Posts tagged: Tiffany Antone

Insurance for an Artist

by Tiffany Antone

A slightly medicated post from post-surgery land…

A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease, which involves an unfortunately over-active thyroid messing up all kinds of metabolic function.  I didn’t have insurance at the time I was diagnosed, having let it lapse due to my near-impoverished status at the time.  Once diagnosed, I was able to reinstate my insurance, but with the policy’s insanely high deductible, it did little to curb the cost of necessary tests and specialists visits.

At the time, doctors recommended I get the thyroid removed, but I couldn’t even imagine doing so because I’d have to cover the first $8,000 of any operation out of my own (empty) pocket due to my $5,000 deductible/$3,000 co-insurance policy.

So I went on anti-thyroid meds and set my sites on the ACA rollout date as a bastion of insured hope.

Last week I finally got my thyroid removed.  I received excellent medical care.  My deductible was only $500.

(cue choir)

I’m an artist, and an adjunct faculty member at a community college.  I am also a substitute teacher who writes for an online magazine.  I produce a female playwright festival and I teach youth workshops. None of these pays very well, and not a one offers me insurance like I’m able to get through the ACA website.  I work hard at all these under-paying gigs because I enjoy the work and because I believe I will one day find a full-time teaching position at a university (the power of positive thought!).  In the meantime, the Affordable Care Act really changed my life in a huge way.

I’m still a little groggy as I recover from the operation, but I’m also really grateful for all the fight that went into making it possible for artists like myself to get the medical help they need.

I just wanted to share some of that gratitude here.  I know I’m not the only one.

~Tiffany Antone

 

The Great Great Plains

Wow

I can’t believe I’ve been in Omaha for the Great Plains Theatre Conference for 8 WHOLE days.
I can’t believe I’ve ONLY been in Omaha for the Great Plains Theatre Conference for 8 whole days.

I can’t believe how much awesome new work I got to witness and how many amazing playwrights I had the good fortune to meet.

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From left to right are playwrights: Nancy Cooper Frank, Tiffany Antone, Jennifer Faletto, and Anne Bertram

I can’t believe how delicious the food was.

Every.
Single.
Meal.

I can’t believe how much socializing my introverted little playwright self managed while I was here, and how thoroughly I enjoyed all of the discussions, laughs, and thoughtfulness.

I can’t believe how comfy the hotel where my introverted self got to reteat to, was.

I can’t believe it’s over.

I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the conference’s FANTASTIC donors this week, and they looked surprised when I told them how wonderful it was to be treated so well.  That the hotel and food and attention to every little detail made me feel so honored, because playwrights aren’t usually treated to this kind of focus and care.

She looked surprised and so I thanked her again.

I am overflowing with gratitude.

Tonight, after jam-packed days of play readings and workshops and performances, we ended things with a superbly delicious dinner, live music, and artisan s’mores.  I mean, YUMM.

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A very fuzzy cell-phone pic of playwright Kia Corthron during a GPTC panel.

We also experienced the magic of Kia Corthron’s monumentally beautiful acceptance speech as she was honored this evening.  It was so poignant and honest that the whole room sat enraptured.

I’m so thankful I was there to hear her words, and I’m so grateful that those were the words she elected to share with us tonight.

So tomorrow I will fly back to my everyday life and I will revel in reuniting with my fella and my furballs, and things will go back to…

Bills will go back to…

Life will go back to…

Normal.

But I will also bring this week back with me.

This week of inspiration and of creativity.
Of beautiful new connections and of palate-cleansing laughter.

I will return home with the wild little play that got invited here and get to re-tinkering with it.
I will sit down at my desk and re-engage the new play I’ve been growling at.

I will think of Kia’s words on poverty of pocket and I will compare them to her words on the richness of heart, and then I will reflect on the richness of my heart, and I will write, and write, and write.

Because writing is kind of, always, sexily, the thing I need to do.  And after spending a week with others who feel the same way, I can’t wait to get to get back to it.

I also can’t wait to work on my “Something for next year.”

