Thayer, a 72-year-old, gay psychotherapist and his ex-wife and great friend, Emma, decide to move back in together to take care of each other through their old age. Emma is still secretly in love with Thayer but does her best to hide it until Thayer and one of his patients – a Mexican-American transman, fall in love throwing sexual orientation, gender identity and true love into question for all concerned. It’s funny, deep, thought provoking and humanizes the struggle between hatred and acceptance in very original and memorable ways.
What is a workshop production? It is the next step in a new play’s developmental process. Although still a work-in-process, the actors will be off-book with the play fully memorized. Using simple props and costumes, the play is performed on the set of our current production of Daniel’s Husband.
Body Beautiful is directed by John Achorn, with Alex Alpharaoh, Leigh Curran, Geoffrey Rivas, Marcelo Tubert.
The Fountain Theatre has joined regional theatres across the country inThe Ghostlight Project, a grass roots movement in the national theatre community demonstrating the need for social justice and inclusion for all citizens. Inspired by the tradition of leaving a “ghost light” on in a darkened theater, artists and communities will make or renew a pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone–regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
On January 19, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. in each time zone across the country, members of the theater community – from Broadway to regional theaters to high schools and colleges and community theaters – will come together to launch The Ghostlight Project. Gathering outside of theaters on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration, people will join in a collective, simultaneous action, together creating “light” for the challenging times ahead.
The Fountain Theatre joins the growing list of participating theaters nationwide. Other participants include The Public Theater (NY), Arena Stage (Washington, DC), Berkeley Rep, Dallas Theatre Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Chicago), and many more. For a full list of participants click here.
January 19th is a moment of gathering within a larger resistance to intolerance at all levels. We aim to create brave spaces that will serve as lights in the coming years. We aim to activate a network of people across the country working to support vulnerable communities. This is not a substitution for protests or direct action, but rather a pledge for continued vigilance and increased advocacy.
We define “a brave space” as a space where:
It is safe to be who you are, regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Diverse opinions, dissent, and argument are not only tolerated, but invited.
Active listening and courageous exchange are fundamental values.
Collective action, activism, and community engagement, both within and outside the walls of the theater, are cultivated, encouraged, and supported.
On January 19, 2017 at 5:30pm across time zones, we will gather with people in front of the Fountain Theatre, joining theaters and art spaces across the country. All are welcome. This collective action will signify an ongoing commitment to social justice in the coming years, taking a variety of forms and actions for individual artists and institutions.
More details will be coming soon. For more info on The Ghostlight Project go to the websiteor theFacebook Group page. Twitter hashtag #AllAreWelcome
I’m coming late to the controversy over the resoundingly white male-written and -directed season announced for the Guthrie next year, in part because I’m tired of hearing myself rehearse the same old indignities at these repetitive insults to women’s artistry and integrity. Reading the many smart excoriations of Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling’s defensive protestations about why it’s okay to ignore gender and race in season selection, I’m simply reminded, yet again, of the supreme arrogance of white men like him (not all white men) who are accustomed to seeing and remaking the world in their own image.
I was deeply moved by Polly Carl’s essay, “A Boy in a Man’s Theatre,” on HowlRound (4/28/12), in which she eloquently admitted, “I am compelled to talk some truth about finding yourself ‘other’ in a white man’s world—about the importance of insisting on being seen.” Describing her reaction to watching a rehearsal of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Carl realized that although the new musical isn’t her “exact” story, “it was my story.” The power of recognition—of seeing a life that looks like yours on stage—was overwhelming for Carl. And if I’ve done my math right, Carl is in her 40s. She’s been feeling invisible for a long time.
I wish someone like Joe Dowling could imagine what it feels like to go to the theatre or the movies, or turn on the television, and never see yourself represented. If you’re white and male, and especially if you’re straight, it must go without mention that something that at least looks like your life will be part and parcel of the story told of an evening. I can’t imagine the privilege of just assuming that the world will look like you, and that if it doesn’t, it’s because affirmative action or some other “self-serving” quota system (as Dowling accused protests over the Guthrie season of being) has allowed the riff-raff of gender, race, ethnic, and sexual difference to sneak in.
