Ah...my favorite part of the process is here.
Rehearsals for The Helen Project are in full swing, and I am happy for many reasons, including the fact that it's no longer just me in an empty room, a blank page staring me down, challenging me to wring something brilliant, or at least coherent, from my tired brain.
Sure, the rehearsal process can be challenging in its own ways, but rehearsals mean learning, laughing, discovering, playing, saying ridiculously random things that make no earthly sense outside of the rehearsal room (fun fact: for each show, I like to keep a little "overheard in rehearsal" diary). Rehearsals mean actually breathing life into the creature I've created, with people who are just as passionate about the story as I am.
The cast and crew for The Helen Project is all women, which I am super-stoked about (nothing against men, but there's something special and empowering about creating in a room full of feminine energy). Some of these women I've had the pleasure of working with before - director Carly Bodnar, of course, my favorite creative partner and heterosexual lifemate; associate director Joan Lawson and actors Donovan Lockett and Lesley Berkowitz, who worked on ReVamp's Artist Lab: Beyond the Surface last fall; Ontaria Wilson, who directed a ten-minute play in this February's Brief (Physical) Encounters, and our fearless stage manager and company member, Gray Rogers. There are also some faces new to ReVamp, including actors Hannah Hammel, Kasey Phillips, and Marisol Custodio. Seeing us all around the table at the first read sent shivers up my spine, and if the first few rehearsals are any indication, that tingly feeling of excitement will continue through opening night (June 6 - don't forget!).
More updates to come, but for now it's time to get some shut-eye!
- Kristen M. Scatton
I'm drowning in paper.
I know that seems impossible, or like an oxymoron at best, but it's the best way I can describe the process of revising a play. There is just paper everywhere. My script with my notes. Pages of other people's scripts with their notes. Multiple versions of outlines, updated, changed, scenes flipped, inverted or tossed completely, Other random pieces of notebook and scrap paper with still more notes on them. And that's not even counting multiple electronic versions, updated regularly, sitting patiently until they too can be printed and covered in my chicken-scratch handwriting.
I have a system, I swear I do. Currently, The Helen Project, ReVamp's next show, which premieres in June, is carried around with me everywhere I go (including a recent trip to New Orleans) in a three-ring orange binder - a printed copy of the script, plus many sheets of looseleaf paper, with any random, not-three-hole-punched scraps of paper tucked safely into the pocket.
And what exactly is on all of these pieces of the poor, defenseless trees I've killed? Here's a small sampling (are these spoilers? Nah. If this somehow makes sense to you, please call me and tell me, because at this point I'm trying to get the final draft to make sense to anyone, myself included.)
- Kristen M. Scatton
I never liked math.
Numbers didn't interest me much. They were so boring, stagnant - a four was always a four. Four minus two was always two. You could do the same equation in 2018 as some mathematician did in 2018 BCE, and you'd get the same answer. With numbers, the story is always the same.
I like words better. Words are alive, playful, a little slippery - some words can mean two, three, four different things. The meaning of a word can change over time, or new words can be invented (when was the last time we invented a new number?). And look how many stories you can tell with words - an infinite amount! Look at how many stories have already been written, and yet their are crazy people like me who still want to write new stories!
However, in my two decades or so of writing stories, I have come to find that there are some similarities between writing and working mathematical equations. For instance, tonight, as I work on my latest play, The Helen Project, which will be produced this June by ReVamp Collective, I've reached a point where I'm not sure what to do next. I've written about three-quarters of the scene, and I know what the end is, but that last quarter eludes me. And it reminded me of so many complicated math equations in high school and college, in which I got so far, and knew what the answer was supposed to be, and yet couldn't figure out how to get there.
And so I'm trying the tactic that I so often did when I was working those difficult equations in high school and college, and I'm distracting myself. Thinking about something else for awhile so my subconscious can work out the thorny knots of the problem into which I've gotten myself. And so here we are, at this blog post.
