Gender Parity and the Classical Canon

14715070_1142625672484637_8778321911278219654_o.jpg

"Gender Parity and the Classical Canon", was a panel discussion at Statera Foundation's 2016 National Conference at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The discussion covered a wide range of issues pertaining to gender balance and casting concerns for Shakespeare festivals and theaters that specialize in producing the classics.

The panel included Geoffrey Kent (Director, Actor and Fight Choreographer), Sam White (Artistic Director of Shakespeare in Detroit and Paul Nicholson Arts Management Fellow at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Dawn Monique Williams (Artistic Associate and Director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Lisa Wolpe (Artistic Director of Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company), and Frank Honts (Casting Director at Milwaukee Rep and Dramaturg at the Utah Shakespeare Festival).

The discussion was moderated byJack Greenman (Associate Professor of Voice & Speech at Southern Methodist University and Associate Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework). The transcript has been provided by Dr. Sarah McCarroll (Associate Professor of Costume Design and Theatre History at Georgia Southern University).

From left to right: Geoffrey Kent, Dawn Monique Williams, Frank Honts, Sam White, Lisa Wolpe, and Jack Greenman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

From left to right: Geoffrey Kent, Dawn Monique Williams, Frank Honts, Sam White, Lisa Wolpe, and Jack Greenman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

GENDER PARITY and the CLASSICAL CANON:
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Jack: Where I’d like to start is: In your experience, how is Shakespeare’s work enlivened, invigorated, and/or challenged by the presence of women or trans actors in traditionally male roles?

Lisa: [We're missing a chunk here right at the beginning of the recording.] Lisa led in with saying that of course, this form was written for gender bending, and that in the modern context, the use of women/trans actors is an economic issue.

Picking up from the recording here:
I did the first all-female Shakespeare in Canada, and I went up there and it was this group of thirty-somethings who had all these parts, and I said you’re all white women. Where are the indigenous people, where are the black people, where are the Chinese people? I’m not going to direct this unless you diversify. So they reached out, and we found a tremendous cast easily, in a couple of days. They said they couldn’t be found; they could easily be found. There’s an international system for finding people. You can find people. You can find people. But the thing about that production was, in the Globe and Mail, which is their New York Times, it was one of the five top art events in all of Canada – it was in a 99 seat theatre – that can only tell you how empowered they felt by seeing something excellent onstage. 

"We need to see artists living and breathing and being excellent in this form which was written for gender bending."

- Lisa Wolpe

So, Bard on the Beach, which has millions of dollars and no roles for women…do you know what I mean? So, you know, for me it’s an economic thing. I think, whenever you see yourself onstage, whether you’re a young woman…of color, not of color, you see someone onstage, who’s a woman of color playing Hamlet, you’re going to get a pipeline to empowerment faster than any kind of panel discussion. We need to see artists living and breathing and being excellent in this form which was written for gender bending. And I’ve been talking about this for thirty years, but now it’s trending internationally, and the question is really economic parity now. How many of the actresses are having this experience as a non-Equity person, when the Equity person is a man who’s playing old-school and being played a living wage, you know what I mean? And how many university institutions that are taking sixty thousand dollars a year from every student – was it NYU? They allowed 1200 undergraduate acting students...900 of which were women. There were no roles for those people. They were paying $60,000 a year, and it creates an imbalance in the psychology. 

So, you know, how does it thrill? It thrills through language and experience. How is it difficult? There are roadblocks all the way for us. We can’t quit, we can’t fail. Well, we fail all the time and many people quit because it’s too hard. So, you know, for me, the thrill is seeing how many amazing people succeed, how many people start something amazing and the community showing up. How different it was – when I first went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and talked to Lue Douthit in 1994 on my way back from the Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference: “Why aren’t you doing all-female Shakespeare?” And now it’s 50% women directors, 51% actors of color, more than 50% female playwrights. So, you know, I’m thrilled when artistic leaders step up and make change.

Pictured: Sam White, Lisa Wolpe, and Jack Greenman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Pictured: Sam White, Lisa Wolpe, and Jack Greenman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Sam: When you practice non-traditional casting, for me that’s the first step in access. And me being from Detroit… Luckily, I had a mother who forced me to read Shakespeare when I got caught listening to rap music. If she hadn’t done that, there would have been absolutely no access to Shakespeare in the city for me, and so, I find that when I practice non-traditional casting as a producer and as a director, it opens up Shakespeare for people who otherwise, I’m telling you, would not come to the theatre. They would not show up. And so, for example, this past summer, our Shylock was a black woman, and I did that because, oftentimes – I love Shylock, I felt like I was living on the fringe, being a double minority, and I didn’t expect that lot of people would come to see The Merchant of Venice, because it’s not Hamlet, it’s not Romeo and Juliet, it’s not one of those shows that people traditionally, whether they’re Shakespeare connoisseurs or not, are familiar with. But we did it, and I found that the audience was filled with black women. Because I cast Shylock as a black woman, and it served as a mirror and a window because they were able to see themselves in this character that they otherwise would not, even have taken the time to get to know, and they were able to see outside of themselves, because they had some similarities with Shylock, but he was still very different, and that’s what theatre should be: a mirror and a window.

Frank: Shakespeare has been an inspiration to me, it’s been a lifeline, it’s – and I think for many of us in this room that’s been the case – and so… I wear a lot of different hats in my work, and I’m going to talk about one example, because I think it, for me, is the thing that maybe answers this question most directly about about invigoration, and enlivening, and our understanding of Shakespeare. So, earlier this year, I had an opportunity to direct a touring production of Hamlet for Utah Shakespeare Festival, and when we approached this, started very much with the conversation about audience. Who’s in the audience for these plays? And this is a tour that goes to Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and Idaho, and it’s about 25,000 students who see these shows. And so very much thinking about that audience, wondering what they would be making of Shakespeare, in many cases for the very first time hearing those words, and made some very conscious decisions in the casting process to cast a woman in the role of Gertrude, the Ghost, and the Gravedigger (ed: one actor played all three of these roles), and also made the decision to cast Hamlet as a woman, and I think what fundamentally was at play in that decision, and that conversation, was opening up the idea that anyone at all can play these roles, that these stories, if they are truly universal, can be something that as we tell stories in our backyards as kids, as we play with our friends, we should begin to see ourselves in all of these roles, and the transformational power of beginning to do that, I think, was really a fundamental piece of what we did in telling that story, and I think, for me, speaks to why I think gender parity and thinking about cross-gender casting, non-traditional casting, or whatever we want to call it, is such an important part of how we need to approach the classical canon.

"[Shakespeare's] plays were already written with gender as performative. I just don’t even understand why it’s a question. Yes, women can play these roles. Yes, trans actors can play these roles. Yes, people of color can play these roles."  

- Dawn Monique Williams

Dawn: I hated Shakespeare when I was a young person, and then when I was a young actor and I hated how I was being cast, and I thought I will only ever be the sidekick, the fat best friend, the welfare mom, I had a great acting teaching who said, “What about Shakespeare?” And I was like, “Uh-uh. I don’t do that stuff.” And he really unlocked it for me, and it gave me a career as a young actor, and then when I changed my focus to being a director, I thought, I want to be a really good ambassador for this work. I don’t believe Shakespeare is universal. That is not a word that I will say, because a lot of people feel distanced from the work, because it’s been used as a tool for oppression for many, many people, so I want to be a good ambassador for the work, and I want to show people that if they are looking for themselves, they can find themselves in the work. The only way that that is possible is if we crack it wide open and as Lisa said, the plays were already written with gender as performative, already written that way. So, for me, it’s just like – why the heck not? I just don’t even understand why it’s a question. Yes, women can play these roles. Yes, trans actors can play these roles. Yes, people of color can play these roles. Next season at OSF I’m directing The Merry Wives of Windsor and my Falstaff is being played by a woman, and for me it wasn’t why, but why not?

Geoffrey: That’s hard to top. I just won’t. So, I look around this room, with so many friends in it, and I wouldn’t even have an opportunity to be here if it wasn’t for the women who gave me a chance to do what I do. So, you have to pay that forward. And when we came around… The question being how does that enliven, and also how does it challenge as we process this. For years at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival auditions, we always had more talented actresses than we had roles for. It just happens year in and year out at so many Shakespeare festivals, and yet sometimes with the men we’d start to scrape a little bit because we’d just run out of enough that we needed to fill it out…and that’s just silly. We’re turning away great actors at the door because Shakespeare didn’t decide 450 years ago that they were supposed to be a traditionally male role. 

So, we took a play that we do a lot, The Comedy of Errors, a common mainstay of Shakespeare festivals in America, and looked at that as an opportunity to explore that option for us. So, by making the Antipholas and the Dromias into women, we gender-swapped, then, making the wives into husbands, and so much of our discussion was our about concerns about would they buy a husband that would stay home. And I know that sounds terrible, but it was us going will that challenge work? Is it true? Meaning the “I’m not allowed outside but they are,” so we have to create a futuristic world so that…It was silly. It was silly all around. And in the end, it opened up so many comic options in the play that were not available with men playing them. But it does change the dynamic of the play, and I think changes it for the better in the sense that I think watching women get to play these leading comic roles, and get to do the slapstick, and all the things that I’ve watched guys do – I’ve seen Comedy of Errors five times in the last fifteen years – and it was just so wonderful to challenge that flip, and make it… There’s that great scene in Comedy of Errors where they talk about the disgusting Nell in the kitchen, and it’s very funny, and these are 450 year old jokes about disgusting wives, and it was time to swap it. And it was hilarious to watch them talk about the skeevy guy in the kitchen, and it was kind of equally so – it opened up their relationship, they had a cool dynamic that was different than other productions, but it also meant that when at the end of the play Antipholus – Antiphola in our production – comes forward and talks about her terrible day and how terribly she’s been treated it changed the comedy of that speech. It was harder to crack, because the audience wasn’t as willing to be fluid with it as we were yet. They were challenged a little bit. Having Dromia come down center and talk about how I’ve been beaten and how terrible my life is – it was hard to crack the comedy of that, because the audience was…the sympathy came out. It was hard to then bridge the sympathy into the comedy. But then it opened up comedy in whole other places.

So if we’re going to move the jokes around, then why aren’t we doing it? And as a result, then it rolled through our whole season. So we had a gender-parity production of Troilus and Cressida, and a gender-parity production of Cymbeline, so when you apply that to an entire rep cycle, you open up so many options for your audience in accessibility. Participation in talk-backs was huge. We know when we do it, it is going to change the play, the question is, isn’t that great, though? We’ve done these plays for so long, to open up for us, to look through different lenses, and change those relationships is fantastic, and our audiences… It got just as many laughs as it was supposed to get, but it got a lot more people at talk-backs that wanted to talk about what they saw.

Pictured: Jack Greenman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Pictured: Jack Greenman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Jack: So, what do you feel are the essential considerations as we pursue the goal of gender parity in producing classical work? We’ve already heard some of them. You’re considering ways in which non-traditional casting shifts the meaning of part of the play, we’ve heard considerations about equity in pay. What are some of the other considerations that you think about? We’ve also heard about ways in which casting, for example, Shylock as a black woman, brings new audience, so there’s a consideration there. Can you talk a little bit more about either those considerations or other considerations that occur to you in this discussion?

Lisa: My new global initiative is called Trans-Shakespeare, so last summer I was in London, and I got the Young Vic and King’s College to give free space, and I brought two Linklater teachers, one, Daron Oram from Central School [the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama – ed.] in London, and one, Christine Adaire, from Roosevelt [University – ed.] in Chicago, and we all went and taught for free for a few weeks in London while I was doing my solo show at the Rose Playhouse. And we had eight dramaturgs, eleven directors, and twenty-two actors who were trans, straight, gay, black, Asian, Italian, white. We had bearded Mirandas, and black female Hamlets, and trans Volumnias and a really interesting exploration with the young directors of London who are all starting new companies for gender-reversal, all-female, certainly all-male – that’s been going on for a long time – there’s a new trans Shakespeare company, and so the challenge for me is… You know, I’ve always started with the binary: this will be the female, this will be the male, and we’re going to change the silhouette because I want to play Hamlet as a male, or I want to play Caliban as a male, because to me the story is about Miranda’s fear of him as a rapist. But without a binary… Last year I was at NYU directing an all-female Taming of the Shrew and the woman that I cast as Petruchio, by the time I opened the show had transitioned. 

I’m working with eighteen undergraduates doing an all-female Twelfth Night, and the woman that I cast as Viola was Sarah, now she’s Calvin. So, things are moving all the time, and I have to stay abreast of, can I even base a contemporary production of Shakespeare on a binary? What am I having to learn, even while I’m trying to block, for a community that’s fifty percent suicide right now, based on the bullying? Even while I’m trying to pipeline into casting consciousness trans actors for trans projects? So Duncan Tucker, who lives in Boulder, I was dining with him, and I met him in New York. He’s a female to male trans, and he wrote the film Transamerica, he’s bring that to Broadway. He’s talking about Audra McDonald, and I’m like, “Wait, she has a career. Let it be a trans actor.” 