~Tiffany

 

Great Plains Shout-Out Time

By Tiffany Antone

So many plays!

Arriving at the Great Plains Theatre Conference on Saturday, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.  The itinerary was so intense and so interesting and my head was absolutely spinning at the week I had ahead of me – 29 playwrights, a bevy of workshops and readings, plus evening play festival shows – Oh My!

But here it is Thursday already, and I’m so bummed that this orgy of new work is coming to a close.

There are a lot of talented people here, a lot of passionate writers, and a lot of really cool, innovative, and engaging work being shared.

And while there aren’t any female playwrights in the conference’s mainstage line-up (tsk, tsk), there were certainly a host of super talented female writers showcased in the event’s Playlabs.

So, how about I give a little LAFPI shout-out to some of the fabulous female playwrights whose work I’ve had the privilege to enjoy this week? (FYI, there is no way to see every play at this conference.  There are multiple readings going on at once – so what I was able to see is but a sampling of what was available.)

First up, let’s talk about Minneapolis playwright Anne Bertram.  What a cool writer!  Anne’s play, The Good Fight, takes place in London, 1913, and is about the women’s suffrage movement.  Drawing from history, Anne colors in this frustratingly fem-closed world with panache.  I was so into this play!  It’s smart, funny, and poignant – Brava, Anne!

Another historically inspired piece is Nancy Cooper Frank’s absurdist play, Daniil Kharms: A Life in One-Act and Several Dozen Eggs.  I so enjoyed this weird and wonderful play!  I *believe* Nancy is still developing the piece, but it’s really super interesting and introduced me to the Russian absurdist writer in highly theatrical fashion.

I also got to see We Only Go Home in Retrograde, by Eva Suter, a UT Austin MFA candidate with a serious lyrical streak.  She’s written a poetic and super visually engaging piece.  I was particularly interested in meeting Eva and seeing her play now that I too live in Texas (I just keep moving further and further away from LA, don’t I…) – So how cool to meet a Texas artist at this conference in Nebraska!

And speaking of Texas, another cool writer I’ve had the pleasure to meet is Murphi Cook – creative mind behind the horror play, Birds of America.  With Hitchcockian flare, Murphi has created a seriously creepy (in a good way) play about grief and relationships… and birds.  I was super intrigued by this piece, and – now that I know she’s also a puppeteer – I’m really hoping I can see one of her shows in San Antonio!

I also had the pleasure of seeing Tira Palmquist’s play, Two Degrees – a fascinating look into one woman’s grief as she battles for the climate at a senate hearing.  I was so into the metaphorical landscape accompanying this woman’s real-world battles!  And it was great to meet a fellow LAFPI’er – one whose name I had seen and heard mentioned more than a time or two before.  What a cool person and writer!

And last but not least, I had the pleasure of sitting in our very own Jennie Webb’s Crazy Bitch.  It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Jennie’s, so I won’t spend too much time gushing, but what a cool piece!  I loved her characters – one of which is an immortal jellyfish!  What?  Awesome!   In typical Jennie Webb style, she’s given us a world in which our imaginations get to settle into something genuinely unique.  Kudos, Jennie!

I’ve still got four more readings, a workshop, and one more production ahead of me – this truly is an extraordinary opportunity.  Huzzah to GPTC for creating such an awesome event for playwrights, and for facilitating so many cool new creative connections!

Blogging on the Plains

by Tiffany Antone

I’m caressing a wall – feeling its temperature and taking notes on “all kinds of walls”.  I’m listening to a stranger’s stomach gurgling (even though I’m supposed to be pressing my hesitant ear down heavily enough to hear his heart beat) – now this stranger has his head to my belly… listening.  I can feel his breath on my hand which is resting just below my stomach. The sudden and unexpected closeness of this listening exchange is alarming and calming all at once.

Now  I’m watching a man press a lit cigarette into a child’s painting, burning away the colors.

