad. Most theater makers I ask can't do it.


Commentary: We need Affirmative Action to seek plays by and about women

Kelly Kleiman, WBEZ's Onstage/Backstage blog, 5/10/12

This ought to be a tired old subject by now, but as I watched Shattered Globe's Her Naked Skin recently, I couldn't help thinking it was good to see a show about women, written by a woman, presented by a theater that doesn't primarily identify itself as a women's theater. Though there are certainly exceptions, it remains the case that Chicago theaters are more interested in stories about boys than in stories about girls. Well, what of it? Mainstream white theaters are more interested in shows about whites than in shows about blacks or Latinos, and there are culturally-specific theaters to fill in the gaps. What's wrong with having the same system to handle work by, for or about women? What's wrong with it (leaving aside the question of whether separate-but-equal is actually a valid approach to minority theater) is that women are not a minority. In fact, we're a large majority of the people who buy tickets to live theater. When the primary audience of an art form is still sitting at the back of the house...we need to ask why. Do I think someone is sitting at the helm of [the town's largest] theaters chortling as they exclude women from their seasons? No, of course not: Steppenwolf and Chicago Shakes are both led by women. What I do think is that these theaters, and many others, should be practicing affirmative action in seeking out plays by and about women. Affirmative action does not mean putting on lesser plays, or choosing plays based on tokenism. It means being conscious of the need to look harder for women's stories because our ingrained prejudices and traditional cultural constructs condition us to regard them as less important, less valid and less universal than those of men. It also means having women directors and artistic directors take special responsibility in that search, and not feel they have to defend themselves against the charge of promoting women's work as if they were charged with spreading typhoid.


Does knowing a play is written/directed by a woman influence ticket sales?

Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio's State of the Arts blog, 5/21/12

Using MPR's Public Insight Network, we sent out a query with a few questions, including: "Would knowing that the author or director of a play was a woman or person of color influence your decision to go?" While the results are too small to be statistically conclusive, we found the answers enlightening. Here's a sampling [of responses]:

> Dollis Scheele of Green Isle: "Yes. I am a woman and would like to see a wide diversity of choices in actors, directors, stage designers, costumes etc. If you do not attend plays with minority leadership they will soon be unemployed."

> Kaohly Her of St. Paul: "I think that women and minorities bring a different perspective to theater. I seek opportunities to support plays directed by people who are generally under-represented groups. I have two young girls so the plays I attend are no longer just for my enjoyment. Seeing the classics are important... but seeing smaller shows that are educational, that speak to our cultural heritage, deal with social justice issues, are thought provoking and educational are really important to me."

> Aditi Kapil of Minneapolis: "Trick question: it depends on which woman. Most of my favorite local directors are women, so in that sense yes. Just a female director on the basis of gender alone, no. But I do expect from female directors a greater interpretive boldness, an inventiveness that comes from having a new perspective, particularly when dealing with classics, so maybe... I'm more likely to go to a familiar classic play when directed through the lens of Lisa Peterson or Michelle Hensley."  

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