But then, at the same time, I want to play Hamlet, do you know what I mean, and I’m basing that on saying, well this was written for gender play anyway, and it’s my time. But when do you say, like with these kids that are coming up saying “I’m a trans actor, do you approve, o mentor?” and I’m like, well, I don’t know, it’s been so hard for me being a gay actor, I can’t imagine the doors that’ll be shut to you. And then here’s this kid I’m working with and she becomes valedictorian as Luke and starts working at the Public Theatre immediately, with Paulie Carl, Dr. Carl, who just turned into Carl Carl. All I’m saying is, there’s a fluid gender spectrum that’s not reflected in the mainstream Shakespeare. But when I go to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, they’re doing it. They have it. They’ve lost some subscriptions over it, but they include it in every play. That’s happening more and more. We saw Emma Rice support such a production at the Globe Theatre, which was revolutionary, with Helenus being a guy, all sorts of inspiration. But for the trans people, who are literally not included anywhere, that’s, I think, our next level of attention and support.

Sam: I think, speaking of considerations when casting, for me I’m always considering my community. I think about them all the time, even when I’m not producing theatre, and for some of the young women who live in Detroit - and some of the young men - getting to school is dangerous, so if they can’t go to school and be at home and be safe, they’re surely not going to try to come see Shakespeare. That’s beyond their scope of life. 

I’ll give a personal example, and please don’t cry, Sam - there was a little boy this summer who was from Detroit, and I’m from Detroit - 7 Mile - and he was thirteen years old, and he went to the liquor store to buy a treat for himself, and he got kidnapped and pulled in the woods and strangled to death and killed by a stranger. I had a really bad day that day thinking about this kid and I walked in and saw one of my...one of the kids I had cast from a neighborhood in Detroit, who was also thirteen, like that little boy who I had been thinking about from my community, and he wasn’t out in the street. He wasn’t going to a liquor store to buy snacks, he was in rehearsals for The Merchant of Venice playing Leonardo. And he was there because his mother told me she had never seen a director who looked like me directing Shakespeare, and that’s why she wanted him to be part of The Merchant of Venice. 

And so it’s not just that I love seeing non-traditional casting or women who look like me in these roles, we have to do it. We have to do it. We have to do it. That little boy was in rehearsal when he could have been anywhere else in the city or in the world, and when kids know that there are people that look like them creating this thing - because there’s a lot of stigma that comes with Shakespeare - and people think it’s over their heads, they don’t understand the language, people don’t look like them - when they can see somebody who looks like them, it changes everything. And that’s such a blessing for me; it’s such a blessing that when people come to see our shows, they see women playing Shylock, they see people of color in the shows; trans, young, old, from Detroit, from outside Detroit. It’s powerful, powerful stuff.

Pictured: Sam White. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Pictured: Sam White. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Jack: A question that occurs to me just from hearing the two of you [Lisa and Sam]: So, why Shakespeare, particularly? As opposed to something else. Is there a particular power, a particular thing? Is it because you, personally, as an artist are invested in it? What are your thoughts about why Shakespeare as material in particular?

Lisa: Well, it certainly passes the Bechdel test. You talk about getting beyond my boyfriend, and how do I feel about my husband…I mean, you talk about politics, scope, the relationship of us to the universe, nature, that which is divine, that which is evil, what are the consequences of your behavior, and such classical political power struggles. I mean, the language is so good. I just was in the Pericles that was translated - it’s not the same experience. And I get it, you want to make it accessible to everybody, but there are other plays for people who don’t want to have an explosion in your mind of lifeblood, who don’t want to have that. If you don’t want to have that, this may not be the playwright. But if you do, this is a really great playwright. With limitations; there are people who say we should never do Taming of the Shrew, never do Henry V, these are horrible plays, but life is difficult and complex, so if you go through a difficult and complex play, you’re going to find so much light and rainbows. I mean, I’m not tired of it, but you have to love it. It’s a niche thing. That doesn’t make it an elitist white person niche thing, it makes it a thinkology thing. You have to be able to shift and move and be humble in the face of that which is truly awesome.

Geoffrey: It’s also so produced, right? I mean, it’s a great place to start, because this playwright’s on stages everywhere, from Shakespeare festivals, to professional theatres, so it’s a great place to attack. And, also, we’re not dealing with a living playwright, where they have defined gender roles, and they’ve made a decision about the play which you then have to challenge, and in some cases, almost legally challenge, your right to do that. Waiting for Godot comes with a rider about the gender assignment to that play, that you would need to legally challenge. And there are companies that have done so, and in fact, the Denver Center did so, and won that legal challenge, but it’s that heavily defined. But when you get back to Shakespeare, because we don’t have a playwright we have to enter with into a legal contract, to argue with, it opens up. There’s no one that says we can’t do it. Those are just technical, but those are classic reasons why that’s a great front for us to attack this on, I think. 

Dawn: To your second question first: the complexity of what Shakespeare has written is so fabulous and rich, and it will be a lifetime’s work to really unpack and mine everything that exists in all these plays. So for me, it’s a great place to start into the functional thing. I directed a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; I had eighty women audition for essentially two roles - this is not counting the women that came in for Big Mama, just for Maggie and Mae - and we had to extend our search to find a Brick and Big Daddy. This is ridiculous to me. So, I am the Shakespeare Estate. We are the Shakespeare Estate. We get to say who’s going to go on in these plays. 

And then to your first question: I lean real heavy into my political correctness; it’s a point of pride for me. So a big consideration for me is representation, and how do I avoid re-injury? So, how do we get trans actors, and gender non-conforming and gender fluid folk into the room? How are we dealing with Shakespeare’s xenophobia - or the xenophobia of the time - that we find in these plays? The sexism of the time that we find in these plays. How are we wrestling with those issues that are inherent in the text and trying to open the circle of people who can participate? So for me it’s always kind of like - to your [Geoffrey’s] point about  - okay, well now we’re looking about domestic abuse in a different way, and how are we handling that? And do we want to lean into that? Or are we trying to make a point with that? Or are we trying to subvert it? So, for me those are always the big questions around the issues of representation.

Pictured: Frank Honts. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Pictured: Frank Honts. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Frank: I think Shakespeare challenges us as artists to imagine specificity in a way that is often outlined for us in contemporary theatre, in which we’re told where this play takes place, who the people are that are in it, how old they’re supposed to be, sometimes what they’re supposed to look like. And I think that with Shakespeare, we’re forced as artists to think about those questions. I’m not sure that we always do, and I’m not sure that we always do service to particular questions. I think that historically in this country, and in the last hundred years around the world, we have locked ourselves into particular ways of thinking about who should be playing the roles in Shakespeare, and there are lots and lots of reasons for that. As I’m starting to work in casting very deeply, just the language we use around how we cast actors, the types that we quickly assign to people: oh, you’re an ingenue, you’re a leading man - become very limiting in how we do that. And so I think that what Shakespeare does is force us back to the elemental pieces of how we compose a story, and how we start to tell it for an audience, and for a group of people who are going to be coming together for this ephemeral experience one time.

Lisa: There’s also a really old tradition, let’s say in England, of men playing women for comedy. So, I could put these coconut shells on my hairy chest and shimmy around and add interest to myself. Which is different from a woman playing a life and death situation where they say, “die.” So, sometimes the women taking on the male roles want to go into the depth and the seriousness of it - not that they don’t have comic skills - but it’s actually not a joke to take on power. So, that can dictate what a non-profit wants to focus on, in working with the public. 

For example, I had this brilliant fight choreographer, James Day, I put a playground up in an all-female production of The Pirates of Penzance, we had rope swings and crash pads, and trapezes and lots of swords, and these eighteen young women are doing stuff, so what I had to negotiate with him was, so the Pirate King comes in [swinging on a rope and falling] and it’s a joke entrance, and I had to say, “no, I actually want Helen to come in and land and be a swashbuckling, awesome pirate.” We’re doing this landing, not that one - there are two - but if Geoff was playing it, because he’s a master comedian, and he’s already known to them, I’d ask, “what’s the coolest entrance he can do that’s both pirate and funny.” But for Helen, who’s nineteen, let’s nail a comment first. Let her take three officers down with a sword; teach her how. ‘Cause she’s totally willing to do it. But she’s also at an age where she will accept whatever story I give her as a director, so then it’s my job to say, “no, we’re doing direct power.”

Geoffrey: And in terms of action, I mean for years, teaching here at the National Theatre Conservatory, where I have an equal mix of men and women, sword fighting, I had so many of them come to me and go, “Can I skip this and go work on my music class? ‘Cause I’m never going to get to use this.” And it just kills me, because they’re to a certain extent right, that until Shakespeare starts to get fluid they’re not going to get to do it. They get to be victims of abuse. So they want to take the unarmed class, so they know how to fall and take a punch. And that goes home with you; that is terrible. So we have a responsibility to create theatrical experiences where they can show the range of what they can do, not limited by what the playwright predisposed or did fifty years ago, necessarily, so what you say about them landing and being strong - they want nothing more than that opportunity.

Pictured: Geoffrey Kent. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Pictured: Geoffrey Kent. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Lisa: But even when we collaborated on Othello, the first thing we wanted was the padded bed, the first thing we wanted to negotiate is, “How does Desdemona struggle against Othello? What is the story here?” And Geoff not only played Iago, but he helped Desdemona find her trap: within the range of physical resistance that is possible here, can we do ten out of ten? Do you know what I mean? Where’s the intelligence of this female? 

Sam: And it’s just great fun. On a lighter note, it’s just great fun to do. Our Macduff was a woman, and just seeing her, ponytail swinging, fighting, it really was empowering for me, and I’m the artistic director, and I’m staring at the audience staring at her, and you could just see them thinking “Wow. I would never imagine a woman - and she was a woman playing a man - that would have brought this head out at the end of the play.” The audience reaction was just...fun.

Geoffrey: Wouldn’t it be great, if in our casting processes - and in rep there’s the challenge that they have to bridge multiple plays - to just start by: “Well, let’s have auditions first and see who the good actors are, who shows up, and cast them. That’s not impossible. 

We were auditioning Act of God at the Denver Center, and when we were putting out the character list... We had several women come audition, and our breakdown wasn’t that open yet, we had not found the language - we had the standard Equity language, so it was there, but I had not seen an actor challenge that, in a good way until these auditions. To go, “I’m gonna come in and read for you.” And she did; she had a great audition. She didn’t work for that part, but I was so thrilled by the fact that she came in that I then went home and and asked myself, “How can we make casting breakdowns more open-ended?” That is, if I’m going to do a six person Christmas Carol, I just do the best six actors. 

"Wouldn’t it be great, if in our casting processes... [we] just start by: “Well, let’s have auditions first and see who the good actors are, who shows up, and cast them. That’s not impossible."

- Geoffrey Kent

And then when we get into Shakespeare, what becomes interesting, is then you have to decide: Are they going to play the gender as it was coded by the playwright? Are you going to swap the pronouns and make the role a feminine role? Are you going to have a woman play the role, keep the pronouns as they are and move them to neutral? And the great thing is that you can do all of them, and you can do all of them within the same production. You don’t even have to pick “the rule” that applies to the whole play, because audiences...In the theatre, we create rules, so if we’re going to break them in front of an audience, they’ll watch it, and they’ll embrace it, so that’s why these classical pieces lend themselves to open-gendered casting so beautifully. Once you’ve decided your cast, meaning your group of actors, then you can decide with that group of actors and your designers how best to use them to tell that story. And, man, are there a lot of ways to tell them.

Sam: And how beautiful for the next generation, too. I remember being caught listening to Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It,” and having to read the Complete Works. I didn’t want to play Kate in Henry V, I wanted to be Henry V. “When the blast of war sounds in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger” - I wanted to say that line. So, how beautiful that a little girl can come, see Shakespeare, and imagine - not imagine - see herself up there saying those beautiful words as Henry V.

Jack: I’m feeling the impulse now, to actually open it up, because we do have some time. So, having heard all this wonderful, inspirational talk, are there questions from the group?

Caitlin Morrison: I’m an actor, and if I’m deciding to audition for you and I’m choosing to take in a traditionally male role, do I take that in as male with the male pronouns, or do I change it?

Lisa: In an audition? I’d hope you’d make an attempt to look at the thing we’re trying to do, and break your habit of putting on the heels and short dress and makeup and earrings, because then I just have to call you back and say, “Can you take all that off?” At NYU, I auditioned 130 kids and they all did the stupid letter speech from Two Gents. You couldn’t pick a worse monologue for me. I’m looking for empowered male characters to be played by women and you’re going, [high voice] “Oh wait, wait, I don’t know. Oh wait, oh wait. I’m a mess” Why would you do that? You could play Hamlet. You could play Henry V. You could play Petruchio, which I actually need. I mean, unless you’re going to nail Kate or Bianca, why are you doing this for me? Can’t you differentiate this from, the musical theatre audition. So if I go in for Taming of the Shrew at Central, that hallway is filled with women who are trying to be direct and strong and get in that show as a man. You can’t come to that audition as a girl auditioning for a girl part. 

In a commercial audition, they just want to look at your face, but in a classical audition, you need to move as the character, bring something direct. And so, young women are all learning a male monologue for their grad school auditions, because they need something to contrast with their ingenues. In an actual season, now, you will be playing a man and a woman, because economics don’t allow us to put twenty-five people in a Shakespeare play, and have the rest of you playing poker downstairs while a few men work. You’ll play five characters in Pericles, you know, from the Bawd to Thaliart, from ripping off a beard to putting on a push-up bra. It’s a thing; you play the character you’re going for. So, yeah, come with a male monologue.