Even the conservative Wall Street Journal published an article called “Lots of Guys, Too Few Dolls,”shortly after this year’s Tony Award nominations were announced, in which the reporter—Pia Catton (a woman)—noted that “one is reminded of a sad truth: While Tony’s are equally bestowed on male and female stars of the stage, there’s a colossal gender gap in the honors given to the men and women who create the shows.” Catton went on to report that the percentages of plays written and directed by women on Broadway has barely changed over the decades, quoting experts like Susan Jonas, who co-wrote the 2002 New York State Council on the Arts report on the status of women in theatre, and mentioning the recently established Lilly Awards (named after Lillian Hellman), which turn their backs on the Tonys’ snubs by giving their own honors to women working in theatre.
On a much brighter side of this ubiquitous story, this week I received by snail mail the new season announcement from Arena Stage, in D.C., and was reminded that the gender and racial diversity in play and director selection that Dowling considers impossible or beneath him (or both) happens as a matter of course at other U.S. theatres. In a market bigger than Minneapolis, with subscribers equally as august and long-standing, Arena artistic director Molly Smith regularly programs seasons that include a majority of productions written or directed by women and people of color (and both).
For 2012-2013, Arena’s eight-play season includes three plays by women, two of which are by women of color: Pullman Porter Blues, by Cheryl L. West, and The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall, as well as a revival of Metamorphoses, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman. West’s play will be directed by Lisa Peterson, who, along with colleagues Zimmerman, Jackie Maxwell, Kyle Donnelly, and Smith herself, comprise a roster of five women directors out of the eight productions. Of the remaining three shows directed by men, two are directed by African Americans (and Tazewell Thompson also wrote the play he’ll direct). The one show written and directed by a white man is One Night with Janis Joplin, so its content counts as gender diversity, if part of the issue is whose stories are told and whose bodies are seen on stage.
Good for Molly Smith and her artistic staff and her board, who no doubt ratified her progressive vision. Smith is directing My Fair Lady at Arena next season, the Lerner and Loewe musical she mounted last summer at the Shaw Festival in Canada. That production was a terrific, high energy, multi-racial cast production that rivaled her 2010 reimagining of Oklahoma! in its rejuvenated vision of the classic American musical. Smith takes the American canon—part of Arena’s mandate—and refashions it to speak across identity communities, instead of sequestering it in presumptively white enclaves and preserving it for white people. That narrow vision—Dowling’s vision—doesn’t reflect or do justice to the complex race, gender, sexuality, ethnic, and class composition of contemporary America. Dowling’s vision is former presidential candidate Bob Dole’s bridge to the past; Smith’s is a glorious, hopeful representation of a reimagined future.
Playwrights Horizons in New York also deserves a place of pride in this counter-pantheon of progressive American theatres. For 2012-2013, long-time artistic director Tim Sanford (a white man) offers six productions, new plays all, of which four are written by women (one of whom is African American), and one is a musical adaptation of Far From Heaven (written by Richard Greenberg and directed by Michael Greif), Todd Hayne’s wrenching 2002 film about the wife of a closeted gay man navigating her nuclear family life in the 1950s. White women direct three of the six productions: Anne Kauffman directs Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit; Carolyn Cantor directs her frequent collaborator Amy Herzog’s The Great God Pan; and Leigh Silverman directs Tanya Barfield’s The Call. Sam Gold, who’s proven his sensitivity as a director of women’s work, directs Annie Baker’s The Flick.
Playwrights’ season teaser brochure also includes a clever “key” to the genres and themes introduced by its six plays. The guide includes symbols that run alongside each play’s title, indicating whether it addresses “comic relief,” “gaiety” (of the LGBT variety), “parenthood,” “race relations,” “impossible love,” “job inequality,” “prophetic vision,” “skeletons in the closet,” “strange neighbors,” “suburban angst,” or “Mormonism.” Just reading this key made me laugh; what a witty reminder that any production has something idiosyncratic for everyone and that “universality” never means just one thing.
Molly Smith’s “Oklahoma”
Arena and Playwrights regularly stage plays written and directed by women and people of color, not to fill a token slot in each season, but because these productions showcase voices that have something to say across communities. They make visible populations of citizens alongside all the Joe Dowlings who are too blind to see how these so-called minorities/future majorities are remaking our collective world. Molly Smith’s Oklahoma! is the state we live in now, thank goodness.
Likewise, Emily Mann’s production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, now playing on Broadway with a cast of people of color, shows us something new about ourselves and the canon of American drama. Mann knew Williams, and insists he told her that given New Orleans’s Creole population, he could imagine the play with an African American cast. Mann researched the French Quarter of the period, and found ample justification for casting the Dubois family and Stanley as black, conflicted by the same class differences that propel Williams’s drama when it’s cast with white actors.