Writing The Helen Project has been a lot of fun. Because it is rooted in classic Greek mythology and existing works (primarily Euripedes' Helen and The Trojan Women, and Homer's The Iliad), I've had a chance to really nerd out and do a lot of research, which I love almost as much as writing. I've been vindicated in my refusal to throw away anything because it might be useful later, as a Scholastic book about Greek gods and mythology that I got probably in the 4th grade has proven to be a great source of information and reference. My recent Google search history also betrays the wild mix of ingredients I'm throwing in this pot, including but not limited to:
When ReVamp's Co-Founder/Co-Artistic Director Erin forwarded me an opinion piece from The Guardian about the story "I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life," published on Babe.net on January 13, asking if I might want to write a blog about the whole affair, I was like, "Girl, I am 10 steps ahead of you." The only thing that had stopped me thus far was figuring out how to fit all of those thoughts into a coherent narrative that would add something new to the discussion that has been raging about this story for the last 5 days. So here's my best attempt.
I. My first thought upon seeing the headline was, Fuck, really? Aziz Ansari? Seriously, are we not allowed to have any nice things anymore? Full disclosure: I'm a big Aziz Ansari fan. I think he's a hilarious comedian, a talented actor/director, and a great storyteller. But, in this present moment of reckoning, we can't sweep inappropriate behavior under the rug because we like the perpetrator too much. Pretty sure that's part of how we got into this mess in the first place. So I took the moment to reconcile myself to the fact that whatever I was about to read might ruin Parks & Recreation and Master of None for me, and clicked.
II. It's an uncomfortable read, which you probably already know, because I'm assuming you have also read it, dear reader. Uncomfortable because a lot of it was all too familiar to me - the poking, the prodding, the hands here, the mouth there, it all happening so quickly that you don't even have time to decide if you want it or not before the next thing is happening. Yup, I'll admit it, I've been Grace, caught in that awkward place between "Hey. it would be fun if we made out" and "Holy shit, that's your penis." #MeToo?
III. After reading the story and continuing on with the rest of my day. one thing kept gnawing at me: Why didn't she leave? At first, I didn't even want to acknowledge the thought, because of the inherent judgement and victim-blaming in it. The attitude that the responsibility for not getting harassed, assaulted or raped is solely the burden of the woman trying not to get harassed, assaulted or raped is another hallmark in the development of this current climate. But nevertheless, the thought persisted - At some point, isn't it at least partly your responsibility?
Is Ansari's behavior, as described in Grace's story, rude, disrespectful, aggressive? Yes. But, when he continued to act rude, disrespectful, and aggressive, why didn't she leave? As Bari Weiss points out in her New York Times editorial published on January 15, there were many instances in which Grace could have ended the date if she felt uncomfortable or wasn't enjoying herself. Why didn't she? Again, that's a question we're not supposed to ask. It could be because she's been socially trained to be accommodating and meek, to be gentle with men's feelings and not reject a man outright. Maybe she felt threatened, and was fearful that Ansari would retaliate physically if she tried to leave. Or she really did want to have sex with Ansari, but only on her terms. Or because he's a successful, well-connected actor and she's an aspiring actress who wants a role on Master of None. I don't know because she doesn't tell us, and not that she has to, but the fact is, that lack of information skews the narrative to the point where, as Weiss says, "It transforms what ought to be a movement for women’s empowerment into an emblem for female helplessness....The single most distressing thing to me about this story is that the only person with any agency in the story seems to be Aziz Ansari. The woman is merely acted upon."
If we are going to shift the sole burden of responsibility for preventing sexual assault and rape from one gender to another, then frankly this whole exercise is moot. The responsibility for making sure that sexual encounters between anyone, regardless of gender, are healthy, safe and consensual, must be shared.
IV. Reading this story brought to mind another article I read last week, "Neither Slave Nor Pharaoh: Finding the Divine in BDSM," by Randa Jarra, published in the latest issue of Bitch magazine. At one point in the article, Jarra writes of her relationship with a sub, "Before we did anything, we had very long discussions over text about what he would and would not consent to. This openness, these clear boundaries, felt nothing like vanilla dating or vanilla sex. It was the vanilla stuff that was scary, I finally understood: often unnegotiated or under-communicated....With BDSM, nothing 'just happened.' Every action, desire and movement is discussed beforehand....Kink meant consent, always. It meant a discussion of boundaries, desires, fears. Unlike vanilla hookups, it meant safety."