Sam: I just want to add to that - I don’t actually care what pronouns you chose to use. Is masculinity integral to the character? Because masculinity is not the gender. Women can be masculine. So you can be a woman and be masculine. So I think, to Lisa’s point about what are you auditioning for, that’s the thing I want to see. And if you have a strong point of view about that and how you want to embody that, then that’s what you should bring to the thing you’re auditioning for.

Geoffrey: I’ll also say, Caitlin, we’ll all pound our heads into the wall trying to guess what a director wants, and I remind myself, since I switch to the other side of that table so often, that I’m auditioning you, too. It doesn’t feel like that when you’re auditioning, because you want a job, but I’m auditioning you. So, if switching gender pronouns is something you want to do and feel strongly about, I would say do what you do that feels strong, because you won’t be able to find out before you go in which pronoun they’d like. You pick, and if they didn’t like it, well, that’s what you liked and that’s part of the game, too, committing to your strong choice. And that’s what makes the best audition.

Question 2 (Amanda ?): Frank, you said that you want to open up the idea that Shakespeare is for everyone, that anyone can play these roles, and I want to challenge that a little bit. I think women bring specific things to many of these roles that men cannot bring, and so I’m curious if each of you have specific examples of when you’ve made a change like this, when women have played more roles, what insights does that bring to a production? When casting a woman in a traditionally male role in a Shakespeare play, what does that do to the production? What new thing does that bring that you couldn’t get if a male were in that role?

Lisa: Well, what does it do to cast a woman in a traditionally male production by putting them in Shakespeare at all? Women were not allowed to be on Shakespeare’s stage. What is it as artists that we don’t think we can bring, in soul, body, and spirit, as shape-shifters, that we could never play. We already know that we can play everything. If you’re looking for economic models, did the Colorado Shakespeare Festival take a hit when Geoff directed a gender-reversed Comedy of Errors? Looked to me like that sucker sold out. So what’s the down side? Has there ever been a down side? No. It’s just that Mark Rylance plays Olivia for six years, and the all-female Henry V has to have a framing device and they’re in a prison, and they get six weeks. 

It’s kind of like when they keep asking us to evaluate what is the value of the arts. To spend time on that survey. We have answered that question. There is value to the arts. There is a trend in crossing gender, but we’re at a place where you have to influence boards, to tell them they’re not going to lose money, they’re going to gain allies. We’re at a place where you have to redo the marketing and celebrate the female aesthetic. We can compare Helen Mirren’s Prospero to Harriet Walter’s Henry V to Maxine Peake’s Hamlet; these are world leaders in the theatre industry. In fact, what Charlotte Cushman, who was the greatest actress in the world, who played Hamlet and Romeo back in the day, and was the richest woman in the world, who just helped other women out so that they could create without male husbands or fathers paying and censoring...What we need are producers, I think. Producers to stand for our work and to ally. There are lots of individual stories about success; what I’m worried about is that people aren’t heeding that in terms of economic trending. That it should take this long, this is stunning to me, to realize the kind of success these productions have had, and that audiences are loving them. 

Geoffrey: And when they gender-swapped and did Queen Lear at the University of Northern Colorado, and they set it very feudal and it was rooted way back in history - they didn’t feel like they had to move it to a business office or do a prison - they were just able to do it as basically a traditional production, it blew open the play for me. Because one of the things that happens, or at least my experience with gender swapping on major roles, is that there becomes an anticipation that I’ve also made that character heroic as a result. It’s like, “Isn’t that great that a woman gets to play that role,” but also I get to cast her in roles that have all the words and all the ugliness that all human beings have. So to watch Shelly Gaza’s Queen Lear make all those terrible mistakes as part of that tragedy was what opened it up. So it’s not just that they get to do this awesome speech, they’re also having an affair over here, and they’re murdering people over here, and you get to see that as human beings. So that Queen Lear blew that play open for me in a way that I would have never thought. 

Sam: With me being a woman producer, I find, especially with it being such a young Shakespeare company, and I’m still building this young Shakespeare company, I have very fulfilled women artists, because they know that when it’s time for us to have a season, they can play any role. There are no limitations, there are no boxes; there’s an opportunity for them to play a male role, a female role, it does not matter. And especially when you’re producing site-specific work, where I might be sticking them in the middle of a recycling center, it’s the give and take, and me really respecting my artists, and in turn, they’re giving me what I need back as someone who is building a Shakespeare company. When you know when you go into an audition that you can play any role in this play, it’s tremendous what it does for these artists. It breaks down the barriers that sometimes we give ourselves, because society tells us one thing, and then we have boxes maybe our family or media tells us, then there’s the lies that we tell ourselves, that we can’t play a role. And when I take a black woman and make her Shylock, she goes, “Woah. I can play this role. Okay, Sam, what we doing next season.” And then I invite another woman into my company and do the same with her, and we’re building a Shakespeare company with empowered women.

Sarah Greenman: And that reverberates out. I’m in Dallas; I feel what you’re doing in Detroit. I don’t have to see it; I haven’t seen your Merchant, but I feel it because if that’s available, then when I go into an audition, I’m thinking about getting there. We feel the reverberations of these productions all around the country, and it widens my ability to reach out and grab what I need on the way into an audition, regardless of whether that role was made for me and my genitalia, or whether it was made for everybody.

Pictured: Teresa Thuman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill.

Pictured: Teresa Thuman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill.

Teresa Thuman: This is a comment - and I’m sure there’s a question in it - but I wanted to pick up on something Lisa mentioned the other day, and reminded me of a wonderful production I saw of Titus Andronicus, which was all women and directed by a woman, really one of my favorite Shakespeare’s ever in Dallas while I’ve been there. It was very exciting, and one of the things that really resonated for me was the rape scenes, and that it was directed by a woman, and was right when Sandra Fluke was being trashed by Rush Limbaugh... And I couldn’t help but imagine that women directing this, that women wanted this to be a brutal scene, whereas I think perhaps if men were directing it, if men were the fight choreographers, if men were the actors, there would have been a different relationship in terms of how to dramatize that violence, how to dramatize the impact of the violence on the entire community - the father, the family, and everybody. And it was shocking to watch women rape women that way, knowing that was in this setting, and in this story, and the power that it had at the end - the ending of that play made chilling sense to me in a beautiful, beautiful way. 

Lisa: I remember in 1994, I was directing Othello, and Fran Bennett was playing Othello - it was an all female production at the Odyssey Theatre in L.A. - and Fran was out in full regalia warming up her voice. O.J. Simpson drove right by in his white Bronco that day, right by our theatre. And at that time, we always did talkbacks after the show. Well, after that day, there was so much foment for the rest of that run. And oddly enough, people, because it was a black woman hitting a white girl, they somehow inferred in the talkback, not everybody, but some people, that somehow Othello should not hurt Desdemona because the story should be different because they were women, and they should somehow talk to each other. There was an expectation that this should not be that violent.

Geoffrey: There’s a desire to fix it. I had my Antipholus be like, “Well, I wouldn’t hit her.” And I’m like, “Well, she’s about to do a monologue about how bad her ears hurt from what you did, so we can self-define it - we can figure out what our version of it is, you don’t have to do what I would do - but you clearly do something, because that’s what it says.” So, there’s a desire, from, in my experience, some of the actors want to soften it and solve it, and I was shocked by that. I thought they’d just want to wail on each other. And, yes, we found solutions, but it is interesting. That was fascinating.

Dawn: So, this is actually out to everyone else. Every time someone in the crowd talks about a show that was gender reversed, are you having a moment in your mind, where it’s like someone is putting yeast into bread and it’s swelling up in your mind about “What would that look like?” or “Wonder if this…?” And that’s one of the reasons this conversation is so important, because every time you say another show or another example of gender reversal, my mind starts…I want to rip out a piece of paper and start writing the ideas that are popping into my head.

Pictured: Dawn Monique Williams. Photo: Malloree Delayne Hill.

Pictured: Dawn Monique Williams. Photo: Malloree Delayne Hill.

Lisa: It’s so powerful. All my friends who do Shakespeare in prisons, they’re feeling a life and death urgency to find their words, to express the conflict in their lives, to liberate their internal terrain from trappings of thoughts that make them unhappy and violent and made them where they are. We can find the corridors out of that through art for all of us. That’s the point. And so the Shakespeare plays are so violent and so difficult in terms of the power struggle, they give you a chance...It’s like that Australian walk-about...especially when you’re a teenager, something bigger than themselves to test themselves against. But also for those of us that are tired. I’m never not uplifted by opening up that book. I just love that book. It’s not that I don’t want to direct other things, or write other things, or do other things, but I love that book of words. There’s something for everyone. Mandela took it into prison and came out with that; the only book he brought. It’s a thick book. There’s a lot in there.

Shannon Ferrante Wojtas: Do you worry about this empowerment and opening up the casting being women just taking on traditionally male roles? How do you keep a feminine energy in Shakespeare?

Dawn: I always have a conversation with the actor. I mean, sometimes I predetermine...in Merry Wives I predetermined that Falstaff, the character, will remain a cis-gendered male and a woman will embody that. But Sir Hugh Evans, I’ve also cast a woman and she and I are having a conversation about how she wants to play the role, because in some cases...For example, I was Bill Rausch’s associate director on Richard II this season, and I said, “We need more women in this world, more women in this world.” So we changed the characters to it. And I think that’s a show-by-show, case-by-case, what are you holding up? I don’t like the word concept, but since we all understand what that means, what is the directorial concept? But for me, as much as you can involve the actor in that conversation, the better. And usually, what I’m doing is changing the character to a woman, but in some cases, not. So, I had a woman play Prospero as a woman, a woman play Leonato as a woman, but with Falstaff I thought it was a different thing I was going for.

Sam: I agree with that. It’s a case-by-case situation. It depends on the play or what I’d like the season to look like, and I always ask the actors how they feel about the characters that they’re playing. For example, the actor who played Antony last season and who played Shylock, she came to me and said, “I’d like to play a girl this season, Sam.” There’s a journey in womanhood; sometimes I feel feminine, some days I feel a little bit more masculine, and so tapping into the energy of my artists, and supporting them in how they feel about the season, and how we can manifest how they see the characters while also respecting a concept, or whatever or whatever the show or season might be.

Lisa: It’s externalizing an aspect of yourself as your inner patriarch. I can play Richard III and then go home and try to not be Richard III, but if I’m in a run of Richard III, there’s a kind of a powerful “I’m gonna get this shit.” that might distance the people around me for a while, if I am really committing to a five-star performance.  That doesn’t go away in two hours, right? But over time, my empathy is grown by playing non-empathetic characters. You can take that and go, “This is what I don’t like about myself when I’m in that energy. That’s part of me, and here are all the obstacles that make me want to kill everybody in my way.” I can feel that fire, now I have to find my words, now I have to become a leader. Now I have to use that as an artistic director to go, this is that Richard III energy, I’m going to go canvas and get people to vote for Hillary. There are bigger questions than me as an actor, that’s just an aspect of myself, something I’m doing for a few months, a smaller part of myself, a character in a play. It’s not even real. Meanwhile, socio-political, how many people are being burned alive in cages? Some perspective. What’s this really about? Globally, how many women have been disappeared this year? It’s the bigger problem and you don’t hear about it. 

Pictured: Conference participants. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill.

Pictured: Conference participants. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill.

Alina Burgos: As you’re all saying this, I’m automatically thinking in my head why I can’t do what you’re saying. As an almost-graduated student-actress, who’s still learning, I fashion myself to please whoever’s in front of me. And so I’m trying to look at the roles and see what type of woman I need to be playing - the stereotype - and so I’m wondering what part of that apologeticness that I bring to every single role, can I shed to be able to play a male role in Shakespeare? Do I bring that in because that’s part of my feminine experience? And do I play that as a man who’s being played by a woman who’s been impacted by the patriarchy? It’s weird. How do I shed those things?

Lisa: Well, I don’t know that Charlize Theron’s career was taken away by shaving her head for one film and doing Mad Max. She took on some transformational shifting there, and another role she gained fifty pounds for. The guys do it all the time. What does Branagh play? Anything he wants. Derek Jacobi’s playing Mercutio now. Why do we only think we can play what’s selected for us? That’s a pre-paved road, and a very successful road, but there are other roads as well, which is great.

Sam: Yeah, and along the lines of saying you want to please whoever you’re in front of, I think that comes with something Lisa said: seeing more women producers, because if the person you’re looking at looks like you, it adds this dynamic of comfort. I can tell the difference, especially when I’m not directing, and I have a male director with me, and if I have a woman auditioning for us, she always looks at me. And I always look right back at her: I’m here. He’s a director, yes, we know he’s here, but I’m with you. And so, it’s fantastic to see women onstage but we need more women in administration. When we see more diversity in administrations, we see more women onstage, that inspires more women, more people of color in the audience. The administrative parts of this business effect what we see onstage, what we see onstage impacts the audience. Equity all around. And so, more women in producer’s chairs, that’s absolutely something that has to happen.