Now I’m shaking hands with a cardboard-obscured (and thus body-less) hand… someone else kisses the hand.  I laugh, I think about germs, I think about intimacy amongst strangers, I think about chapstick and lotion and Purell and calluses.

I think about my laptop, sitting a few feet away and I feel the familiar feeling of yearning to just… write.

I’m at the Great Plains Theatre Conference (#GPTC) and this is Lisa D’Amour‘s Yoko Ono workshop.  I’m learning about the occasions on which D’Amour has performed Ono’s “Cut” piece and how her work as a performance artist has influenced her as a playwright.  Her experience is transformative.

There are playwrights everywhere.

It’s hard to believe that only 8 days ago I was in LA, putting up my Little Black Dress INK Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.  We live-streamed last Sunday’s play readings, and I will go on to produced each of the plays in Prescott, AZ this Fall.  It’s been a FANTASTIC experience, a wild ride…

But I’m exhausted.

Which is why I’m so ecstatic to be at the GPTC this week.

This week, I get to sit back and just be a playwright.

I’ve taken two workshops and seen five new play readings already, and it’s only Monday!

So while I’ve got to get to bed early tonight in order to try to sleep off the rest of last week’s Producer fatigue (in order to enjoy the accumulation of new Playwright fatigue), I can promise I’ll be blogging again soon about my time spent here on the Plains, enjoying my role in the writer’s tribe.

 

The LA FPI Blog Celebrates 4-Year Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary to the LA FPI Person of Interest Blog!  Today we celebrate four years of blogging.

by Robin Byrd

I have enjoyed our diverse group of voices.  I have enjoyed the moments when after reading these ladies or watching a video or film, I break out into laughter or tears – those moments when I am found….  There is nothing like being in a funk and have someone write “Oink! Oink!” or having to leave my desk to shake myself after reading “When Playwrights Get Old” which came about after “Too old?” left me numb and very contemplative.  When I look in the mirror, I see me and have to remind myself that the first set of students at the university where I work my day job have graduated and are in their thirties now.  The few that have stayed on in employment shock me when I run into them yet when I look in the mirror I don’t see age — I see me.  One wonders if after all the “Taking Stock” we do if a change is gonna come – ever – but we keep hoping and pushing and fighting for that “Stillness” that drives us.

Drive, She Said“.

How much more drive does it take for a woman to succeed than a man?  Can it even be measured?   Who cares?  Trying to keep myself moving.  No time to research how a man does it unless it helps me.

Writers are always “On a new path…” to stay motivated and to be able to encourage oneself to do one’s art which is supposed to lead to “When you hear your words in someone else’s mouth…”  You hope.  One hopes.

The goal is to be a working artist.  By that I mean, you don’t have to have a day job to pay the rent, pay for submission fees, or afford you food while you write.  Living in near poverty to be an artist should be against the law especially because that same art could end up being a national treasure; the following terms are not interchangeable:  “Working Artist – Donating Artist – Surviving Artist“.

 

Zora Neale Hurston author of  Their Eyes Were Watching God died in poverty; her work was rescued from a fire after her death (Florida had a habit of burning the belongings of the dead).  Zora Neale Hurston’s life work is a national treasure…

 

There should be no limitations or rules on where or in what form a writer creates story as there are no rules to who can be “The Happiest Person in America” or one of the happiest people – let us do our art and we are there…   Gender does not dictate what shared work will change the world in some way — “And The Female Play at the Tonys was…” and it should not dictate who has access to the stage, the screen or the bookshelf.  Great stories all start the say way — with words and the “Voice…” of the writer.  All are needed, each soprano, alto, tenor and bass…   There should not have to be “The Bechdel Test for the Stage“; there should not have to be a Bechdel test at all – why can’t all stories worth telling be treated equal?  Why can’t the journey be easier?  Why can’t handling “Our Expectations, Our Fears”  as artists be easier?  Perhaps even this tug-of-war on gender parity fits into the “Everything Is A Creative Act” category; it is, after all, fodder.