“Streetcar” directed by Emily Mann
But critics like Ben Brantley consider this “gimmick” casting, and scoff at Mann and the producers (who also mounted an African American production of Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) for fooling around with the American canon in ways they, like Dowling, find self-serving. These reviews sound reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim’s admonishment last summer that Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks had gone too far in their adaptation and revision of Porgy and Bess.
Underneath all these criticisms that purport to champion good American drama is a warning to women and people of color that they shouldn’t get too uppity, that they should steer clear of white men’s work and stay barefoot and happy—and invisible and silent—in the ghettos of their “special interest” theatres.
The same blatant discrimination was recently called out at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where of the 22 films nominated for the 2012 Palme D’Or prize, none were written or directed by women. The oversight caused a similar online uproar as the Dowling debacle among the film (and larger) arts community, through which petitions circulated for signatures to protest this blatant exclusion.
Have we gone back to the future? Is it the 1950s again? In a political moment in which Republicans and Tea Party-ers threaten to reverse every achievement for women’s reproductive rights garnered since Roe v. Wade; when the same politicians inflame xenophobic anti-immigration sentiments about our southern borders (and when similar anti-immigrant racism roils political waters in Cannes’ France); and when LGBT activists have to celebrate when Obama announces that he’s “evolved” into thinking same-sex marriage is okay after all (gee, thanks, Barack), maybe it’s no surprise that the festival director at Cannes, and Brantley at the Times, and Dowling at the Guthrie think they can discriminate against women and people of color with impunity.
Let’s not let them get away with it. Write to Molly Smith at Arena, and Tim Sanford at Playwrights and tell them how pleased you are with their 2012-2013 season announcements. Write to Dowling at the Guthrieand tell him how disappointed you are that he’s such a Neanderthal. Sign the petitions circulating protesting the exclusion of women from the prize at Cannes. And write letters to the Times protesting that white men like Brantley and Charles Isherwood foster a discourse about the arts in which decisions like Dowling’s season are okay and productions like Mann’s Streetcar are dismissed.
Don’t just go to the theatre—respond to it, write about it, protest it, reimagine it. It’s too important to keep allowing the barbarians to guard the gate.
It appears that in many major theaters across the country, men’s roles out number women’s by half. One out of every three roles go to women. (An informal survey of 10 theatrical seasons from across the country that I did put women in only 35% of the total roles). This means that men’s stories out number women’s by the same amount.
Those of us noticing this could be considered big old whiners if it weren’t for some solid business-y sounding facts:
Women buy 70% of theater tickets sold
Women make up 60%-70% of its audience (see here and here)
On Broadway, shows written by women (who statistically write more female roles than men) actually pull in more at the box office than plays by men
In any other market the majority of consumers would significantly define the product or experience. Why not theater?
Raushanah Simmons in "In the Red and Brown Water"
I will disclaim right away that this is not about women playwrights, though plays by women represent less than 20% of the works on and off-Broadway and in regional theaters (and also in the UK, as The Guardian illuminates). I consider August: Osage County and In The Red And Brown Water plays about women though men wrote both.
This is about modern theater telling its predominantly female audiences that the human experience deserving of dramatic imagination is still the male one. In TV, this might be a top-down insistence. In politics or business we see it all the time. But in theater?
Sean Daniels, Artist-At-Large/Director of Artistic Engagement at Geva Theater, says:
“In addition to it being inconceivable in 2012 to not program any female playwrights (or really any year past 1913), it’s also just bad business. Just from a business model, look at Menopause: The Musical. Though we may take it to task for not hitting all of Aristotle’s Six Elements, it’s a show that looked at who the main people buying tickets were, and allowed them to see themselves on stage — thus making millions and not only preaching and loving the choir, but getting tons of new patrons into the theater.”
But what would it be like if this were more common? What if American theater equally reflected and projected its own audience (at least 60% women) and their audience’s wallets (which are in their purses) in their season choices?
Estelle Parsons on Broadway in "August: Osage County"
Theaters might make more money. A friend and artistic leader at a major regional theater remarked on the marked success of Molly Smith Metzler’s plays Elemeno Pea, a play about sisters. Or what about Tracy Letts runaway hit August: Osage County (a play with incredible parts for women including three sisters), or Lynn Nottage’s Ruined, or Margaret Edson’s Wit, or John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt or Steve Yockey’s Bellwether (with seven parts for women)?
Cate Blanchett in "Streetcar Named Desire".