I couldn't get Jarra's words out of my head before the Ansari story broke, and keep returning to them now. What if, when inviting Grace on the date initially, Ansari had said, "I would like to take you out to dinner, and then I would like to go back to my apartment and have sex with you, orally and vaginally"? What if Grace had said, over dinner, "What are your physical expectations for this evening? Here are mine." In the vanilla dating world, such conversations are all but unheard of, considered uncomfortable and sometimes insulting. But it's obvious that we'll start getting far better results if there is some honesty and openness in our sexual encounters with each other. Re-reading Grace's account, to write this post, it's a textbook example of everything that's wrong with modern dating and sexual encounters. Everything is subtext, subterfuge, coyness, coercion, confusion. Grace and Ansari play their parts perfectly - he is aggressive and persistent, she is demure and acquiescent. I cannot tell Grace how to feel, or define her experience for her. But as someone who has been in similar situations, I say her anger is largely misdirected. It's not Ansari who needs to be put on trial - it's the whole system which teaches men like him, and women like her, that this is the way to get what you want when it comes to sex.
-Kristen M. Scatton
One of the benefits of having a day job is the access to events in which you might not be able to participate. For example, my place of employment hosted a talk with Gretchen Carlson, in conjunction with the publication of her book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back. Carlson, as you may be aware, is the former Fox News anchor who ignited the flame that consumed former Fox News chairman, the late Roger Ailes, in July 2016 when she filed a lawsuit against him for sexual harassment. In September 2016, Carlson received a reportedly $20 million settlement and a public apology from Fox News' parent company, 21st Century Fox. In May 2017, Ailes, who was fired in the wake of Carlson's accusations, though he fiercely denied them, died from complications from a subdural hematoma.
I'll admit, I didn't know much more about Carlson and her situation beyond that when I first learned about the event. But that was kind of all I needed to know. Anyone who is using their platform to work towards ending workplace sexual harassment is somebody I'm willing to listen to for an hour. Plus, we got free copies of Carlson's book, and I didn't really have anything else to do that night. So it's a win all around.
I came away from the talk with mixed feelings about Carlson herself. She certainly is brave, tenacious and yes, fierce. She is using her platform and privilege to bring attention to this very real epidemic of workplace sexual harassment (although I question whether she's really checking that privilege as much as she should - Carlson mentioned that in her book, she outlines the steps an individual should take if they are being sexually harassed in the workplace, the first of which is, "Talk to a lawyer." Which is all well and good advice if you are a cable news anchor with a sports agent husband who has the money and access to hire a lawyer, much less useful for an underprivileged victim, say, a person of color, a trans individual, or someone who lives below the poverty line. I haven't yet read the book, so I don't know if Carlson discusses what the options are for individuals in these situations, or how she is working to help them. I sure hope she does.)
There is also the fact that Carlson worked for Fox News, a channel I have not willingly watched...well, ever. I did my best to go in with an open mind, because I honestly wasn't familiar with Carlson's work, and who knows? She could have been a sane voice of reason among all of the repugnant nonsense Fox News anchors and pundits spew on a daily basis. What stuck in my craw was the fact that, during the talk, Carlson bemoaned the current super-divided, super-partisan state of politics in our nation, imploring people to come together because "sexual harassment is an apolitical issue." Gentle readers, it took all I had not to stand up in that auditorium and shout, "You worked for Fox News, for fuck's sake! They created this monster! That station is the reason we are so divided and partisan!" Even if Carlson herself was not the leading propagandist at the network, she still was aware of what her colleagues and the network was doing, and let it slide, which makes me think of other situations in which there was something sinister happening and no one spoke up...oh.
So, yeah, there's that. But there were things I admired about Carlson. Obviously, her courage in speaking out about an incredibly powerful man, and his incredibly sexist, shitty behavior. Again, her commitment to attacking this pervasive problem through awareness, education and legislation. But what really stuck with me was an exchange that happened during the Q&A part of the talk, right near the end.
The last audience member who was given the microphone to ask a question was a woman who spoke about a friend, a young man who had recently revealed to her that he (I'm paraphrasing) was scared to have sex, because of all the allegations against men, and how defensive women are nowadays, and he doesn't know how to even compliment women, and could Carlson please give some advice or guidelines to help these poor, confused, terrified boys who just can't figure out how to interact with a woman without somehow worrying it will become sexual and subsequently destroy their lives.