I especially like what Pulitzer Prize Finalist playwright Lisa Kron said at the last Dramatists Guild Conference “Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future” about what she does when something rubs her the wrong way “I’m going to write a play about this” — The Veri**on Play is what resulted.

 

Just wondering, do you have any favorite LA FPI blog articles?

 

Bloggers Past and Present:

Jessica Abrams, Tiffany Antone, Erica Bennett, Nancy Beverly, Andie Bottrell, Robin Byrd, Kitty Felde, Diane Grant, Jen Huszcza, Sara Israel, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Sue May, Analyn Revilla, Cynthia Wands and special input by Laura Shamas and Jennie Webb.

 

Panem et Circenses

By Tiffany Antone

I’ve let all of my professional memberships lapse this year.  It’s not because the value I place on them has lessened, it’s because I’m absolutely living-off-my-credit-cards broke.

Every time I get a Dramatists Guild newsletter, or an LMDA listserve digest, I feel guilty.  And sad.  I consider tacking their membership dues onto my “I’ll never pay it off anyway” Mastercard, and then get even more depressed because the last thing I need to do is collect interest on membership dues in addition to all the interest I’m already collecting on gas, food, and toilet paper.

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately.  I’ve been thinking a lot about whether the Universe is testing me or if I’m only perpetuating my personal crisis by trying to find meaning here in the “What am I doing wrong?” zone of under/un-employment.

And maybe this week’s Black Friday Bludgeon-a-thon tipped me over into even drabber waters, because I really can’t help but be so focused on the deepening divide in this country between the “Haves” and “Have-Nots”.

We are not so far from a Hunger Games world as we think.

Which has me thinking: While there are certainly movies and plays being made that address today’s big issues, why aren’t there more  being produced that tap into today’s economic and social crises?  I admit, living in AZ – and now TX (yeehaw!) – has me at a disadvantage; I do not have my finger on the pulse of American theater.  (I’ve had to let my TCG membership go as well – I miss you American Theater Magazine!)   But I continue to read books and plays like a fiend and I consider my $5 movie matinees a forgivable splurge.  I also spend (too much) time online, trying to stay abreast of theatrical conversations and to feed my artistic self with updates about what is happening.

I try to stay up to date on what people are writing about and what audiences are gobbling up.

And I’d like to see more stories about the struggles going on in the trenches.

I read The Hunger Games series shortly after it came out.  No, I take that back… I devoured that series shortly after it came out.  I listened to friends talk about how the author didn’t “demonstrate the best craft,” and rolled my eyes, because they were eating the books up almost as fast as I was.

You see, the story is gripping.  The characters are compelling.  And the issues at play in the series are indeed very relevant, because – thematically speaking – we already live in a panem et circenses era.

Therefore, Hunger Games Fever is stoked not only by the story’s entertainment factors, but by our own class issues, hang-ups, and battles as well.  And it’s a HUGE box office success which means the story is reaching people.  There are many films, plays, and books that never enjoy the kind of commercial success the Hunger Games has achieved – so I’m not arguing that we need to make commercialism our goal!  But what I am suggesting is that audiences, while still wanting to be “entertained”, are also starved for relevance… and that IS a worthwhile goal.

We playwrights need to ask ourselves, thematically, what’s going to move today‘s audience?  To make people laugh harder, gasp louder, and think more fully?  To create the kinds of worlds and characters that compel an audience to act?

I don’t want to pacify an audience.

I don’t want to be part of the circus.

I want to break the circus down and get people up on their feet!

But that’s a big wish.  Even the project I’m referencing – The Hunger Games – which had a profound effect on my busy little mind, is still “just” a book.  “Just” a movie… I don’t see people refusing to buy up bits of tabloid what-not written about Jennifer Lawrence because – as is dramatized in the story – they now see that PR is all just illusion aimed to distract us from the pain behind the “circus” of life.

Still… I’m also probably not the only person making such a connection either.

We writers are all throwing stories into the ring, hoping one will catch the eye of the Ring Leader so that he/she will present it to the audience in grand fashion.  (Unless we become Ring Leaders ourselves…)  Isn’t every story just a part of the circus until someone receives it as more than?