Lisa: And that’s only reinforced in an all-female company. If you’re playing Ophelia to my Hamlet, being cute and looking up from under your eyebrows is not enough for me. I know those tricks. I can do those tricks, I can do them myself. I know what your fake eyelashes are doing, and I know what your body shaper is doing, but I’m looking for your mind and your resistance, and how you’re going to go mad over those things. Where does it start? Are you pregnant? Did you sleep with him? What’s your fault? What’s the difference between you and Laertes? These are good questions on an advanced level to ask each other if you don’t only have to fill the notion that you’re shorter than me, and sexually fetching, and easily fall down and look like you can’t handle the world. There are other Ophelias, to be asked for by other directors in other Hamlets. Relationships that are much more interesting than “I fall down and I can’t speak.”

Geoffrey: Actors, you can challenge us, too. Audition for the part you want, not the part we’ve defined as the one you can reach for. I can’t speak for every audition room in the world, but I know that I love watching actors gun for something, and the most playable action you can have is to chase something you really want. And if you want to play Hamlet, come in and give me Hamlet. Challenge their [directors, producers, casting directors] ideals, because you’d be surprised. I think there’s room to kick the door down, and you can wait for us to do it, but you can also come into the audition room and kick it down yourself.

Dawn: And I’m going to encourage you to work through the past. Shed any sort of limiting ideas that you might have about yourselves. But I also want to let you know that who you are today, how you showed up in this room - there are roles that have historically been played by men that you could play. Right now, today. There’s a feminine energy also in men. There’s something feminine about Hamlet. I think Benvolio should always be played by a woman. Always. So, yes, continue to grow, evolve, change in your thinking, but also know that the way you showed up today? There are parts you can play. You don’t have to apologize for your femininity. 
 


"Gender Parity and the Classical Canon" was a panel discussion at Statera Foundation's National Conference, which spanned October 14-16, 2016 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Statera Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to gender balance in the American theatre. To learn more, please visit www.staterafoundation.org

This is Precisely the Time When Artists Go to Work

static1.squarespace.jpg

by Sam White

“Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed” ~ Shakespeare

 I have been feeling extremely lethargic lately.

The events of Charlottesville have made it very difficult for me to function properly this past week. All I want to do is hide under my covers, cry and pray to the Universe that things get better in this country before they become any worse. I have never been this scared, frustrated and exhausted in my life.

That’s the thing about the inequities and intolerance in this world -- they are exhausting.

I wrote this blog last week and then I had to write it again to express why I feel so passionately about Statera Foundation and why I am honored to accept a role as a member of the advisory team. My original blog was a bit more diplomatic and proper than what I am writing today because, if I may speak freely, I am tired. I am tired of the dangerous ideology of white supremacy and misogyny.

I just want to live in a world where my sisterhood of theatre makers everywhere can receive the same treatment that our white male counterparts experience in theatre and pretty much every other industry in this country.

SamWhite_083116-186_EDIT.jpg

According to a 2013 survey by the American Conservatory Theater and the Wellesley Centers for Women, in partnership to examine gender equity in leadership roles in the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), the presence of women of color at the top of some of the largest organizations in the country is nearly non-existent. Astonishing facts were found, including a statistic of one woman of color serving as artistic director and zero women of color in executive director positions at that time. This was particularly disturbing to me when as someone who identifies as a woman and a person of color -- more specifically, as a black woman.

We must do better -- all of us with the privilege of presenting theatre in our communities cannot share in the disparities of, for example, the S&P 500, where only 5% of CEO positions are held by women. We must expect more of ourselves.

The present landscape is opposite the essence of theatre itself, which should be a democratic process for us all -- our industry created democracy, after all. We as artists and creatives have the opportunity to change the consciousness of this entire country. It is the lifeblood of what we do, both onstage and off. We have the power to shift the trajectory toward a world where it’s not okay to march down a street wearing symbols of hate, bearing torches and shouting Nazi slogans that deteriorate the spirit of this country that is supposedly a place where “all men (and women) are created equal.”

Let’s take a note from Pisistratus in 534 BCE, who grew tired of the divisions between four tribes and decided to create a theatre festival to remind them of their shared humanity, which was remarkably effective. Years later, the constitution was changed and people were no longer identified by their heredity, instead they were looked at as “demo” -- the root word of democracy meaning people. That’s right, just people. Not black people. Not white people. Not this group. Not that group. Just people. 

If the theatre is not representative of the people, I believe our nation and our world are in dire trouble. It is our responsibility to require that everyone have the opportunity to see themselves in every aspect of the theatre, from directorships to executive leadership positions. A top down approach to equity in theatre ensures that we honor the roots of the art form we love so very much and that as we change, the world changes with us. 

“Money is a good soldier” ~Shakespeare

I recognize that everything mentioned above is idealistic. Excluding this week, I tend to be an optimist. I have to be, because if I weren’t, I wouldn’t have started a Shakespeare company in Detroit 4 weeks after the city filed for bankruptcy. But I also have a healthy balance of reality when it comes to equity in theatre and I realize that the bottom line is important in most industries. That said, let’s explore the financial aspect of the theatre as well, which also validates the opportunity to be more inclusive of women.

According to a Forbes article in 2015, “women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence. Influence means that even when a woman isn’t paying for something herself, she is often the influence or veto vote behind someone else’s purchase.”

The consumer power of women when it comes to theatre is just as substantial. They are responsible for 70% of ticket purchases according to a Huffington Post article published a few years earlier. Women also make up 70% of theatre audiences.

That’s right, women sustain our business. Their contribution to the profitability of our industry alone bears recognition and earns us a seat at the table in rooms where important decisions are made at theatres across the country. These are decisions that determine which productions audiences will consume - audiences primarily made up of women (takes deep breath).

African-American women are an important group within the cohort of women in this country who keep our economy on track. According to the Center for American Progress, we experience even more disparities than our white counterparts, including wage gaps and the lack of modern workplace protections. 

“Strong reasons make strong actions” ~ Shakespeare

All of these stats are undeniable reasons for us to improve.

Even in our often difficult journeys as women to climb our way up respective ladders, we as theatre practitioners must do better and do right by our community.

When a door opens for one of us, we must hold on even tighter to the woman behind us to make sure that same door remains open for her, or that it creates entry for her to walk through another door of opportunity.

I’ll use myself as the example.

I need to do better. I will take some accountability and tell you that after examining the last 5 seasons at the theatre company I founded, Shakespeare in Detroit, I realized that I have only hired two women to direct the 12 shows I have produced -- this stat includes myself so that means I have really only hired one woman in my tenure as a producer. I am ashamed to say that, but the only way to get better is to acknowledge one’s mistakes.

This self awareness means that I need to improve my hiring standards so that they are more inclusive of my fellow women in theatre, and I am proud to say that I am taking actionary steps to ensure that SiD’s next round of shows be far more equitable.

It is my responsibility to pay back the generosity and mentorship extended to me, especially at this point in my career as I have been recently gifted the position as the 2017 Paul Nicholson Fellow -- the namesake of the Emeritus Executive Director. I am the mentee of the current Executive Director, Cynthia Rider, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Rider is a unicorn when it comes to executive leadership. She is a great exception in an American theatre that has a long way to go in the name of equity, diversity and inclusion. I get the opportunity to train as an executive leader with this incredible woman. From here, I must take all that I have learned and share it with someone who perhaps has not or will not have an opportunity like this.

Accountability is crucial to a progressive theatre industry. My personal reflections at my theatre company revealed to me that I had become so wrapped up in the struggle to create a classical company in Detroit and eager to just get the work done that I didn’t thoroughly examine who was at the helm of the shows I produce. I unconsciously neglected to create opportunities for women who are just as qualified, talented and capable as the male cohort of directors at SiD.

“We know what we are now, but not what we may become” ~ Shakespeare

Here’s what we know: the world can be a scary place. This week in particular was a painful demonstration of how ugly it can be and the importance of social justice work -- now more than ever. If the sight of a thousand angry men in white polos and khakis, holding torches and marching for a statue that represents one of the ugliest times in our country wasn’t a wake up call for a more equitable world, I don’t know what is.

Hate puts us all in danger. In fact, a young white woman lost her life this weekend during the horrific events in Charlottesville, VA. May Heather Heyer rest in peace and power for all of her strength in speaking out against the KKK, White Nationalists and Nazis.

We must all fight the injustices of our world with fair representation in every part of our theatres. It is imperative that we tell the stories of those whose voices often go unheard. We must create a seat at the table for every race, culture, religion, ability, the LGBTQIA community, those living in poverty and every underrepresented voice in America to inspire and activate our neighborhoods, cities, states and our country to work together towards a more united “demo” -- for, by and of the people. All people.

And with that, I look forward to getting out of my bed, wiping my tears away from this week and getting to work. I look forward to the opportunity to contribute my thoughts, experiences, perspectives and my humanity as a woman of color to the advisory board at Statera with hopes that I might contribute to making our industry and world a little better every day. I call on the Athenian theatre gods and you, my fellow theatre artists and administrators, along with board members and search firms to engage in fair hiring practices that will trickle down and manifest work through a conscious lens of equity, diversity and inclusion.

We must stand together as advocates, artists, sisters and brothers to acknowledge that we can do better. It is the only way to become better.

As one of my other favorite writers wrote:

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” ~ Toni Morrison

Samantha White (1).jpg

Sam White is the Founding Artistic & Executive Director of Shakespeare in Detroit where she has produced 12 productions in 5 seasons. She has been recognized by the BBC, Southwest Airlines, Complex Magazine and Playbill for her work in the city as an entrepreneur, theatre director and producer. White is currently the Paul Nicholson Arts Management Fellow at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 


"Statera Voices" is a series dedicated to reclaiming dominant culture narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the theatre and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories and celebrate each other. It is here that we join in a circle of mutual trust and support to share our thoughts and self-reveal on our own terms and in our own voices. 

Statera VOICES | Erika Haaland & Minita Gandhi

static1.squarespace.jpg

"Statera Voices" is a series dedicated to reclaiming dominant culture narratives as a means towards gender balance in the theater and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories and celebrate each other. It is here that we join in a circle of mutual trust and support to share our thoughts and self-reveal on our own terms and in our own voices. 

In January of 2016, Statera Foundation launched a one-year test-run of a National Mentorship Program. While it was very successful, Statera quickly realized they needed a larger dedicated team to run the program effectively. 

For the past six months, Chicago-based theatre artists Erika Haaland and Minita Gandhi have been building a regional mentorship program based on the Statera model. Today's Statera VOICES offering is an interview with Erika and Minita about their collaboration with Statera Foundation and their work facilitating mentorship opportunities in the Chicago area. Enjoy!

Minita Gandhi (left) and Erika Haaland (right)

Minita Gandhi (left) and Erika Haaland (right)

 

STATERA: Tell us about your work in the theatre.

ERIKA: I have been an avid theatre lover since I directed, choreographed and starred in my fifth grade production of "Grease". As an artist and educator I have worked all over the country in Regional Theaters, universities, Chicago storefronts, and public schools. More recently I have been working in the Chicago Public School system teaching theatre alongside yoga & meditation through the context of social emotional learning.  

MINITA: I got into theatre because I love storytelling and believe stories can heal and create change. I have been working as a professional actress for over 15 years on the regional theater circuit on wonderful stages that include The Arena Stage, Berkeley Repertory Theater, Lookingglass Theater, Indiana Repertory Theater, and Milwaukee Repertory Theater. I also do a wide variety of film/tv. I have a recurring role on Chicago Fire and most recently played Mussarat on the hit web series Brown Girls.

Being a Chicago artist I have had the privilege of working on new work and sharing a room with playwrights as they put the finishing touches on a world premiere. I loved being a part of that process! I remember working on the world premiere of Rajiv Joseph’s “The Lake Effect,” and getting to play the dark, complicated, and messy role of Priya. I began to recognize I was starving for new work that held a different kind of narrative for women of color. And shortly thereafter, I wrote my first full-length play, “Muthaland.” Stepping in to create a narrative I wanted to see on the stage felt right and accessible because of the supportive Chicago theater scene. In particular Silk Road Rising, Victory Gardens, and 16th Street Theatre.

 

STATERA: Can you both share about your journey to the Chicago theatre scene?

ERIKA: When I graduated from the MFA program at UC Irvine in 2011 I moved straight to Chicago – I knew a few people, but was mostly making my way on my own in the beginning. I had seen a few productions in Chicago and was deeply impressed with the quality of work so I had a lot confidence in my decision. Once I got settled I started auditioning, worked at a casting agency, got an agent and pursued a career in acting. After making my way into the community as an actor I began shifting my focus towards education. Another graduate from UC Irvine moved to the city and we taught a lot of physical theatre classes – helping actors to become more grounded in their bodies and in their work. Since then I have worked with multiple theatre companies both through workshops and productions as a teacher and consultant. More recently I have been working with an incredible woman – Colleen Fee – to build a place where women can come together in this community and share their stories, discuss their trials and tribulations, and come together for support.

MINITA: I moved to Chicago without knowing I was “moving” to Chicago. I had just finished an internship with Milwaukee Repertory Theater and had moved to California. I got an offer to understudy a show in Chicago and knew it was absolutely impractical for me to go to Chi town but really wanted to be around the script. It was called “Merchant on Venice,” which was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” It was a Hindu/Muslim conflict that took place in LA. I tossed 2 suitcases and my laptop in my car and left Cali thinking I would be back in 3 months….ahem…so um….10 years later…I’m still in Chicago.