Carlson, to her credit, shut that shit down. "I'm not going to make a list of rules for how men should behave towards women," she said. "Be respectful." Carlson went on to say that she is more interested in giving a voice to women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment in the workplace, not so much about giving space to men whose worlds are now being flipped upside down because they've learned they *might* be held accountable for their actions.
Once again, I had to struggle not to stand up and flip a metaphorical table. In my fantasy version of this scenario, I do stand up, and I say, "I don't give a shit if your friend is terrified. I don't give a shit if all man are terrified. The women in this room have spent most of their lives terrified of how their interactions with men could turn sideways at the drop of a hat. Fear is our constant companion when it comes to interacting with the opposite sex; we carry it with us everywhere we go, with our housekeys and phone. Your friend is scared? Good. Now he knows what it feels like."
Carlson, of course, is on a book tour of college campuses, and can't be quite so forthcoming. She also has more important things to do than entertain dumbass questions advising men on how to compliment women so they can avoid being accused of sexual harassment. Me on the other hand - I had some time to kill, and I needed to write a blog anyway, so what the hell. Here you go, fellas - 10 ways to compliment a woman or woman-identified person that will not be misconstrued as something sexual or violating. Share freely and widely, because apparently, this is something that a lot of men have not yet figured out how to do successfully.
1. "Hey Jane, you're really thoughtful. It's nice that you always remember everybody's birthdays."
2. "Hey Susan, you're really smart. You have great ideas, and I admire your in-depth knowledge of [X topic]."
3. "Hey Kim, you're really funny. Your sense of humor always brightens my day."
4. "Hey Mary, you're really creative. You have unique ideas, and your work in [artistic/creative medium] is really impressive.
5. "Hey Beth, you're really strong. I admire how you overcame [X challenge} in your life."
6. "Hey Ann, you're very well-spoken. You express yourself well, and I always have an interesting, enlightening conversation with you."
7. "Hey Rose, you're really reliable. You're a team player, and I appreciate how I can always count on you to do a solid job."
8. "Hey Ellen, you're an excellent listener. Thank you for lending an ear when I have a problem I need help with."
9. "Hey Donna, you have a really wonderful positive energy. You really know how to fill a room with light and joy."
10. "Hey Tara, I really respect you, and because I respect you, I won't make inappropriate comments about your body or appearance, whip my dick out in front of you, masturbate in front of you (even though I would ask first), try to grope you, proposition you for sex, rape or sexually assault you, or otherwise cause you physical, mental or emotional harm, because there is never, ever any cause or excuse for behaving like that."
- Kristen M. Scatton
As we head into Week 2 of ReVamp's Artist Lab: Beyond the Surface, we thought this would be a good time to give you a little background on this most recent ReVamp project, as well as a sneak peek of what is still to come!
ReVamp's Artist Lab was born out of our mission to create opportunities for theatre artists, particularly women and women-identifying artists, in Philadelphia. We not only want to hire as many women and women-identifying artists as possible as directors, writers, actors and designers to work on existing pieces or pieces created by Collective members, but want to provide opportunities for them to create their own work and tell their own stories. We also want to help connect theatre artists who haven't had the chance to work together or maybe even meet each other. We're interested in projects that are unique and a little daring.
Out of all these impulses, ReVamp's Artist Lab was born. We would pick six women and women-identifying theatre artists of different backgrounds and specialties, pair them up, give them the same source material, parameters and budget, and turn them loose to create three brand-new theatrical works. ReVamp Collective had no artistic say in the work was produced - we wanted to see what these intrepid, creative, bold minds would come up with on their own. And boy, did they deliver.
Before we delve more into the specific pieces created by our artistic teams (Amanda Jensen and Sara Vanasse; Lesley Berkowitz and Cat Ramirez, and Joan Lawson and Stephanie N. Walters), a little background on the source material: we chose the Grimm's fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red because, as a fairy tale, it's structure is familiar and there's a lot of room for interpretation. Snow White and Rose Red is one of Grimm's lesser known fairy tales; it hasn't been "Disneyfied." The Snow White and the Seven Dwarves tale is a different story altogether; their only commonalities are the name Snow White and the presence of dwarves. Since there weren't images or ideas about this story embedded in popular culture and our collective consciousness, we thought it would be a good starting point for something new and different. We also liked that the story focused closely on a female relationship, that of the sisters Snow White and Rose Red, and dealt with themes of kindness, kinship, perception and discrimination. And even though the story ends with marriage, the pursuit of romantic love is not the main focus of the story. Speaking of, on an interesting sidenote, an earlier variation of the tale of Snow White and Rose Red was The Ungrateful Dwarf, written by a female writer, Caroline Stahl in the early 19th century. Stahl's version does not end with marriage, and, according to the limited information available about her life and work, Stahl was generally not a fan of the typical romantic fairy tale tropes. Fancy that. More backstory on Stahl and her version is available here and here.
