Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hanging with my fellow playwrightresses

I refuse to use the term "actress" for female actors. I think it's silly to have to feminize "actor" - there are no directresses or playwrightresses, so there's no point in having actors AND actresses. Anyway, so the title of this post is meant in jest.

But I did hang out with a dozen other women playwrights as part of an organizing effort to get our plays about historical women produced as a reading. It's for a project called 365 Women Project - and we are the NYC chapter. You can see me in the picture above in the center - our host has a very nice place on the Upper West Side.

My play is about the Bronte sisters, specifically the day that Charlotte talked Emily into publishing a collection of her plays that Charlotte had found. And it was just in the nick of time too - Emily only had 3 more years before she was taken by tuberculosis, and Anne had 3 and a half years of life left. Charlotte recounted the story in her introduction to Wuthering Heights:
About five years ago, my two sisters and myself, after a somewhat prolonged period of separation, found ourselves reunited, and at home. Resident in a remote district, where education had made little progress, and where, consequently, there was no inducement to seek social intercourse beyond our own domestic circle, we were wholly dependent on ourselves and each other, on books and study, for the enjoyments and occupations of life. The highest stimulus, as well as the liveliest pleasure we had known from childhood upwards, lay in attempts at literary composition; formerly we used to show each other what we wrote, but of late years this habit of communication and consultation had been discontinued; hence it ensued, that we were mutually ignorant of the progress we might respectively have made. One day, in the autumn of 1845, I accidentally lighted on a Ms. volume of verse in my sister Emily's handwriting. Of course, I was not surprised, knowing that she could and did write verse: I looked it over, and something more than surprise seized me,- a deep conviction that these were not common effusions, nor at all like the poetry women generally write. I thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear, they had also a peculiar music- wild, melancholy, and elevating. My sister Emily was not a person of demonstrative character, nor one on the recesses of whose mind and feelings, even those nearest and dearest to her could, with impunity, intrude unlicensed; it took hours to reconcile her to the discovery I had made, and days to persuade her that such poems merited publication. I knew, however, that a mind like hers could not be without some latent spark of honourable ambition, and refused to be discouraged in my attempts to fan that spark to flame. Meantime, my younger sister quietly produced some of her own compositions, intimating that, since Emily's had given me pleasure, I might like to look at hers. I could not but be a partial judge, yet I thought that these verses, too, had a sweet and sincere pathos of their own. We had very early cherished the dream of one day becoming authors. This dream, never relinquished even when distance divided and absorbing tasks occupied us, now suddenly acquired strength and consistency: it took the character of a resolve. We agreed to arrange a small selection of our poems and, if possible, get them printed. Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because- without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called "feminine"- we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery which is not true praise.
Obviously I'm not in favor of the term "authoress" either. The great irony is that in Charlotte's own lifetime the Bronte's novels were considered too passionate to be read by young ladies - now of course their work is cast into the "chick lit" category.

And we know what happened to the practice of hiding your gender for publication - it has continued into the 21st Century, as J. K. Rowling can tell you.