Sunday, July 20, 2014

Some kind of progress

While waiting outside the Jewel Box theater for the show in front of ours to finish up, I couldn't help noticing the poster for the Workshop Theater Company's upcoming DAUGHTERS OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION - I critiqued the artwork for a previous production of the show because it featured a photo of a woman bending forward and sticking out her butt. Which shouldn't be surprising since according to a woman I know, one of the big-wigs in the WTC is a world-class creep.

So this poster is definitely an improvement - the focus is on the contents of the back pocket of the jeans, not on the butt.

And their coming season almost makes up for their past male dominance - at least 50% of the main stage plays they are producing this season are written by women.

Of course, they are only doing two main stage productions between now and April 2015 - this one and a collection of short plays by an as-yet unnamed group of company playwrights. Which I guess is some kind of progress.

The smaller Jewel Box theater productions balance out the gynocratic tyranny - all three of their plays in progress are written by men; and of the staged readings planned, two out of five are by women, which sounds pretty good. But I find it fascinating that both women have written plays with males as main characters. And all but one of the plays by men features males as the main characters. Well, you don't want too high a percentage of girl germs ruining serious theater.

And speaking of theater parity for women, it just occurred to me that the revered Slings and Arrows presents no women as creative artists except for actors and singers. In addition to Shakespeare, they presented a musical author and a playwright during the three seasons, both male. The vast majority of the non-performing female characters were involved in backstage support (costumes, stage management etc.), administration and business. The only non-performing female creative was a director, and she was
a. portrayed as a non-stop talker and
b. given a broken neck and taken out of the show after a minute of screen time.
And one of the writers of the show is Susan Coyne, who portrayed Anna, an administrator.

I don't think it was necessarily a deliberate and conscious choice, but rather a reflection of what is considered a natural state of affairs in the theater - a woman's job - preferably a young and pretty woman - is to present the writing and direction of men.

A realistic aspect of Slings and Arrows was that the company's leading lady Ellen often fretted about the crappy minor roles she would have to play in Shakespeare productions (the dreaded nurse in ROMEO & JULIET) as she aged. The sweet irony is that Shakespeare actually wrote more, and more varied parts for women than most contemporary male playwrights do - unless you count an endless parade of prostitutes with hearts of gold, hot chicks and screwed-up mothers as "varied."

A curious fact about many of the over-30 female actors - they don't seem to go out of their way to be friendly with female playwrights. In fact, in my experience quite the opposite. And it doesn't seem to make sense - female playwrights are far more likely to write roles for women, especially women over 30, than men are (except of course at the Workshop Theater Company.)

However, if you look at it in another way, it does make sense. In the minds of many theater people (conscious or not) playwright is a man's job, and the highest place on the theater pecking order for women is actor - but if women are entering male roles - which are naturally higher status than women's roles, that means those female playwrights will be given higher status than female actors.

And that's what disrespecting female playwrights is all about - status and power and conventional gender attitudes. It's probably a good short-term political strategy but not a good long-term career strategy.