By Tiffany Antone
Something about my previous post stuck with me this week… I couldn’t quite put a pin in it until today. At the end of the piece, I mentioned “I can’t presume to tell a woman of color about her own life anymore than a WoC should be telling a transgender white woman about hers.”
It stirred the question, “Where do transgender playwrights fall in this fight for gender parity?”
Does our drive for equal representation on stage scuttle transgender authors into Male/Female categories, or do we recognize them with a third gender category, thus indicating that an ideal season would include plays by men, women, and transgender playwrights? And, if so, how would those genders break down from there? Does a truly balanced season include an exact number male/female/transgender playwrights of color/queer/disabled/et al distinctions?
I guess what I’m getting at here is that in our bid to be better represented on stage, we become but one segment of an assembly of segmented voices demanding to be heard.
What does this mean for theatres on the grand scale? Should they try to appease each and every piece of these divided masses? Could they? What would a season look like if they did?
And what does this mean for playwrights on an individual level? Is it possible to fully engage theatres en masse, or do we ultimately split time between our soap boxes and our desks, desperately self-promoting our own brand of whatever it is we’re selling whenever we’re not talking about everyone else in our “group”?
Is this just the way of things? Are we all really just choosing the battles that lie closest to us, and to hell with the rest?
And if so, how can theatres – besieged with criticisms from so many groups – be expected to satisfy everyone?
Unfortunately, the answer for theatres is they cannot.
In order to “revolutionize” their production schedule in a manner that would satisfy our collectively diverse demands, theatres would need to be indifferent (at best) about alienating their patron base. (The bigger the theatre, the more true this statement.) A regional theatre that has primarily produced classic works by white men, for instance, would face a marketing and attendance nightmare were it to do a complete 180 – because it takes time (not decades, granted, but time) to grow new audiences*.
Smart purposefully-diverse substitutions in a theatre’s season, on the other hand, can serve to satisfy a theatre’s established audience as well as bring in new audiences previously deterred by what may have been perceived as static programming. And when I say “smart” I mean searching for work that will challenge your theatre’s audience without alienating it. If your theatre is in a city with a strong Latino community, and that community isn’t frequenting your theatre, finding/producing work by Latino artists could be the first step your company takes towards diversifying your season. If your company exists in a community with a large gay/lesbian population, but that population doesn’t visit your theatre, you should be seeking out playrights who can speak to that audience over and beyond playwrights that wouldn’t. And if you’re one of those theatres producing Neil Simon after Mamet after Donald Margulies, you might be able to spice things up without mystifying your (probably) primarily white audiences just by bringing in some Sarah Ruhl or Theresa Rebeck.
Yes, adding one new voice to your season – new to your theatre and to your audience – could quite the change make.
In each instance, you are working towards a more balanced and robust season one new play at a time without moving too far beyond the circles of what you know your community will support. You are contributing to a shifting theatrical landscape that continues to diversify and grow at a pace that allows audiences and hesitant administrators to keep pace.
Yet, would such incremental season changes be enough to make us happy? If a regional theatre includes two plays by white women in their season where before they had no women at all, do we credit them as moving closer to gender parity, but berate them for ignoring playwrights of color? Or do we decide on an individual level whether or not the fact that they are producing two works by women is satisfying and encouraging “enough” to us as women playwrights that we sort of “settle” down for a bit and direct our energies elsewhere? Do we then look at other artists demanding the theatre give voice to their cause and say “Good luck!” or do we allow their fight to color our “victory” less victorious?
Which brings me back to my initial query – when we say we are asking for “gender parity”, what does that really mean? And does it supercede or walk in step with the fight for diversity on stage in total?
Do we, in aligning ourselves with the fight closest to us, become a hindrance to those walking beside us? Or can we all fight for our chosen “team” and still fight for all of us together?
It seems to me that the answers to these questions help us decide how we talk about gender parity/racial diversity/etc. with theatres and with one another, and it decides what we want to happen as a result of those discussions. If we can agree that diversity at large is the goal, then we can work to encourage theatres to adopt changes in programming that best reflect the communities surrounding them by giving voice to the artists who serve those communities. This might be a more realistic and attainable goal than asking theatres to give stage time to all of our voices at once.
So, the question becomes, is it a goal we can all work towards together?
* The topic of growing new audiences is worthy of a deeper discussion in and of itself – of which there have been many. For a fresh take and very insightful article on the topic, check out David Schultz’s Soil, Sunshine, Fresh Air, and Water on HowlRound