We wouldn’t lose our classics. Shakespeare’s plays are notoriously under-femmed, but not all of them are. Give me Much Ado About Nothing orTwelfth Night or wacky Midsummer. Or re-imagine the Bard for us. I saw a truly fresh and powerful production of Julius Caesar at Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year in which Caesar was unapologetically played by a woman (it might have been the best show I saw all year, including my own). I didn’t think “Oh look at that woman playing a man’s part.” I thought, “Oh my god she’s channeling Benazir Bhutto.”
Ibsen also gave us stunning women’s stories. So did Shaw, Chekov, Williams, Miller. And don’t forget the female playwrights of those same eras. Complex parts for more than one token women are there for the planning.
We might inspire new classics. I’m not telling playwrights what to write.Wait. Hell yes I am. And I’m hoping they get commissions to do so. Please write those complex and shocking and profound parts for our great female actors. Lead roles, supporting roles, lots of roles. Imagine writing for Stockard Channing or Viola Davis or Amy Morton or Meryl Streep. How about putting all of them in the same play. Oh my god, I just died a little thinking about it.
However, the now famous study by social scientist Emily Glassberg Sands about gender bias in theater says that though female playwrights write more roles for women, they are aware that plays with female protagonists aren’t as likely to be produced as plays with male protagonists. “One way women have compensated for writing female stories is to write fewer [female] roles, which make their plays accessible to more theaters,” the study finds.
So American theater might need a theatrical version of the The Bechdel Test for movies which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.
There are bright spots however. Chloe Bronzan and Robert Parsons of Symmetry Theater in San Francisco have already put into practice their own version of the Bechdel Test. They built their company around the precepts: “We will never produce a play with more male than female characters,” they said, “We will never have more male than female union actors on our stage and we will produce plays that tell stories which include full, fleshed out and complex women that serve as propellants to the human story being told.”
"Menopause: The Musical"
We won’t lose our audiences, but we might just gain new ones. Another Artistic Director colleague noted that if theater companies counted Menopause: The Musical as part of their actual season (as opposed to the touring or rental production it usually is) it would be the best-selling show in their histories. Why? Women go to the theater and they bring their friends if they have shows that reflect their experiences. A dear friend connected with August: Osage County‘s fierce females so much that she flew from Atlanta to New York three times just to see it as many times on Broadway.
As Hanna Rosen has pointed out in her articles and lectures — there is a definitive rise in women as breadwinners and moneymakers in this country. I live in the Bay Area and am delightfully surrounded by brilliant women running major intuitions, businesses, and government orgs. Smart institutions will notice this and deliver. Women are already your majority, and women share experiences with other women, so it shouldn’t be hard to bring new women into the theater patronizing community.
Sean Daniels again:
“I think there’s a hidden thinking in here that men won’t watch women centric plays, but women will watch men centric plays — which really just sells everyone in that equation short. There are men watching The Hunger Games, but eventually there won’t be ladies watching dude filled plays and seasons.”
Viola Davis in "Fences".
We might help the world. Women are always underrepresented in positions of money, power, and personal safety. This comes, as most inherent biases do, from a lack of understanding and empathy. If we see more stories of women on stages across the country and the world we can change that.
Maybe what we really dream of is the day when plays by and about women would stop being “women’s plays” and start being — oh, y’know — really successful, moneymaking, audience-supported, universal, true, bold, smart plays. Everyone wants those plays, no matter what your gender.
Theater audiences want the designers of theatrical seasons to pay attention to the women onstage. Count them (as Valerie Week is doing in The Bay). The women in your audiences will.
“It’s frustrating that we have to have this conversation in 2012. But I’ve experienced this in my conversations about plays with colleagues across the country. Colleagues dismissing a play because its female protagonist was ‘unlikable.’ Producers should recognize that ‘we just choose the best plays’ is no longer an adequate defense: no one believes that there’s a shadowy cabal of avowed misogynists determined to keep women offstage. We need to be brave and rigorous in examining the shadowy, unconscious ways gender bias influences our decision making.”
Theater should be in the complex and necessary business of illuminating the human condition, of inspiring empathy and community, of provoking understanding, of entertaining and surprising and exposing and making beautiful the complete world of our time.
You know what helps that?
Telling everyone’s stories.
Lauren Gunderson is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and short story author living in The Bay Area. She received her MFA in Dramatic Writing at NYU Tisch, her BA from Emory University, is an NYU a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. Her work has received national praise and awards. She writes for The Huffington Post.