I might be stretching the analogy a little thin…

All I know is, I’m out here on the perimeter looking in – as many writers and artists are – observing this spinning world from my own little nook, trying to say something worthwhile.  It’s a tough place to be sometimes, what with also living on planet Earth and locked in near constant financial aerobics in order to stay afloat.  I don’t always have the perfect words.  Sometimes it takes me months to get a scene “Just right”.  But people ask me what kind of plays I write, and I realize that the one thing my works all have in common is that they always tackle something bigger than myself.

Whether my intent is to make my audience laugh or cry, I always want them to leave the theater thinking.  I don’t want to distract them from the ugliness that is around them – I want to point at it, analyze it, laugh and scream at it…

There are a lot artists out there trying to achieve the same thing: to awaken the audience.

I just didn’t realize how important that “awakening” was until my life became less about “Which new boots am I going to buy with this week’s wages?” and more about “How am I going to eat this week?”

And, unfortunately, until I can stop answering that grocery question with my Mastercard, it looks like I’ll have to continue putting off paying all those membership dues.

But I’ll still be here – applying for jobs like motherf***er, trying to write stories that really move people, and hoping that enough someone-elses want to hear what I have to say that those stories I’m throwing into the ring start sticking.

 

Working Artist – Donating Artist – Surviving Artist

By Tiffany Antone

It seems I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about whether or not artists should be paid/expect to be paid/pay their own way for the art they make/etc., and it’s making me grumpy.

It’s making me grumpy because in every case the author presupposes so much on behalf of the artists they purport to speak for/hypothesize on behalf of.  In every case, the author claims that (paraphrasing here to be sure – every article has had it’s own particular focus) “Artists shouldn’t expect to make money with their art – they should do it because a fiery passion to make art burns within” and “So, get a second or third job, surrender any hopes that you will ever own anything nice, and do what you love because you love it – not because you ever hope to make a living with it.”

Gag.

And B*llsh*t.

Let me be clear: I tell every student who wants to work professionally in the theater that it’s NOT an easy road.  That many of them will find that their paths take them in different directions than they intend.  That it’s okay if one day they decide they don’t want to be an actor/playwright/director after all.  I tell them that being an artist may not meet their economic standards, and that – yes – you need to really love this crazy profession in order to pursue it, because sometimes that’s all you’ll have separating you from a complete artistic meltdown.

Because it’s not a field where you can walk into ridiculously high-paying gigs fresh out of college or simply by making the right connections.  It’s not a field that pays highly, or “fairly”, or even sometimes at all.

In fact, much of the time, it pays nothing at all.

(sigh)

But I don’t tell them that they should suffer for their art, even though they might.  I don’t tell them that an artist should not ever expect, nor anticipate, nor (even) hope for, a paycheck someday.

Because if I do, then what does that say about how I value their art?

Art takes time.  It takes materials.  It takes energy.  If I write a play, I have to put in incredible time: the time to hone my craft, to write the script, to edit it, not to mention the time it takes to shop it around… That time isn’t “free” if I have to balance it against other jobs that pay and hopes for a personal life.  I’m carving that time out of the hours I’m supposed to be living/nurturing relationships with friends and family/making love/experiencing the world around me/etc.

Time is not free.

And then there are the materials an artist uses to make their art.  As a playwright, I have to own a laptop or a desktop or at least a notebook and lots of pens in order to get my words down on paper/or/screen.  I have to have a place to make my art – whether it’s my apartment or Starbucks or the park.  I have to feed myself, clothe myself, pay my electric bills… all of these “material goods” go into my ability to write.

And in order to hone my craft, find the time, and to supply the materials, I need money.

So, if I am working a job that is not in the arts to earn this money I need to make my art (as many of us do), then I am essentially working (at least) two jobs at all times: the one that pays and the one that doesn’t… yet.