I'm happy to report that our artists have now added their own unique stamps to this time-honored tale. Wilder, devised by Amanda Jensen and Sara Vanasse, with Juliette Gobin and Garyce Hoffman, used the story as a springboard to explore the tension between danger and security, innocence and experience, and life and death through text, movement and visual imagery. Wilder sadly closed on Sunday, but the images evoke the competing senses of joy, fear, hope and depression that infused the show.
This weekend, Lesley Berkowitz and Cat Ramirez take audiences on a literal and figurative journey. Snow White Rose Red is an interactive piece in which audience members follow Snow White and Rose Red, here two college friends, throughout the historic Plays & Players Theatre as they navigate the tricky journey of post-college life, including unanswerable riddles, awkward mornings-after, and job trolls.
ReVamp's Artist Lab closes out (sadly!) Nov. 17-19 with They Belonged to the Sunlight, devised by Joan Lawson and Stephanie N. Walters. Their take draws on parallels between the siblings Snow White and Rose Red and the real-life Grimm brohers, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, and explores a myriad of fairy tale tropes as the sisters try to break free from the page and into the real world.
Please join us for the first of what we hope is many more Artist Labs to come!
- Kristen M. Scatton
Photo credit: Shamus Hunter McCarty
How do you solve a problem like Harvey Weinstein?
Well, if you're The Weinstein Company, the film studio Weinstein co-founded with brother Bob in 2005, you fire him. If you're the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, you also give Weinstein the boot. If you're France, you announce you're stripping him of an award he received in 2012. If you're one of the dozens of women whom he allegedly assaulted, raped, groped or otherwise behaved inappropriately towards during his decades-long reign of terror in Hollywood, you add your name to the growing list of people publicly calling him out for this behavior at long last.
And while all that certainly does solve, or at least address, the problem of Harvey Weinstein specifically, I am asking a slightly different question - how do we, as a society, solve a problem like Harvey Weinstein, that is, the problem of powerful, wealthy men using their power and wealth both to sexually assault women and shield themselves from consequences for years or even decades? Because while it's great that these allegations have finally come to light, and Weinstein is finally facing some consequences for his actions, if history - and Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Woody Allen, Donald Trump, and their ilk - has taught us anything, it's that this is not the last time we will hear about a powerful, influential man abusing and violating women, and that those around him were complicit, either through direct action or silence, in aiding and hiding the abuse.
Wouldn't it be great if, instead of hearing about this monstrous behavior after that fact, instead of punishing the perpetrators with lawsuits, firings and public humiliation, instead of forcing countless women, men and non-binary individuals to suffer the physical, mental and emotional ramifications of their abuse, the abuse just didn't happen in the first place?
Can you solve a problem like Harvey Weinstein?
What struck me the most while I was reading Ronan Farrow's New Yorker piece about Weinstein - besides the cringe-inducing casting couch cliche rendezvous Weinstein arranged with his victims - was how many people apparently knew something was amiss, and yet chose not speak up, mainly out of fear of retaliation. According to Farrow, one former TWC employee who was interviewed for the article said, "If Harvey were to discover my identity, I'm worried that he could ruin my life."
Wow, I thought as I read the article, I am so glad I don't work in an industry where being a compassionate human being, speaking up against inappropriate behavior and protecting fellow human beings, would lead to retaliation so great it would 'ruin my life.'
But that's not exactly true, is it? Sure, objectively, the world of regional theatre may not be as high-stakes or cutthroat as Hollywood, but to the people living in it, working in it, making sacrifices and putting lots of time and energy into succeeding in it, the stakes are high, and the knowledge that one wrong move, one bad impression or professional mis-step with an influential person may cost opportunities and advancement, is very, very real.