I’m here because Chicago does a lot of new work and has a COMMUNITY. I love that I can grow and stretch myself as an artist here. It’s the kind of place where you can experiment and find your voice as an artist.

 

STATERA: What is your own most memorable mentorship experience?

MINITA: My most memorable mentorship experience was right after I graduated from the Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA). One of my favorite professors, Dr. Patricia Troxel (who many of us called GOD because she had so many degrees, was a brilliant director/dramaturg/teacher and never made you feel inferior while she revealed to you the secrets of the universe), hired me on as a dramaturg and choreographer for a production of "Much Ado About Nothing".

I was so honored to be working with her. During the process she really took me under her wing but also pushed me to be independent and learn to trust myself and my choices. She was such a fiercely independent woman who commanded the space with her genuine authentic being, intelligence, and vulnerability. This was a huge lesson. As women we are constantly told that vulnerability is weak. She instilled in me that it is a balance of vulnerability and assertiveness that makes for a good leader.

 She gave me an opportunity and took a risk on me. She passed away a few years ago from cancer and I can’t tell you how many times I think of how she would handle a situation.

STATERA: What about you, Erika? Tell me about your most memorable mentorship experience.

ERIKA: When I worked at the Utah Shakespeare Festival I had the privileged of working with Laura Gordon. It was my first time working at a major regional theatre with larger roles so naturally I was incredibly nervous and felt like I had a lot to learn. Not only was Laura an incredible director, she was a patient teacher and a constant support during my time there. She pushed me to be the best version of myself both on and offstage and was always there when I needed encouragement. She also shared a great deal with me about her own personal journey as an actor/director and those stories have stayed with me as I’ve grown as an artist.

 

STATERA: Tell us about your engagement with Statera Foundation.

ERIKA: I was a part of the first group conversation about Statera in 2014 in Cedar City, Utah. Since that time I have been an avid supporter of the foundation and was a presenter at Statera's National Conference last October at the Denver Center.

MINITA: I know some of the fiercely talented Statera founders from my time at PCPA and Milwaukee Repertory Theater. When Sarah Greenman reached out to see how I could be involved, I was so honored. I was really excited about bringing my solo show and teaching a breakout session on mentorship, sponsorship and mansplaining. I work with a wonderful global communication skills training firm called Pinnacle Performance Company. I had spent the last year developing a women’s leadership curriculum for them. We decided the Statera Conference was a great time to pilot some of the material.

I was amazed at how many women were in agreement with the fact that often as women we don’t help each other rise but tear each other down. Every woman in that room wanted that dynamic to change. And mentorship and sponsorship is a way to achieve it and it was very palpable in that room.

 

STATERA: When did your engagement evolve into becoming part of the team and taking on the Mentorship program?

ERIKA: I have always been extremely interested in the Statera mentorship program. When I learned about it from Melinda and the other women who were a part of shaping it, I wanted to find a way to be involved with Statera in a more immediate way. When I met Minita at the 2016 Conference and she spoke about her work developing professional mentorship programming, I reached out to her and we started talking about what an artistic mentorship program would look like in Chicago. This lead to a bigger conversation about the National Mentorship Program – figuring out what was working and what needed to be shifted to offer artists the best possible pairing for them. As Minita and I discussed our dreams for a mentorship program in the city, we relied on the experience that Statera had in developing their National Program. Together we talked about what was working about the program that was already in place, and how we could shift it to meet the needs of our participants.  Those conversations lead to the idea that Minita and I would take our findings on the regional/community level and implement/oversee Statera’s National Mentorship Program.

MINITA: I was so pleased that Erika reached out to me. She is really wonderful like that, always proactive and actualizing what she wants in the world. I love that about her! We met up at a café to connect in Chicago and decided we could co-create a program that we thought the Chicago community really needed. We were so full of energy and synergy after the Statera Conference and we wanted the women here to feel the same.

 

STATERA: What was the goal in starting with a regional mentorship program?

ERIKA: The goal was to start small and grow. With a smaller group of women working in a community we know well, we are able to manage feedback and expectations in an effective way. We’re also learning as we go and have been very fortunate to have an incredible team behind us on the ground in Chicago. The ultimate goal is to build a Mentorship Chapter Packet that can be started in any community – complete with surveys, guidelines for sustaining the program, and conversations about what has worked in Chicago. Once these chapters have been established, launching and managing the program on a National Level will hopefully be more effective and sustainable.

 

STATERA: What were your initial findings?

MINITA: Women are ecstatic about the program! It was wild. Women came out of the woodwork to mentor and be mentees. They really wanted to share their experiences and help each other.

We also found that while the pairings were good, we needed to come up with guidelines, surveys, and data analysis that would allow for the best possible and objective pairings. We are in the process of making modifications for the next pairing session, which will begin in September.

We also found that having a strong introduction packet with guidelines for successful mentorship was key and that we needed a strong core team to be available for troubleshooting, mixers, etc. And we have a wonderful team of women that have made the program a success.

ERIKA: Everyone we spoke to about the program was incredibly excited and we had over 100 submissions from the Chicago Community for our ‘First Class’. We are three months in and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We have been monitoring the Mentor/Mentee relationships via email and meetings to ensure support and open communication. Goals are being set, conversations are being had, and some participant have shared that they are becoming good friends along the way (which is always a plus).

 

STATERA: What do you see as the greatest need and/or the most common need for mentorship relationships?

MINITA: Our industry is brutal. And it’s necessary to have a strong and safe place to be able to go to be vulnerable, fallible, and open. I think about the conversations I have had with women who have helped me in my professional and personal life. And it all started with knowing they were a safe resource.

There is also a big learning curve in terms of learning the business of being an artist. I WISH I had known how and what to negotiate for in contracts out the gate. And there is a constant work/life balance struggle that takes time to navigate. When you have a strong role model that has been through it, you know that you can. And sometimes that is just what you need. And we face different obstacles as women. That’s still a truth in this world. So, I find it invaluable to learn from other women’s experiences and to make that resource available to all women.

ERIKA: The greatest need is for guidance, support, and clarity of specific goals. I think that articulating to another person what you want out of your career can help the young artist begin on the right foot, and help the more experienced artist redefine what they are looking for in their career.

 

STATERA: Its often easy to see the benefit of mentorship relationships for the mentee. But the mentor / mentee relationship is a two-way street. What do you see as the benefit for mentors.

ERIKA: The benefits of becoming a mentor are equal to that of becoming a mentee. Mentors are left with the feeling that they are making a difference and changing someone’s life for the better, more clarity about their own goals, and a renewed sense of confidence in all they have accomplished in their careers. I think it’s easy to forget how much each of us has done as an artist and having a mentee helps to remind the mentor of all the hard work they’ve done and all they’ve learned along the way – something that we all need.  Plus the effects of helping someone else – on the mind, body, and heart – have been scientifically proven to be beneficial.

MINITA:  Yes! To give back to your community is to feed yourself too. I wish I could say I had a strong female mentor when I first moved to Chicago to show me the ropes. I didn’t. But this program means that doesn’t have to be the case anymore!

 

STATERA: As you vision forward, where do you see the Statera Mentorship program heading in future months and years?

ERIKA: I am excited about the idea of Mentorship Chapters all over the United States along with a national component connecting artists from different communities.  The hope is to build a network that has the ability and structure to support artists in a very real and tangible way.

MINITA: I think it will be great to pair women up in different cities; an aspiring scenic designer in Omaha, Nebraska might have a perfect mentor in New York City, and we’d love to be able to pair them up to hone skills and build a nation-wide network.  The goal is to remove any sense of isolation as a woman in the arts and to reinforce a sense of greater community through women mentoring other women and sponsoring other women in the arts, I believe we will see an increase in the number of female artists in all aspects of the industry.

ERIKA: Yes. I am also excited to see how this program that we are building will develop in different communities. And of course excited to hear about how Mentor/Mentee relationships develop over time – how we continue to support each other as we grow in our artistic lives.

On Common Ground

Statera Foundation is made up of a powerful coalition of artists doing amazing things to nurture and ensure equity in our theater communities through our story telling, artistic leadership, fundraising efforts, demands for social justice, and through our creative alliances. Today, Statera is excited to share with you the exquisite work of two Statera-affiliated theatre artists: Kathleen Mulligan and Fizza Hasan.

In the Spring of 2015, Kathleen Mulligan traveled to Pakistan as a Fulbright specialist to collaborate on her project "Voices of Partition" with her husband, David Studwell, and members of Islamabad's Theatre Wallay. The resulting piece Dagh Dagh Ujala (This Stained Dawn), was based on interviews with survivors of the Partition of 1947. Statera first met Kathleen Mulligan and Theatre Wallay's Artistic Director, Fizza Hasan, the following summer during StateraCon15 when they shared a presentation about their collaboration. 

Kathleen Mulligan (left) and Fizza Hasan (right)

Kathleen Mulligan (left) and Fizza Hasan (right)

Kathleen and Fizza are at it again! Their newest collaboration, On Common Ground, is an original theatre piece that explores how we celebrate and reclaim public places -- schools, squares, mosques, parks -- spaces intended for learning, leisure and worship, which have also been targeted as venues for terror. Kathleen and Fizza are joined by American theatre artists Linda Alper and David Studwell, as well as eight Theatre Wallay actors/writers, two Pakistani musicians, a dancer and a stage manager. The project is sponsored by US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.

After being developed in Islamabad, On Common Ground will travel to the U.S., where it will be performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR and at Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, OR. Besides performing, Theatre Wallay participants will attend information sharing sessions and skills-based workshops. In Portland, Theatre Wallay artists will meet with managers of small theaters who will share concrete information about arts management, to foster Theatre Wallay’s growth and fiscal health. At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the focus will be expanded to education training - learning teaching skills used to promote tolerance and reduce conflict. 

The next part of this eighteen-month project will be hosted by Ithaca College, where Kathleen is Assistant Professor of Voice and Speech. Ithaca’s Department of Theatre Arts and Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity will invite two of the Theatre Wallay artists to travel to New York State, where the visitors will co-lead a student project to further develop the public space theme and write additional material from an American perspective. The Pakistani artists, still collaborating with Mulligan, Studwell and Alper, will hone their newly expanded teaching skills, culminating in an Ithaca College presentation.

Theatre Wallay and Artists Repertory Theatre collaborating in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Finally, in Islamabad, the last project phase will integrate the American perspective, as appropriate, into Theatre Wallay’s script, which will then be translated into Urdu. Theatre Wallay will then present On Common Ground in theatres and schools in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar, combining performances with educational workshops that encourage students to explore the public space theme through writing as well as participatory exercises. The culmination of the project will be a script writing competition for young people, organized by Theatre Wallay. The winning script will be developed and workshopped with Theatre Wallay artists.

Learn more about Theatre Wallay's On Common Ground in the video below and by visiting their FACEBOOK page or WEBSITE. You can see On Common Ground at Artist Repertory Theatre in Portland, Oregon on June 26th or 28th (reserve tickets HERE) or you can see it at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on July 4th or July 6th as part of the Green Show. 

Mary McColl to Speak at #StateraCon16

Statera Foundation announced today that Mary McColl, executive director of Actors' Equity Association, will be giving the touchstone address at Statera's Annual Conference on gender equity in the theatre. The Conference, which is to take place at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, features a dynamic list of speakers and presenters, including Denver Center Artistic Director Kent Thompson, ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Associate Dawn Monique Williams, to name a few. 

About Mary McColl

As executive director, Ms. McColl oversees the collective bargaining process for more than 30 national and regional contracts and supervises Equity’s professional staff in four regional offices (NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago and Orlando).  She works closely with Equity’s national council - the union’s governing body - to establish goals, develop and implement national policy, and execute Equity’s long-term strategic plans.  She serves as the union’s representative and lead spokesperson with the media, labor, bargaining partners and government officials.

During her tenure, Ms. McColl has successfully negotiated several contracts, including the Production Contract which covers Broadway and touring productions, and is the leading contract for employment for Equity members, as well as the LORT contract, used by prominent not-for-profit theaters nationwide.  She has also led the National Council in the development of long range strategy plan to further strengthen Equity’s leadership position in the theatrical community.  McColl has advanced a new and vigorous approach in areas such as communications, organizing and IT that have resulted in positive gains for the member-driven union. 

Ms. McColl joined Equity in 2011 from her position as the executive director of the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis.  Prior to that position, Ms. McColl was the director of labor relations for The Broadway League and previously served as vice president of operations for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.  She began her theatrical management career at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, where she held several positions, including a five-year stint as vice president and general manager.

Stretch Goal Announcement | $12,000

WOW, friends. Statera Foundation's Kickstarter campaign is now officially funded! You have raised $1,630 plus dollars today and we are gobsmacked! AMAZING! Thank you for your incredible support. And many of you increased your original donation to make it happen. Again, thank you. 

We still have two days of our Kickstarter campaign left. Let's really make it count by reaching for an exciting "stretch goal"! Statera is in the process of developing our Outreach & Education program. This will entail curricular development as well as bringing on a new team member to run and sustain the program. Our new GOAL is $12,000. Let's spend the last day reaching for an addition $2,000 beyond our original $10,000 to support the Outreach & Education effort. 