Why is it so wrong then to hope that one day the play I write might pay me back with a bit of extrinsic gain in order to help my body and soul enjoy the intrinsic?  That “gain” may take the form of royalties, speaking fees, or a faculty position – and it may not be a lot, but receiving something other than a pat on back goes a long way in validating years of hard work put into evolving one’s artistic self.

I don’t think it’s asking a lot for artists to seek compensation.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for artists to value their art more than just “art for art’s sake”

I do think that those who pass on the “You’ll never make money with your art and you shouldn’t want to” lie to other artists are merely perpetuating a malfunctioning system’s philosophy of self-preservation.

It’s not evil to hope that your art will one day help pay the bills instead of merely adding to them.

It’s not delusional to think that our current “Eat or be eaten” system can be improved.

There’s nothing wrong with theater companies seeking out new business models in the hopes of creating a life for their artists that includes less suffering and more art-making through financial support, be they commissions, salaries, or even just good-old-fashioned stipends.

Stop telling people what they should intend with their art.  Stop telling artists that giving it away for free/or/next to nothing is just the name of the game.

Because that kind of condescension does nothing to change the game.

~Tiffany

In Which I Ask A Lot Of Questions

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.

So…

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

 

 

#Solidarity and Gender Parity Onstage

By Tiffany Antone

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this week.  It’s been good for me, because much of the recent conversation I’ve been observing has been coming from the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen perspective, and although I’ve got my own little Twitter account (and a rockin’ Twitter name!), I barely ever actually surf the Tweet Stream.

In other words, had it not launched beyond the Twitter-sphere, I probably would have remained completely unaware that such an intensely important conversation was taking place.

So, there’s today’s Twitter promo.

If you are a fellow part-time-Luddite and need a run-down on just exactly what it is I’m talking about, then take a moment to check out this link regarding the hashtag’s origin.  Then read a more personal accounting of it on XOJane HERE, and lastly – if you’re as fascinated as I’ve become- you can read a response to all the hubub by the hashtag’s originator, Mikki Kendal,  HERE.  Go ahead and do the clicking… it’s worth it to get the full picture and this post will be here when you get back.

Good, you all caught up?  Is your head spinning a little with the enormity of it all?  Me too.

I took Women’s Studies as an undergrad at UCLA.  I sat in class, did all the reading, felt that undergraduate tingle racing up my spine (making me sit up taller and pay more attention than I did in my History of the Beatles class…)  Because here was a class that was genuinely interesting to me because it was about me.  I didn’t grow up underserved because I was female, and I didn’t experience discrimination simply because I was female.  But I could feel a feminine fight stirring inside me as I read and discovered what ground the women before me had tread.  I was moved by the stories of my peers.  I was touched by the togetherness of those who marched and fought and made a difference.  I felt a sisterhood in those pages on in our discussion groups, because here were women who were interested in being their best selves and making sure the world honored and respected the female of the species.

It was awesome.

And then the semester was over.

So I put my textbook on my bookshelf and plowed on.

But by simply living in the real world, I found myself coming back to that book again and again as a sort of touchstone for my female reality…  I wasn’t out in the world getting abused because I had breasts, but I did find myself wondering how much of the daily crap I saw myself and my girlfriends wading through was more than just detritus from the unfinished work our mothers (and their mothers, and the mothers before them) had handed down to us.

The work is never done.

We never stop fighting for equality, no matter who we are, as long as a “majority” continues to swell against an “other than”.

This is as true for today’s feminist breakdown as it is for racial divides as it is for gay rights as it is for class warfare as it is for…  No matter where you fall in the Human Being Periodic Chart, you will struggle against the lines between yourself and “them”.

I’m a woman.  I’m white.  I’m straight.  I live slightly above the poverty line (or, at least I was before I became unemployed).

In witnessing the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen discussion, I come back again and again to a feeling of ostracism because my straight white mantra of “Women will achieve gender parity by building and maintaining an equal voice.” was not, apparently, equal at all.