The same is true for pretty much any career in our society, because that's how we've set it up - an individual, or small handful of individuals, holds the power; everyone else scrambles over each other, asking "How high?" when the person at the top says "Jump." Those who jump the highest are rewarded - this is the promise of the American Dream. If you WANT IT ENOUGH, and WORK HARD, moving toward your goal NO MATTER WHAT THE COST, you will GET YOUR REWARD, and NO ONE CAN TAKE IT AWAY, DAMMIT.
Americans don't just love a good "go big or go home" victory story, we glorify it, we fetishize it. Kerri Strug sticking the landing on her injured leg at the 1996 Summer Olympics, and Curt Schilling pitching Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS with a bloody sock are the first two examples that jump to mind, but we know that scenarios like this exist in all industries. As a society, we're not turned on when someone simply works diligently and achieves their goal. That's not the real American Dream, no matter what your parents may have told you. The real American Dream is being the person who is willing to do anything and sacrifice everything - including their own physical, mental and emotional well-being, or that of others - to get what they want. The up-and-coming actresses who were lured to "meetings" and coerced into unwanted sexual activity know this, the employees who arranged those meetings fully aware of what was happening at them know this, and the Harvey Weinsteins of the world sure as hell know this. It's a system that rewards ruthless ambition, and leaves little room for basic human decency, compassion and concern. It's a system in which predators like Weinstein thrive.
Which means that it's not just about targeting individual perpetrators like Weinstein, Trump or Ailes (although, you know, we should still keep doing that, because fuck those guys). It's about saying collectively that no job, no opportunity, no career is worth sacrificing your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being, or that of someone else. It's about shifting the paradigm so we take care of each other, instead of just looking out for number one. It's about dismantling the structures of power so that one single individual doesn't hold so much influence over so many, and doesn't have the ability to wreak havoc on so many lives. It's about recognizing compassion and courage, not ruthlessness and ambition, as true markers of success.
Is this a realistic solution? I have no idea. Changing the structure of a society from the ground up is a Herculean task, especially in a country as gosh-darn stubborn as the U.S. But we owe to ourselves to give it a try, or else the problem will continue, just with a new name next time.
-Kristen M. Scatton
If you are a sentient being living in the U.S., you most likely caught wind of some major controversy this past weekend involving the NFL, the national anthem, racial inequality, social justice, #takeaknee, Twitter, the 1st Amendment, and a completely batshit bigoted sociopath - er, I mean the President of the United States.
"Wait, wait, wait - isn't this a theatre company blog?" you might be asking yourself. "Why are you writing about football?" Bear with me.
Since you are on a theatre company's website, reading a theatre company's blog, there's a good chance you've also heard about the Evita whitewashing controversy at the Beverly, MA-based North Shore Music Theatre.
I don't know about you, but I don't often think about the NFL and theatre as having much in common. But in this situation, as I was scrolling through my Newsfeed, reading the news articles, blog posts and think-pieces about these two situations, one thing became clear to me - no one, particularly those in positions of influence and public scrutiny, has the luxury of being silent anymore when it comes to racial inequality and social justice.
There are many people out there who would argue with this statement, insisting that politics should be kept out of sports and art, that these are forms of entertainment, escapism, and should remain that way. But that's a white privilege argument if I ever heard one. The truth is, for millions of people in this country, there is no escape from the realities of racial inequality and social injustice. And what's more, for those people living in that reality, when they try to speak out about it, they are constantly silenced, discredited, overlooked. So if you have a platform like a theatre or, even better, the NFL, you not only have the ability, but the social obligation to use it to give voice to the voiceless.
Which is why North Shore's refusal to recognize their own discriminatory practices and silencing of those who called them out is so infuriating and disappointing. As anyone who is tuned into the theatre world, either at a regional or national level, knows, calls for representation and equality, both onstage and behind the scenes, have been increasing and intensifying, thanks to initiatives like The Ghostlight Project and Project Am I Right?, as well as a rising collective awareness that it's just really fucked up to continually exclude people of color, people with disabilities, and transgender people from all aspects of theatre-making. I'm not saying that any theatre has gotten it absolutely right yet, but refusing to even try or acknowledge that more effort is needed feels like coming down firmly on the wrong side of history.