Again, we are filled with deep gratitude to everyone who made this possible. Ready, set, $2000 stretch! WE CAN DO IT!

Final 3 Days of Kickstarter

We are SO SO SO very close to meeting our $10,000 goal. We need all hands on deck to raise only $1,630 more dollars before midnight on Thursday. Statera Foundation is working for gender equity in the theatre through our innovative programming, our dynamic annual national conferences and our newest initiative, The Statera Leadership Coalition, which brings artistic directors together to form a cooperative force for gender parity in the American Theatre. We need your help.

Please share our message and Kickstarter link with your friends on social media. Call a friend, email a colleague, send a blast to that Facebook group. We need 91 people to give $18 each. Or we need 150 to give $11 each. Or 10 people to $163 each. Please reach out and help us make it over this last little hump!

Remember that every person who donates to our Kickstarter campaign will be entered in a raffle to win an original commissioned artwork from artist and Statera Foundation Creative Director, Sarah Greenman. Donate today for your chance to win! 

Thank you for your support and for spreading the word. THREE MORE DAYS! We can do this!

The True Meaning of #iamstatera

Day two of our Kickstarter campaign is underway and already, you've raised almost 10% of our goal! Thank you to everyone sharing the #iamstatera story and donating to our campaign. We are filled with gratitude. 

Today, we'd like to share a message from our Executive Director, Melinda Vaughn. #iamstatera is the hashtag we're using to accompany our social media campaign. Statera is derived from the Latin word for balance. So when you share #iamstatera, what you're really saying is I AM BALANCE. Beautiful, right? In the personal video offering below, Melinda expands more on this theme.

Please join us by printing out the #iamstatera sign below and posting a photo with our hashtag and your definition of Statera. Thank you for your support. Gender balance is possible - together we can make positive change!

Statera to Raise $10,000 on Kickstarter

Since it's inception in 2014, Statera Foundation has been facilitating positive change for gender balance in the theatre at our annual conferences and through the development of support and advocacy programs. In order to take the next step, Statera Foundation is fundraising on Kickstarter. Please share our story on social media using the #iamstatera hashtag. And thank you for donating HERE. Gender parity in the theatre is possible - we can do it TOGETHER!

Chris Crass | Featured Speaker at StateraCon16

Statera Foundation is thrilled to announce Chris Crass as our first featured speaker at Statera Conference 2016. Chris has dedicated his life and work to building powerful working class-based, feminist, multicultural movements for collective liberation. This winter, our Creative Director, Sarah Greenman, attended one of Chris' racial justice workshops in Dallas, Texas. "Chris is a compassionate visionary," says Sarah, "and his ability to bring everyone in the room together, even in spite of difficult realizations, personal biases and collective blind spots, is nothing short of phenomenal. As a fairly new organization, Statera Foundation needs this kind of guidance as we do the real and complicated work of creating gender parity in the theatre and beyond. Chris' workshop is a not-to-be-missed opportunity." 

Chris Crass is an intellectual, political, spiritual visionary. He is the kind of public intellectual and activist we really need - in the halls of academia, in our spiritual centers, and in the streets.
— Mary Talcott - California State University, Los Angeles

Chris' workshop will cover lots of ground, but the focus will be gender equity, collective liberation and strategies for movement building in the arts. Chris has written widely about anti-racist and social justice organizing, lessons from women of color feminism, and strategies to build visionary movements. His books include Towards the 'Other America': Anti-racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter and Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy. Learn more by visiting his website www.chriscrass.org

Register for Statera Foundation's 2016 Conference (October 14-16, 2016)! We will be announcing more speakers and key-notes in the coming months, but now is the time to commit and take advantage of Statera's Early Bird Registration, which ends on March 1, 2016. Join us at #StateraCon16 and be the change. 


More about Chris Crass and his book, Towards Collective Liberation:

Hey You! You're a Mentor!

By Jennifer Tuttle

Some of you might have noticed the “A Theatre Teacher Changed My Life” meme that was popular on Facebook this past week.  I first saw it on the page of a Theatre Teacher of mine, Nancy Lipschultz.  On the post, Nancy wrote: “ I have been influenced by every wonderful student I've had the privilege of teaching. Many of them are now teachers themselves. Represent you excellent ones.”  She listed 13 of us who have gone on to teach – what a legacy! 

Nancy arrived my second year of graduate studies, at a very pivotal time in my process, and she changed the trajectory of my career, not only as a performer, but also as a theatre artist at large.  I was good at dialect work, and she allowed me to assist her in coaching several productions, and in my third year of grad school, she assigned me as the dialect coach for our production of “Great Expectations.”  A whole new skill set opened up to me, and her belief that I could do it gave me great confidence in my abilities to coach.

After I graduated Nancy and I kept in touch, and I was always able to ask her for career advice.  When I began to think about teaching, she helped me put together a professional CV (believe me, no one should ever have to do that without guidance!), was an excellent reference when I applied for jobs, and gave me advice on how to create curriculum, syllabi and how to lesson plan once I began teaching.  In short, she’s exactly the kind of person anyone would dream of having as a mentor.  And here she was, posting about how WE, her students, influenced her.  Huh.  It got me thinking…

As I look through the applications submitted in our first few weeks of the Statera Mentorship Program, I am often surprised.  I start to read a mentee application and think, “Surely this person filled out the wrong form.  This person is excellent mentor material!” It’s clear that no matter where we are in our careers, we still have room to grow, and have a desire to seek out someone who has been there and done that and will lend a sympathetic ear and offer some wisdom.  But I’d like to turn that paradigm on its head.  No matter where you are in your career, YOU have experience and wisdom to share! 

I received an application to be a mentor from a younger (late 20’s) woman whom I had been in a production of “A Christmas Carol” with over 10 years ago.  Imagine my shock and delight to see her name!  My next thought was, “Huh, she’s applying to be a mentor and not a mentee…”  Then I checked out her website, and there was her adult face staring back at me.  And there were her professional credits as an actor, director and teacher and I thought, “Yep.  She’s totally going to be a great mentor.”  I’m sure many of us think a mentor needs to be mid-career or further in their life/career journey, but many mentees are looking for someone just a few steps ahead that can be a helping hand.  And many of us undersell our value and think "I can't mentor, what do I know?" and the answer to that is "More than you think you do!" 

As we continue to grow and shape the Mentorship Program, I am thrilled with the initial response to the program.   It’s been so positive and we’ve received a lot of applications.  I want to encourage all of you to think about applying – as a mentor!  Or as BOTH a mentee AND a mentor!  Either way, there is opportunity for growth, learning and support.  And you might just find that in clarifying what you know and articulating it to someone else, that not only will you be a mentor to your mentee, but you can become a mentor to yourself.  Hope your 2016 is off to a productive, creative, balanced beginning!

 

 

Statera National Conference | October 14-16, 2016

Early bird registration opens TODAY for Statera's 2nd annual national conference! This year, Statera sisters and brothers will be converging on Denver, Colorado at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA). What? YES! And if you register before March 1st, you can lock in the super low attendance fee of only $125. 

Please join us this fall, October 14-16, for three days of networking, socializing, experience-sharing, workshops, panel discussions, exciting key-note speakers and more! The Statera National Conference is all about gender balance and our goal is to take action to bring women into full and equal participation in the American Theatre. 

Why Denver? We have strategically chosen to meet in the center of the country as a way of engaging both coasts as well as the wide swath of regional theatres scattered across the states. The Mile High City has a rich arts and culture scene and is also home to our nation's largest repertory theatre, The Denver Center. We are thrilled to announce that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is partnering with Statera Foundation to host the 2016 Statera National Conference for gender parity in the theatre.

So why wait? Take advantage of early bird registration today and save yourself some dough! And if you're an educator, please invite your students to attend. Mentorship is at the core of the Statera mission and we are offering half price registration ($75) for students who attend Statera Conference WITH their professor. 

Conference is open to theatre professionals and practitioners of every gender and every age. Whether you're a director, administrator, technician, actor, dramaturg, designer, educator, text coach, playwright, enthusiast or usher, Statera Foundation's National Conference is for you. You have a voice and we want to hear from YOU.


Statera Mentorship Program Announcement

Happy New Year! The Statera Foundation is elated to launch our much-anticipated Statera Mentorship Program.  This program, which has been in the works since our organization's inception, is at the core of Statera's mission - bridging the gap between passion, preparation, and opportunity. After our spring survey and summer conference in 2015, the overwhelming feedback called for organized individual mentorship. You asked for it and we're more than happy to deliver!

A flourishing mentor relationship helps both mentor and mentee organize their professional challenges, nurture their creative ideas and activate their personal gifts. Statera Foundation is a bridge for connecting theatre women interested in moving beyond the very real obstacles that sometimes lie between our goals and our successes. But the mentorship program isn't just for women. It is also for our male, trans and gender fluid allies, who are looking for ways to connect with and learn from other theatre practitioners interested in gender equity. 

Jennifer Tuttle - Photo by Ryan Kipp

Jennifer Tuttle - Photo by Ryan Kipp

The Statera Mentorship Program will be overseen by the newest member of the Statera Team, Jennifer Tuttle. Jen is a director, actor and educator based in NYC. She is also an Assistant Professor at the City College of New York. Those of you who attended StateraCon15 in Cedar City, UT will remember Jen as one of our breakout session facilitators. She is dedicated to gender parity in the theatre and we're thrilled to have her as the Mentorship Coordinator for Statera Foundation. You can learn more about Jennifer by visiting her website.

Please visit www.staterafoundation.org/mentorship for more information. If, after reading more about the program, you feel called to participate, please sign up to become a mentor or mentee. The most effective way to grow, expand and manifest change is to work together. Statera Foundation is here for you. 

Statera VOICES | Rehana Lew Mirza

"Statera Voices" is a series dedicated to reclaiming dominant culture narratives as a means towards gender balance in the theater and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories and celebrate each other. It is here that we join in a circle of mutual trust and support to share our thoughts and self-reveal on our own terms and in our own voices. 

Today's offering comes from Rehana Lew Mirza. In addition to her work as a playwright, Rehana is also co-director of Ma-Yi Writer's Lab, the largest collective of Asian-American writers in the country. For her advocacy work with the South Asian community, Rehana was nominated for a South Asian Media Award and was featured in publications such as India in New York, DesiTalk, India Abroad, Bibi Magazine, Nirali Magazine, and EGO Magazine, among others. Her plays have been published with the Alexander Street Press, indietheatrenow, and the New York Theatre Review, and her breakout play, Barriers, was the first play to address 9-11 from a Muslim perspective and has been included in the curriculum at West Virginia University, Yale University, and NYU. Learn more about Rehana HERE

This piece originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of The Dramatist and is reprinted with permission. The full article, titled The Count, can be found HERE

 
      Photo by Christine Chambers

      Photo by Christine Chambers

REACTION TO THE COUNT

Upon seeing the statistics from The Count, I turned to the person on my right and asked if the Dramatist Guild was handing out arsenic to swallow with these numbers. On my left was my husband Mike Lew. We couldn’t make eye contact through the tears. Up until this moment, our semi-serious joke had been that I was a “2 for 1” as a woman of color, meaning I’d be twice as likely to be produced. But the facts were laid bare: female-authored productions hover at only 22%. Women of color comprise only 3.4%. Given these statistics, my chances of production are grim. Mike has a slightly better shot; men of color comprise a whopping 6%.

In that moment, I realized how arbitrary and ineffectual “feelings” are. Mike and I had both “felt” that I was more likely to be produced. But the numbers said otherwise. And I’m sure the American theater “feels” they are moving towards diversity and inclusion. But the numbers say otherwise too.

What I take away from The Count is that theaters are NOT producing the BEST plays; they’re merely ascribing higher value to plays that show a particular (hegemonic) perspective. Theaters are tacitly allowing unconscious bias to permeate the industry, and until we find ways of holding decision-makers accountable for excluding women (and men of color), they will have no incentive to change. After all, “feelings” are overwhelmingly convincing.  Everyone “feels” they are doing the best they can do. 

I’d like to think that upon seeing these numbers, we as a collective community would freak the fuck out and do more than the best we can do. But I was at Julia Jordan’s first town hall on gender parity in 2008, and since then female representation has only creeped up 5%. So I wonder how honest we’re being with one another about actually wanting change, or about the role of theater as a vital, visceral window on the world. I’m not sure theaters care that representation on their stages is increasingly disparate from their surrounding communities. Millennials (18-34) make up a quarter of the country, and of those, nearly half are minorities. But you’re not seeing them in our theaters. Women are half the population, and people of color are 37%. But you’re not seeing them being produced. What happens when nuanced and diverse representations of these demographics are completely absent from theater? I actually worry that instead of theater opening us up to new experiences, we are creating an empathy problem. We are effectively censoring alternate perspectives to the point that instead of shining a light on humanity, the plays we see merely confirm privileged experience. 

Sometimes when I mention this stuff in public, inevitably an older white man will tell me, “If you can’t take it, get out of the theater.” The thing is, according to these statistics, I’m already 96.6% out of the theater.  Ultimately, Mike and I have to believe that the value of our plays will transcend statistics. Yet The Count shows that there is a toxic systemic bias at play that we cannot overcome on our own, no matter how much we believe in our plays.

