Thursday, May 03, 2012

The theatre boys club report

I see that the three newest playwrights in Martin Denton's "Indie Theater Now" lineup are men. Of course Denton gives lip service to the idea of more female playwrights - don't they all? But when it comes to walking the walk, not so much.

I see Denton is also promoting the work of Edward Einhorn, who believes that if you have a disagreement with him over a small-claims court sized director's payment, he has every right to take a copy of your script, file it without your permission or even knowledge, with the US Copyright office, and then turn around a year later and sue you for producing your own play in federal court at a cost of over $300K.

It only took six years and the focused effort of the Dramatists Guild to finally - finally! - get Einhorn's ill-gotten copyright de-registered - and that's years after all that money was down the federal court drain.

Well, not like it matters. It doesn't seem to have harmed his career with the would-be gatekeepers of the theatre world.

When I criticized Denton's boy's club on this blog last summer, the girlfriend of one of Denton's playwrights informed me, while she was trying to justify the relative absence of female playwrights in Denton's line-up:
Martin Denton (and his lovely mother, who runs the company with him) have invited (the playwright) and I into their home with graciousness and hospitality.
No surprise, Denton has published everything this playwright has produced in the past four years. It pays to schmooze.

I've seen a selection of the plays listed on Indie Theatre Now and I thought the best of them was just OK. Maybe the rest of them are so excellent they make up for that, but I doubt it.

As always, the justification for not including work by women is that the selectors only consider "quality" - because of course white males are just naturally better at writing plays. The artistic director at the Guthrie recently justified his line-up:
DOWLING: (interrupting) NO! No no no. I will continue to do the job that I am obliged to do, and that is to pick the best possible plays, irrespective of gender, irrespective of other issues. It's got to be the best work that we can put on our stage. 
A former Facebook friend of mine with four plays published by Denton scoffed at the idea that there was a pattern of bigotry concerning female playwrights, claiming likewise that Denton only responds to quality, and men just happen to be better playwrights. And I didn't even de-friend him for that, I de-friended him for mocking Joni Mitchell because in his opinion her music is too "girly." You know because girls suck at the arts, so "girly" is a horrible insult. That's the mindset out there - just because it's rarely stated so bluntly doesn't mean that these people are actually enlightened and progressive.

Dowling, and one of Dowling's defenders, Tad Simons in,  both mention economics as a reason for the selections. Simons writes:
Underlying it all is the question of how much responsibility the Guthrie has to reflect and serve the community that supports it, and what that should look like onstage? This is very different from asking what the Guthrie’s responsibilities are to its audience. The larger community of the Twin Cities may be getting increasingly diverse, but the Guthrie’s audience, however much one wishes it to be otherwise, is overwhelmingly white. Why? Because the number of people in the Twin Cities who can afford to pay $25-75 a pop for a Guthrie play is relatively small. And white.
Yet women make up 70% of the ticket buyers. But somehow that doesn't translate into  more plays by female playwrights being produced. Funny how that is.  And I don't know about the box office for non-white playwrights, but plays on Broadway by female playwrights actually earn 18% more than plays by male playwrights, according to Emily Glassberg Sands' famous study. And yet not only are plays by female playwrights less likely to be produced, their play productions are less likely to be extended than productions of plays by male playwrights.

And that, as Julia Jordan noted in her keynote address at last June's Dramatists Guild conference, is the clearest sign of bigotry - producers are actually operating against their economic self-interest to favor male playwrights.

But unfortunately too many women, like the playwright's girlfriend I quoted above, are willing to buy into the idea that all the male producers, publishers, etc etc simply select on the basis of quality and economics. The playwright's girlfriend suggested that a. it's the fault of women that we haven't achieved parity, and b. there are more important things in the world to complain about:
 Aren't women (in this country at least) at the point where they need to start also looking within themselves to see where our, collective or otherwise, baggage may be preventing us from achieving what we surely can? Or maybe we need to take our petty resentments and dissolve them by telling the stories of women in regions of the world who have got it really bad. Boo hoo hoo, Nancy didn't make Martin Denton's list again this year.

 Also she seems to think that this is personal - because I didn't make Denton's list that's the only possible reason I could have a problem with parity issues. Apparently she can't imagine that this could be about a general principle of justice, and not just about me. I guess she really believes that if Martin Denton doesn't approve my work I must be devastated.

And anybody who is familiar with Elevatorgate will recognize the similarity between the girlfriend's argument and Richard Dawkins's attitude towards any non-Muslim women who complain about sexism - those women over there have it really bad so you women in the West can just STFU.

It is attitudes like these that keep majority female theater-ticket-buyers from saying enough is enough and start boycotting theatre organizations that persistently avoid work by female playwrights.

And one more important point - NYCPlaywrights has been doing a Play of the Month project for over a year now, and so far we've selected eleven plays - 5 have been by women and 6 by men. And this was not a deliberate attempt at parity on my part - I am not the only one choosing the plays, I use teams of people to make the selections. And if I hate a play, there is no way I will select it, whether a woman wrote it or not. A bad play is a bad play. So without even trying we've reached perfect parity (given that we are at an odd number at this point) - why is that? Well maybe because we don't look at any previous successes and productions given to the playwrights, and we don't schmooze with the playwrights - we select the work based purely on the individual scripts alone. That's how you reach parity.

Oh and one more thing - we don't charge a fee for people to watch the readings we video-record for the Play of the Month, but we can see how many hits each play gets, and the run-away favorite play according to that is by a female playwright.

Somehow I'm not surprised.