Being on the wrong side of history, at least when it comes to this particular situation, seems like something the NFL players, coaches and owners want to avoid, although it's not hard to pick your side when the leader of the free world calls you "sons of bitches" (seriously, friends, is this nightmare of a presidency over yet? Please? Pretty please?).
Is it an imperfect protest? Of course it is. Thanks to Trump's Twitter comments, much of the conversation has been derailed from calling attention to America's history of racial discrimination and social injustice, to discussing patriotism, and respect for the American flag and military. The NFL itself is rife with controversies, from its glorification of toxic masculinity, tolerance of players' violence against women, and on-going chronic traumatic encephalopathy scandal. Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was the first professional football player to take a knee during the anthem last season, isn't even playing this season, with speculation that his outspokenness had something to do with teams refusing to sign him. While the NFL protests have garnered the most attention, they are by no means the only recent instances of athletes using their platform to call attention to these issues. And this was only one week out of 17 - there's a long way to go until the end of the season, so it remains to be seen if this protest can go the distance.
But we have to start somewhere, whether it's on a stage or a football field, whether our audience is 10 people or 10 million. No one is saying you can't lose yourself in the thrill of the game, cheering for your home team, or be swept away on a fantastic adventure full of song and dance. But if you can add a message in there about the state of our country, call attention to the wrongs that need correcting while you do it, why wouldn't you?
-Kristen M. Scatton
Recently Cameron Kelsall, with Broad Street Review, wrote an article regarding the inequality of produced works in Philadelphia, regarding the male-to-female ratio, and what we can do as a theatrical community to fix it. Below is an excerpt of the article as well as links to the articles sited, including an article by Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal, focusing on women playwrights, as well as Laura Collins-Hughes of The New York Times, which discusses theatrical manspreading and how we can combat it.
"Inclusiveness: Illusion versus reality
...I thought about parity in my own backyard. Many of Philly’s finest resident actors, directors, and playwrights are female or gender-nonconforming, nonwhite, and openly LGBTQ+. More than a half-dozen women run theater companies in the region, and Theatre Philadelphia recently named Leigh Goldenberg its first executive director. Jacqueline Goldfinger keeps winning playwriting prizes, Mary Tuomanen produced three new works in 2017 (and counting!), and what isn’t multi-hyphenate extraordinaire Kittson O’Neill doing?
But numbers don’t lie. The works produced by Philadelphia’s major theaters during the 2016-2017 season skew male and white. None of Walnut Street Theatre’s 10 shows were written by women — unless you count A Child’s Christmas in Wales, which Charlotte Moore conceived from Dylan Thomas’s extant writings. Arden Theatre Company and Philadelphia Theatre Company each offered one woman-authored play. Wilma Theater and Lantern Theatre Company both produced one play written by a female playwright and one co-authored play.
I thought perhaps mid-sized companies — which tend to attract younger audiences and cater to fewer older donors — might be in a better position to foster diversity. But like their more established counterparts, Azuka Theatre, Theatre Exile, Theatre Horizon, and Curio Theatre Company all produced one female playwright in 2016-2017...
...The greatest commitment to equity comes from small companies and collectives, such as the “women-centric” ReVamp Collective and the writer-focused Orbiter 3. Carly Bodnar and Erin Carr founded ReVamp in 2014 to “create a space for women to create.” Their programming agenda has included short plays, staged readings, and full productions representing a diverse slate of emerging female and feminist voices. By the time Orbiter 3 disbands early next year, four of its seven plays will have been written by women.
Conversations surrounding gender parity in theater must also include discussions of race. The overwhelming majority of women-authored plays presented in Philadelphia last season were by white authors. Among the major and mid-sized theaters in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, I count four productions of plays written by women of color: Tracey Scott Wilson’s Buzzer, at Theatre Exile; Mia Chung’s You For Me For You, at InterAct; Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, at People’s Light; and Pulley & Buttonhole’s One More River to Cross: A Verbatim Fugue, by Lynn Nottage. That’s simply not enough.
What to do?