Statera VOICES | Sam White

"Statera Voices" is a series dedicated to reclaiming dominant culture narratives as a means towards gender balance in the theater and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories and celebrate each other. It is here that we join in a circle of mutual trust and support to share our thoughts and self-reveal on our own terms and in our own voices. 

Today's offering comes from ground-breaking artist and producer Sam White, Founder and Artistic Director of Shakespeare in Detroit. A native Detroiter, White was recently named one of Crain's Detroit's 40 Under 40, which honors the community's high achievers. She also gave a passionate talk about sharing Shakespeare at the 2014 TEDxDetroit conference at the Detroit Opera House in September 2014. White, a featured guest speaker at Statera's  2015 summer conference on gender equity in the theatre, has also been featured via Crain's Detroit Business, Fox 2 News Detroit, WDIV Channel 4 News, Detroit Free Press, BBC World News and Southwest Magazine. 

photo by Cybelle Codish

photo by Cybelle Codish

Imitate the Action of the Tiger

In peace there's nothing so becomes a man. As modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger” is a quote from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” that has resonated with me, as of late. 

I started Shakespeare in Detroit, officially, more than two years ago with our very first production, “Othello”, at a park in the city called Grand Circus Park on the patch of green grass and concrete right outside of Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team. It was thrilling to witness 500 people watching Shakespeare in the park for the first time in the city’s history. I believe there was a Canadian group that would come each year in the early 2000s and perform during an arts festival. But we were a group of local, talented artists putting on a play in our hometown. This was thrilling for me and as a girl who grew up only a few miles away, I felt blessed to be the engine for this play that turned into a bit of a movement. I was humbled that this show was well received. As the support of our shows continued, my ‘modest stillness’ grew more and more.

I was happy for the two years of creating and producing that I had been blessed with, and I was perfectly fine doing what we were doing. I was content. But then something happened during “Macbeth” in Detroit’s New Center Park this past summer. I was walking around as the show was going on, making sure that I was available to my team as we were spread all over the park. While making my rounds I saw a group of kids, about four or five of them, sitting on the steps. I walked over and explained to them that they couldn’t sit there. Sitting on steps in the middle of an amphitheater isn’t permitted. But the more important reason I moved them was because I wanted these beautiful brown faces to move closer to the stage. They were all around eight to ten years old – the same age I was when my mom introduced me to Shakespeare. I moved them to the front of the house, to a few seats that I had reserved for myself and my friends.  This is when I had a revelation or, better yet, I remembered the most important reason to produce Shakespeare in my hometown. 

It’s really cool that Shakespeare in Detroit has a wide demographic of supporters, audience members and advocates. I am so grateful for the opportunity to pioneer the city’s first, full-fledged Shakespeare company and offer a free show every summer. It has been such a wonderful and sweet surprise that we have been able to create great awareness for the company in a short period of time. But the most important thing we can do, I can do, is ensure that we represent and showcase diversity – real diversity that looks like the city in which we perform, the country we live in and the world around us. 

More than ever, cultural understanding is crucial to our lives. If there is any industry in the world that is responsible for serving as a gateway to it, it is theatre. We have the opportunity to share the stories of all sorts of people – black, brown, white, men, women, children and others. When I saw these kids at “Macbeth” at New Center Park, I asked myself if they had actors onstage that looked like them so that while they were sitting in the front row they might be inspired to investigate Shakespeare further. The answer was: yes, thank goodness.  Let’s be honest, the first thing we experience when we see someone for the first time is the way that they look, and if a black or brown kid looks onstage and doesn’t see a black or brown face, the experience could escape them. I was 14 years old when I saw Laurence Fishburne as “Othello” opposite Kenneth Branagh, and it really opened Shakespeare up for me. I had already been reading it, but seeing that film really changed things for me as it felt more relatable and resonated because the protagonist looked like me. Simple but true. 

I always find it a little disconcerting when I see theatre in Detroit – a city that is still primarily black – that doesn’t represent it. It’s a challenge that I am tasked with as a producer and that I am committed to making a priority this season as I get back in the director’s chair at my company. If we as theater creators want diverse, culturally responsible companies, we have to include everyone. This will entice audiences of all kinds to come support our work. 

Representing our diverse world is personally important to me as a double minority, a black woman. I have the opportunity and responsibility to hire people who look like me. I have been able to create my own company and path. It’s vital that I take others along for this challenging, beautiful ride. 

Speaking of this ride that I am on, I have been asked why I choose to produce the work of “a white guy from 450 years ago.” In the spirit of equity, I am not limited to producing any specific work. I love Shakespeare and so I produce it. Women, minorities and any artists in the world should have the opportunity to create what inspires them. The point of art is to recognize our common experiences which lead us to the understanding that we’re all more alike than we are different. The moment we all realize this, the world will be a much safer place and our theaters will entice more beautifully diverse audiences. 

We all love theater and are happy to be doing what we are doing in our roles. But now is the time to ‘imitate the action of the tiger’ and create opportunities for women in theater and people of color.  We need more theater and people onstage and off that reflect everyone. Our theaters need it. Our world needs it.

Statera VOICES | Melinda Vaughn & Shelly Gaza

"Statera Voices" is a series dedicated to reclaiming dominant culture narratives as a means towards gender balance in the theater and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories and celebrate each other. It is here that we join in a circle of mutual trust and support to share our thoughts and self-reveal on our own terms and in our own voices. 

Melinda Vaughn is the Founder and Executive Director of Statera Foundation. Vaughn is an actor, director, educator, mother and advocate for women in the arts. She received her MA in Arts Administration from Southern Utah University, where she also serves on the faculty as an Assistant Professor. Shelly Gaza is the Co-founder and Director of Statera Foundation. She is also Assistant Professor of Theatre at University of Northern Colorado. Shelly is also a member of Voice and Speech Trainers Association and Actors' Equity Association. The following Statera VOICES offering is a transcription of Melinda and Shelly's opening addresses at the Statera Conference, which was delivered in Cedar City, UT on July 31, 2015.

Pictured left to right: Sarah Greenman, Melinda Vaughn, Martha Richards and Shelly Gaza.

Pictured left to right: Sarah Greenman, Melinda Vaughn, Martha Richards and Shelly Gaza.

From Shelly... 

Hello everyone. Im Shelly Gaza, Co-Founder and Director of Statera Foundation.

I am here in a room of like-minded people. Some of you have traveled thousands of miles to be here. Some of you have only traveled across town, yet you did so by carving out precious time in your work schedules, your family schedules, your almost surely too-busy life schedules. Were here for several reasons - to talk about and explore various aspects of our profession, to meet and make connections with new people, to invigorate our minds and bodies, to see some great theatre, to enjoy the beautiful landscape - there are so many things that Im looking forward to in the next few days!

But were also here because we know that something is wrong with the dynamic in American Theatre. Well, actually, theres something very wrong with the dynamic in America, in the World. Its complicated to be sure, but to try and put it simply, its this: women hold far too few positions, and certainly too few decision-making positions - that is, positions of power - and we are often paid less than our male peers when we do.

There has never been a comprehensive nation-wide study of employment and salary numbers for female theatre professionals. There needs to be, and this is one of the driving factors behind the formation of Statera Foundation. But more on that later in the conference! In the meantime, there have been some important regional studies that confirm what we have long suspected to be true in regards to gender imbalance:

  A 2015 study conducted by Valerie Weak and the Counting Actors Project, in collaboration with Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts and Christine Young, Associate Professor at the University of San Francisco, found that, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are approximately 400 theatre companies and roughly 200 new plays are premiered each year, women represented only 27% of the playwrights, only 42% of the directors, and only 40% of the union actors.[1] 

And when we travel east, the numbers even get worse. 

  A 2009 study of gender equity in Chicago found that only 15% of theatres had a female Artistic Director, and only 10% had a female Managing Director.[2] 

  Only 23% of the plays produced by Boston-area theaters in the 2013 - 2014 season were written by women. Men also outnumbered women by at least 2 to 1 in the fields of director, scenic design, lighting design, sound design, projection design, violence design, and music direction.[3]

  During the 2012-2013 Broadway season, only 10% of plays were by women playwrights and only 14% of the productions were directed by women.[4]

  And the only real national statistic we have comes from the U.S. Department of Labor and shows that less than 25% of positions in playwriting, directing, set design, lighting design, sound design, choreography, composing and lyric writing were held by women.[5]

When talking about gender parity, I often hear the rebuttal, But its getting better - it might be slow going, but its better than it use to be.But delving deeper into the numbers, we actually find the opposite to be true.

  In the San Francisco Bay Area, from 2011 to 2015, the jobs for female performers declined 1%, for female playwrights the number went down 3%, and for female directors the jobs declined a shocking 8%.[6]

  And this one will really get you: in the 1908 - 1909 Broadway season,12.8% of the productions on Broadway were by women playwrights.[7] As I mentioned a minute ago, the 2012 - 2013 Broadway season saw only 10% of its plays written by women. Not only are things not getting betterbut weve actually taken a substantial step backwards over the last century. 

And theres an alarming salary gap as well. The Counting Actors Project found that only 39% of the highest paying Equity contracts that included health benefits were given to women. And at these higher paying theatres in the Bay Area, only 37% of the productions were directed by women, and only 23% were written by women.  

In this room, were already aware of this inequality. Weve experienced it ourselves, or seen it in the theatres where we work, or see our partners and spouses deal with it as families try to make ends meet in an industry that continues to shut doors on its female employees. And its maddening, and its unfair, and its wrong.

But this morning, I don't want to talk about gender parity in terms of morality or fairness. I want to talk about why Statera’s mission, centered on achieving gender parity and pay equity for all women in theatre, isnt really about women. Its about the future health, indeed the future survival of American theatre.  

As long as I have been a serioustheatre person - so, lets say since the early 90s when I was a college theatre major - I have been aware of the conversation about the dire state of live theatre. That the audiences just arent coming anymore. That the ones who do are getting older and older, and there are no younger audience members taking their place. That theatre fails to attract the attention and interest of a society with an increasingly short attention span and a determination to stay home and consume their entertainment from the comfort of their couches. And that if all this continues on its present course, there will be no Theatrefor any of us - not for those that want to see it, and certainly not for those of us who want to make a living at it.

  The National Endowment for the Arts survey of public participation in the arts breaks out figures collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. It found that in 2002, 17.1% of the U.S. population had attended a musical; in 2008, 6 years later, it was down to 16.7%, and in 2012, it was down to 15.2%. The drop is even more significant for plays, starting at 12.3% in 2002, and sliding to 8.3% in 2012.[8]

  NEAs research director noted that attendance at plays has been down consistently since 1992, and adds that in the 2012 numbers, there were even worrisome dips among some of the theatre industrys target demographics, including 55 to 64-year-olds and audiences who have reached high levels of education.[9]

This worries me, and has worried me for over 20 years. I remember my college professors talking about it, and when I was just starting out I remember the older actors talking about it, and now Im talking it. Im worried that, to most Americans, theatre just isn't relevant. It isnt interesting. Its too expensive - but thats probably a conversation for another time! Most people dont want go to the theatre. And the question remains, how do we change their minds? How do we sell more tickets? How do we build audiences? How do we bring younger people to the theatre? How do we revive, indeed resuscitate American theatre?

So here I am, standing before a room full of people who agree that gender parity is important, representing an organization for women in theatre, and so its probably no surprise that I think the answer to this problem in American theatre is Women.  

Marsha Norman wrote an article in 2009 for American Theatre Magazine that Melinda and I find ourselves often quoting. The title of the article is Not There Yet,and in it she said, A theatre that is missing the work of women is missing half the story, half the canon, half the life of our time. That is the situation we have now.

Shes right. This quote was accurate in 2009, and unfortunately its still accurate 6 years later. And as long as this persists, we are only trying half of a solution. And this problem of the impending demise of American theatre is too big to be solved by only half-trying. By shutting out half the voices and talents, we ignore an entire half of the potential solution.

But Heads of Theatres site significant road blocks to hiring more women. I often hear them say that there just arent enough qualified female applicants in the labor pool. But were graduating women from American theatre training programs at the same rate - if not a greater rate - than we are men. And the Kilroys list, published annually, sited 52 new recommended plays by female and trans playwrights this year. The women are there. Those doing the hiring just need to open their eyes, and their minds, to the talent and skill standing right in front of them.

Theatre Executives also say theyre only following the demands of their audiences. That if it were up to them theyd produce lots of plays written by women, full of interesting and dynamic female characters, designed by innovative female designers - but that they just cant. People wouldnt buy tickets, and the theatre would fail.

But here’s the thing - theatre is failing.

I dont watch Dr. Phil very often, but I have seen his show enough to know that one of his favorite things to say is, Hows that workinfor you?And thats my question to the decision-makers in American theatre: Hows that workinfor you?You choose seasons that are predominately written by, directed by, starring, and designed by men and your theatres are failing. So I guess the biggest question of all is this: What do we have to lose?Im not talking about taking anything away from men, Im talking about saving American theatre for all of us.