Have I been a closet imperialist feminist all this time?  Am I part of the problem because, in maintaining feminist intentions based on my own socioeconomic background vs. the “movement” at large, I haven’t really been part of the conversation?

Or is it because I’m white?

I write plays.

I write plays with female protagonists.

My female protagonists are usually “white” in the sense that I am writing from a Caucasian perspective.  That doesn’t mean my heroines can’t be played by actresses of color – they certainly could and should be – but my characters aren’t speaking from WoC perspective because, well, I’m not a WoC and I can’t possibly expect to tell their stories better than they can/do.

But does my primarily pale perspective make me, as a playwright, part of the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen problem?

If the Guthrie committed to producing a whole season of work by women playwrights, but only two of them were women playwrights of color, would those of us angling for gender parity be appeased, or would we then stand up together and insist that true gender parity includes racial parity as well?

My hope is that we’d all fight for the latter.

My fear is that in order to achieve it, we need to be even more specific in what we’re asking for.

The discussion at large really must be: What does gender parity look like?  And in order to answer that, the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen discussion needs to bleed over into the arts.

Because in order to really become a force to be reckoned with, we have to reconcile our divisiveness and create a dialogue that is productive.  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.  Each of our perspectives is grounded in our own personal experience of the world – which is why we need to listen to one another.

And why we need to tell more stories.

We need to gather round the listening place, open our eyes and ears and hearts and minds, and bear witness to each story with shared passion and respect.

Then we need to promote one another’s stories with the same kind of passion and dedication we give to our own.

This is what being a feminist and a playwright is all about.

Playwriting Stall

By Tiffany Antone

Eight years ago, I was excitedly sitting in on my first graduate classes as an MFA playwright.  E.I.G.H.T. Whole. Years.  Ago.

I didn’t know what the future would bring – I just knew my Muse was alight with passionate glee.

Oh, and I also knew that I had three years to write “something awesome” because after graduation, The Real World (and Sallie Mae) would come crashing down around me with all of its grubby demands.  Demands like “You better pay for that education!” along with other necessities such as gas, food, somewhere to live – you know, the basics.

Well, the basics plus student loan and credit card debt.

(sigh)

But I read an article today in the Huffington Post that has me re-evaluating the way I’ve been handling The Real World since graduation.  The article was titled “Where You Should Be vs. Where You Are”.  I clicked on over to check it out because, like many an artist, I am constantly compelled to compare my actual career trajectory to the one I think I should be on by now.  Also, like any good perfectionist, I like to read up on all the ways I’m not yet meeting my fullest potential so that I can berate myself about it later.

Which is, of course, exactly what the article’s author, Emily Bennington, is telling us not to do.

Emily tells us that she had her “Just what the heck is wrong with my constantly unsatisfied self?!” moment when her son told her how sad she was making him, what with all her yelling and irritation – you see, her shortage of patience with her self had dribbled over and onto her family as well.

I don’t yet have kids to hold a mirror in front of my face, though – so I suppose it means I have to find a way to hold one up by myself.

I’ve always been a fairly positive “You can do anything if you put your mind to it!” kind of person.  It’s why I work so hard to improve my own short-comings: If I’m doing my best, I will get as far as my best can get me, right?  But I how can I be doing my best, when I’m constantly picking myself apart in search of said shortcomings?  Don’t you, at some point, start to peck into your own self-confidence with all that drive to improve?

Well, somewhere along the way, I got so bummed out by the constant self-analysis of my own “slow” trajectory as an artist that I froze – mid-takeoff – in abject panic.

Because the business of theatre eludes me.

When I’m wearing my Playwright hat, I sit in a room and type and type and type and TYPE.  Then I send it out to play contests and theatre companies, and I wait.  I wait and wait and WAIT.  Sometimes the response is “Hey, we like this!  We are going to give it to actors and invite people to hear your words!” and sometimes it’s “Hey, we like this!  You should keep writing!” And, of course, sometimes it’s crickets.

That’s the nature of the business for a playwright, right?

I mean, is that really all we can do?