There are several ways Philly’s larger companies can foster and improve their commitment to representational equity. Artistic administration could hire theater makers like Bodnar, Carr, Orbiter 3’s Maura Krause, and Women’s Theatre Festival founder Polly Edelstein as consultants. These artists have proven track records getting female voices on stage. Companies lacking in representative programming can also learn from larger theaters, like People’s Light and Pig Iron, that regularly deliver diverse seasons. Recently, playwright Ifeyinwa Frederick floated a yearlong moratorium on Shakespeare. “There are playwrights out there writing stories with casts that reflect the world we live in today,” she wrote. “If the industry could stop indulging in Shakespeare for a year, we could give these voices a chance.” Sign me up — and add Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and David Mamet to the list. Check out Parity Productions and the Kilroys instead.
Theater has the potential to hold a mirror to society — but how honest can the reflection be if half the population accounts for only 20 percent of stories told? If women writers of all backgrounds cannot attain equal footing, does theater just passively reinforce the status quo? I find myself coming back to a sentiment espoused by ReVamp’s mission statement: “Art is created to give a voice to those without a platform. And until diversity is mainstream — including gender, race, sexuality — there is still art to create and stories to express.” Women writers create art encompassing a vibrant array of experiences and worldviews. Doesn’t that pair neatly with the goals of stages of all sizes throughout our city?"
-- Kelsall, Cameron. "Separate, but still unequal." Broad Street Review.
"Doubtless there’s a lot of overlap, but sometimes a woman will recognize and be moved by things in a play that a man won’t, simply because he has never walked through the world the way she has. That’s not sexism; that’s having a different frame of reference. The more of those, the better."
-- Collins-Hughes, Laura. "When Women Won’t Accept Theatrical Manspreading." The New York Times.
"The best available statistics indicate that somewhere between one-fifth and one-quarter of the plays professionally produced in the U.S. are by women."
-- Teachout, Terry. "All Woman, All the Time." The Wall Street Journal
As we work to create a playground for artists to create, call to arms and explore their artistic mediums together, we still aim to hear from our community as to what they want to see. Talk to us - through e-mail, phone, messenger, twitter, etc. Let us know how we can better serve our entire community as we work to create positive change in our backyard.
If you are a theatre artist or enthusiast (and let's face it, if you're reading this blog, you probably are), then by now you have heard about the kerfuffle over the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, in which the title character is styled to evoke Donald Trump, and is assassinated in an apparently very bloody fashion (full disclosure, I haven't seen the production). This depiction has incited such outrage among certain segments of the population that two of the production's corporate sponsors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, withdrew their support, and another of the Public's corporate sponsors, American Express, has gone out of its way to let people know they are not financially tied to this particular show.
The fact that some ruffled right-wing feathers made Delta and Bank of America drop their support like a hot potato is disturbing enough, but as I was reading about the controversy, what really struck me was a tweet from Donald Trump Jr. that read, “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?”
As many artists and individuals were quick to point out, all art is political in some way, and depending on who you ask, being political is its main function. And as anyone who has ever had 10th grade English knows, Julius Caesar has always been a political play, dating back to its original publication in the 17th century. The play focuses on the treacherous navigation of public good versus personal gain, the corrupting influence of power, and the dangers of an unchecked leader whose popular rhetoric may mask sinister intentions (staging and casting choices aside, how can you not do a production of this play in 2017 without drawing parallels to the current state of American politics?). And it's not like this is the first production of Julius Caesar to incorporate current events into its concept.
Trump, Jr.'s comments are a shot across the bow, an attempt to undermine and intimidate not just theatre companies, but all artistic communities, by calling into question whether taxpayers should be funding art whose messages or implications offend them. As is the case with most things tweeted by the Trump family, it's a bs argument, because there are no taxpayers dollars funding this production, but it deserves the attention of all artists. It's a slippery slope from questioning whether art should be funded because its content or presentation offends someone to outright censorship, and now more than ever, we as a society cannot allow voices to be silenced, especially when they are pointing our challenging and uncomfortable truths about the world.
If the fallout from this rumpus is that theatres around the country decide to play it safe for fear of losing sponsors/donors or offending people, we all lose. Theatres, and all artists, need to stay strong and continue to produce work that is thought-provoking, socially and culturally relevant, and yes, maybe a little controversial. If we need inspiration, we need look no further than the Public's Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis, who said in his Julius Caesar opening night speech, "When we hold the mirror up to nature, often what we reveal are disturbing, upsetting, provoking things. Thank God. That's our job."
- Kristen M. Scatton