So about two years ago, I took a hiatus from all the pitching and mailing and waiting, and instead began producing small play festivals in a small town in AZ.  I expanded my producer skills, learned that I was not actually afraid of directing (and that I, in fact, actually enjoy the high-stress immediacy of it), and dedicated myself to creating other theatre opportunities to feed my creative soul.

And I enjoyed it.  I really did.

But I never escaped the feeling of heartbreak and ineffectiveness of a writer whose plays weren’t getting produced, nor the guilt-ridden dissatisfaction with myself for neglecting to write.

I’m not good at feeling powerless.

But I’m realizing that part of my “problem” is that I turned the mystery and frustration of my playwriting career’s seeming lack of progression into a mentally insurmountable hurdle.  I sat down and stared at that hurdle for a while, kicked some stones its way, and decided to go left instead.

Only, left has really just been this other trail alongside the one I disembarked, and I’ve been looking over my shoulder the whole way.  It’s like walking along a length of wall guarding the palace you built.  And I put up more wall with every blessed step.

You’d think knocking down a metaphorical wall would be super easy…

But I don’t know how to knock it down except to maybe stop counting up the things I “don’t have” and just get on with my bad self.  So…

Okay.

I don’t have money.  Who does?  I’ve really got to move on from this one.  I’ve got to stop lusting after “things” and realize – at this juncture especially – how much simpler my life will be when I stop tallying up how much money I’m NOT making and all the things I CAN’T do with an empty wallet.  Instead, I’ve got to figure out how much I need to earn in order to create space and time in my life to focus on all these words needing to be put down on paper.  I repeat:  It’s. Time. To. Move. On.

But then what am I going to do to make that money?  A small amount of money is still an amount.  Just because I stop hating how small my sack of coin is doesn’t solve where I’m going to get the coin from in the first place?   I mean, I really hate working desk jobs!  And I don’t know how to get a teaching gig, and, and, and…  Holy cow!  How can a person display so much ingenuity on occasion and yet find herself stuck again and again on others?  I just moved to Waco – there’s time to explore and get creative and get serious about this desire I have – this strong instinct towards saving my own sanity – and to carve out a pleasing paying gig.  Instead of bitching about not knowing where to find those elusive university teaching gigs, how about creating my own opportunities to teach and write?  (Massive DUH thought bubble)  I need to focus on figuring out how much I really need to earn to survive – and then make it happen.  There is no reason not to feel confident in this.  Move.  On.

Okay, but the saddest bit of truth here is that I don’t feel happy when I look at my plays anymore because I just see the unmet potential.  WAAAAAHHHHH (crumbles into a mess of ugly, fat, tears of disappointment)  Ummm… Gross.  That’s just gross.  And sad.  And it just feeds my guilt about not writing, thus making the whole ugly thing worse.  This will go away when I stop being angry at my plays for not being scooped up by producers after I’ve sent them out into the world.  I need to forgive myself for not even really knowing how to get my plays to the people doing the producing.  I need to forgive my plays for not getting a big production yet.  But I also need to celebrate my plays who have had productions or very nearly.  I need to tally up the pats on my back instead of just the unmet hopes.  And I need to just write more damn plays – to get the machine working again instead of cursing my rusty hinges for being “ineffectual”.  In essence, I need to knock.  It.  Off.

And write.

And move on.

Because here’s what I’ve realized:  When I’m honest with myself, I can see just how much energy I’ve spent these past few years developing other great theatre skills at the cost of neglecting my own passion for the written word.  I love writing, and I love teaching – and that’s where I need to put my energy.  I did learn that I also, strangely enough, love producing and enjoy directing… but I can’t be a whole (or healthy) artist if the part I most readily identify with – my playwright self – has been put in the corner for the crime of not traveling up the Playwright Ladder fast enough.

It is time for me to stop comparing myself against all the things I haven’t yet done… it’s time to find joy in where I am now, and that it is MUCH harder to put into practice than I’d like to admit.

But that’s where I’m at, right now.  And I’m going to celebrate it.

 

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