And Im making this sound like some kind of Hail Mary Pass. But it isnt. Women sell tickets, and women buy tickets, and there are numbers to back this up as well.  

  A study conducted by Princeton researcher Emily Glassberg Sands found that Broadway plays written by women earn on average 18% more than those written by men, even when the data are controlled for the type of play and corrected for massive failures and for whopping successes like Wicked, whose book was written by a woman. Plays by women sell on average 3,538 more seats per week than do those written by men.[10]

  In their study of audience demographics, The Broadway League found that in the 2013 - 2014 season, 68% of the audiences were female. And for Broadway touring productions, the audiences were a whopping 71% female.[11]

Plays by women sell better and more women buy theatre tickets. So why the resistance to putting our resources and focus toward where the money is? This seems like basic business sense. So whats the hold up? I dont know. I mean, I kind of know - its deeply rooted in our society and often times its unconscious and unintentional, but its the reason we gather and talk and plan and connect. We, the Statera community. Because, like Marsha Norman said, were obviously not there yet.

This is why Statera Foundation for Women in Theatre isnt only for and about women. Its about women and men together agreeing that, for a whole host of complex reasons, the dynamic of male-centric and male-dominated theatre is what currently exists, but that it needs to shift, it needs to equalize. And it needs to happen while there is still time to bring live theatre back to life.

I’d like to close with a quote that Marsha Norman also sites in her article. It was written by Nicholas Kristof for the New York Times. In this article, he was speaking about a global need for an equalization of the power dynamic, but it speaks deeply to me here in my little corner of the world as well. "The world is awakening to a powerful truth," he wrote. "Women and girls aren't the problem; they're the solution.

I want to thank you for making time in your lives to be here this weekend, and for joining the Statera community. Over the next three days, we will connect with one another so that we can empower and plan - for ourselves individually, as well as for all women in theatre, as well as for everyone in theatre. Thank you.

 

 

[1] “Not Even - A gender analysis of 500 of San Francisco/Bay Area theatrical productions from the Counting Actors Project 2011 - 2014” by Valerie Weak

[2] Chicago Gender Equity Report, 2010

[3] “Theater Survey Puts a Number on Gender Disparity”, The Boston Globe, Terry Byrne, June 10, 2015

[4] “Women on Broadway: New Study Reveals Grim Statistics” by Tim Kenneally, TheWrap, February 26, 2014

[5] Marsha Norman, “Not There Yet”, TCG 2009

[6] “Not Even - A gender analysis of 500 of San Francisco/Bay Area theatrical productions from the Counting Actors Project 2011 - 2014” by Valerie Weak

[7]Broadway’s Glass Ceiling” by Theresa Rebeck, The Guardian, September 2008

[8]http://variety.com/2013/biz/news/legit-theater-audience-dwindling-1200827636/

[9] http://variety.com/2013/biz/news/legit-theater-audience-dwindling-1200827636/

[10] Marsha Norman, “Not There Yet”, TCG 2009

[11] http://www.broadwayleague.com/index.php?url_identifier=the-demographics-of-the-broadway-audience and http://www.broadwayleague.com/index.php?url_identifier=new-the-audience-for-touring-broadway-a-demographic-study

 

 

From Melinda...

Good morning.

I am Melinda Vaughn, Co-founder and Executive Director of Statera Foundation. 

We just heard Shelly talk about the problem of gender imbalance in the theatre, and of how finding a solution serves all of us. I want to talk to you specifically about Statera Foundation as a solution.

Statera directly serves any one who identifies as a woman professional, in or training to be in the theatre. That means we serve and take interest in creating gender balance and meeting the needs of theatre women from top to bottom and all around. From Board, who often determine executive leadership; executive leadership who determine season selection, and management; management who determine directors, crew chiefs, designers and choreographers; and the artists and technicians; the carpenters, sound engineers, drapers, cutters, painters, actors; and finally, the students training to enter the field. We are interested in balance and that means professional and personal.

I want to make it clear that Statera is for you. We are all part of the Statera Team, and I want you to feel empowered by that. 

Gender imbalance shows up in measurable ways. The sheer numbers of leadership and power, positions, pay, negotiations and progression through rank. Imbalance also shows up in things seemingly so difficult to articulate, we dare not speak them out loud. It is not just about whether or not we are working it is about how we got the work. It is about how we have to sell ourselves to get the work. It is about how women are pitted against one another because there simply isnt enough work. It is about how when we have the work, there is a line of sisters just as prepared or more so lined up next to us, who dont have work.

As Shelly said, we dont need the numbers mentioned to prove to us that there is gender imbalance. We all know it from experience, men and women alike, or we wouldnt be in this room together.

18 months ago, the idea was born to start this volunteer effort because Shelly and I thought we might be able to pay it forward and make some positive change. It started over dinner at Centro, during one of our typical conversations, in which we whispered to one another the desires of our hearts to be good professionals, good partners and mothers; to keep all the balls in the air, and to be able to do it all all of the things that makes each of us feel balanced.

We whispered that finding that balance in this profession is hard. We whispered things we dare only whisper to one another, in deepest of confidence, because to say those things out loud makes us feel selfish, inadequate, incapable, needy, ungrateful, malprioritied - yes, I made up a word.

And isnt that a womans way: to apologize. To whisper what we need and want, in the dark corners of Centro, and then immediately even in the deepest of confidence with our closest of friends, to apologize for whispering.

One year ago, we gathered a few more women on the patio and we whispered a little louder and other women whispered back! We gathered a little larger with a clunky website, and more women and men whispered back.

We started looking for support; for other organizations whispering the same things about a desire for better balance all around for numbers backing up our whispered feelings. We found organizations a couple of which Shelly spoke of; far away organizations on the coasts and big cities, with big names associated with them, and big budgets, but we still couldnt find any hard data beyond nuggets really fantastic and important nuggets I add, of focused studies in these far away areas singular to Broadway, or off-Broadway, or the Bay Area or Chicago, or to focused areas like Designers or Playwrights.

Before we formed, Shelly and I had conversations of what we want for all women. All women is big, so we considered focusing on just women in the arts. Then realized there a lot of dialects in the whole arts world we dont speak and other pioneer women like Martha Richards of WomenARTS are already tackling that mountain of a calling.

We came across a quote by Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the U.S. to become a physician, who said: What is done or learned by one class of women becomes, by virtue of their common womanhood, the property of all women.And we think she is right. We realized by working from what we know, in our little corner of the theatre, we are doing our part in the work toward gender balance for all women.

The Statera Mission:

Deriving its name from the Latin word for balance, Statera endeavors to serve women in the theatre by expanding employment options, improving salary, and removing barriers to growth and achievement through mentorship, internship, research, outreach, networking, and support, to empower them to reach their full potential by bridging the gap between passion, preparation and opportunity.

We are starting with three areas of focus for fulfilling our mission: Those areas are Research, Advocacy, and Support.

We have to begin with research. Though we dont need numbers to tell us there is imbalance, the general public does. We think the U.S. Department of labor stat of women making $.77 on the dollar is an overstatement for women in the theatre, but we need a cohesive study of all areas in order to prove and maybe disprove that feeling in order to make a hard case for change.  

We are working to find and shine spot lights on the counting being done, and plan to do the counting ourselves, if we must, where gaps of information exist.

The advocacy focus of our mission means speaking up for you. We are working from the regions up and out to meet the efforts of other organizations. We will meet with executive, artistic and managing directors from theaters across the country, because ultimately, they hold the keys to deciding what work is being done and who is doing it. We advocate by saying, out loud, there exists imbalance.

The support focus is this. It is creating community; opportunities for networking, mentorship, connection. This means lifting each other up and gently pushing back against the habit of feeling threatened by one another. It means celebrating and making more room for what is empowering and emboldening all of us to either create more opportunities or forge new pathways for women.  

Finally, to Statera, support also means empowering theatre women to advocate for themselves. To empower each of you to take space; and to nudge out those elbows to make space for one other.  

The success of Statera thus far has come from simply saying things out loud. In gently, yet unapologetically giving voice to some new ideas.  

I say gently on purpose. We want positive change. And I believe that positive action creates positive change. There is enough anger in the gender parity world already and rightly so. But, we are covered there. There is enough hopelessness that nothing will change. Also covered.

Shelly, Sarah and I have all, in the final preparations for this conference, used the phrase, I have no headspace for that right now.At Statera, we lead with positivity. Because through all of these volunteer hours and efforts, we have no headspace, or heartspace for anything but positivity. This means magnifying what is working and simply shining a light and offering up possibilities or programs in areas where we could think differently.

At the heart of all of this, we want, as Shelly said, to save the theatre. We want it to thrive. It is good for all of us, in and out of the profession, if the theatre is thriving. So, at Statera, we come from a place of being unthreatened and unafraid to say out loud that while we seek better balance and positive change, we also recognize theatre organizations may be stuck between a rock and a hard place. That creating gender balance may not happen over night. It is good for all of us if we can agree that we are in this together. Better balance means better for everyone.

Since you are now part of the Statera Team, you are also Stateras voices, so as Executive Director, Id like to give you your first assignment. If you wish, would please pull out your smart phones or devices. Or make a note to do it later.  

Would you please shoot out a wave of positivity to help us cast a wider net of support and positive change. Get on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, shoot out a quick text or email if you cant think of anything to say, feel free to use: Positive action creates positive change.But please, slap that hashtag on there: #StateraCon15 or #IAmStatera, or any of the hashtags listed. Tag us. Push Post.

 

Alright, Im a real drill sergeant, so now a second assignment. This conference is about connection. So lets connect in the way only 2015 tells us how: find someone around you who you dont know. Snap a selfie. Tag each other, throw on some more positivity, if you cant think of a caption, perhaps it is: Connecting at StateraCon15or #WeAreStatera.

Please, continue to take ownership in that you are Statera. That Statera serves you. Continue please, if you would, to shoot out those virtual waves of positivity all weekend long and beyond with Statera tagged in your virtual waves.

But most of all this weekend, explore your voice. Celebrate your body. Take space. Warm up those elbow joints as you stretch them out to make space for the woman standing by.

What is done or learned by one class of women becomes, by virtue of their common womanhood, the property of all women.We are working from our little corner of the theatre, but the millions of people who are audience to what we do make this little corner, a platform on which we ought to get gender balance right.

Yours, In Statera

Thank you.

Statera Conference | Speakers and Facilitators

Statera Conference is just around the corner! Our inaugural conference will commence in Cedar City, Utah from July 31 to August 2, 2015. Theater professionals from all over the country will converge for three days of networking, discussions, breakout sessions, socializing, experience-sharing, theatre-going and more! The Statera conference is all about gender balance and our goal is to take action to bring women into full and equal participation in the American theatre. If you haven't signed up to attend, do it now by clicking the button below. Tomorrow is the LAST DAY to register!

We have an incredible line-up of speakers to share with you. Click on the photos below to learn more about each speaker and read about their offering!

MARTHA RICHARDS

MARTHA RICHARDS

KRISTI PAPAILLIER

KRISTI PAPAILLIER

SARAH GREENMAN

SARAH GREENMAN

VANESSA BALLAM

VANESSA BALLAM

FIZZA HASAN

FIZZA HASAN

SAMANTHA WHITE

SAMANTHA WHITE

KELLY GROUND

KELLY GROUND

SARAH McCARROLL

SARAH McCARROLL

MELINDA VAUGHN

MELINDA VAUGHN

NANCY SLITZ

NANCY SLITZ

KATHLEEN MULLIGAN

KATHLEEN MULLIGAN

ANGELA ASTLE

ANGELA ASTLE

JENNIFER TUTTLE

JENNIFER TUTTLE

PATRICIA SKARBINSKI

PATRICIA SKARBINSKI

SHELLY GAZA

SHELLY GAZA

Statera VOICES | Maggie Hollinbeck

"Statera Voices" is a series dedicated to reclaiming dominant culture narratives as a means towards gender balance in the theater and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories and celebrate each other. It is here that we join in a circle of mutual trust and support to share our thoughts and self-reveal on our own terms and in our own voices. 

Today's offering comes from actress singer, musician and writer, Maggie Hollinbeck. Hollinbeck has worked all over North America and most recently with the first national tour of Once. She holds a B.A. in Theatre Arts and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology with a special interest in archetypal mythology and the return of the Divine Feminine. Maggie also coaches fellow theatre artists on the art of sustaining joy and positivity in the biz. Her professional website is www.maggiehollinbeck.com and she has recently birthed www.deepsouldive.com, an online home for creative soulwork.


Even though I’ve been an actress for 20+ years, it took me a long time to start pulling back the veil on the dominant culture in our industry. For years it didn’t even occur to me to question why only four women were hired in a regional theatre's season, while eighteen men commanded the rest of the cast list. It didn’t occur to me to wonder why The Sisters Rosensweig is considered a women’s play while Death of a Salesman is just considered a play. It didn’t occur to me to ask if the men who strolled the boards alongside me were getting the same or better pay.

It took time for me to realize that I was seeing my profession through a set of spectacles given to me by a culture that hadn’t had its eyes checked in a while; one mark of a dominant culture is that it doesn’t expect to be seen or questioned.

When I did start to see clearly, I must admit it was a bit depressing. Okay, more than a bit. I went internal: How will I make a living? What if there isn’t enough work? There are so many talented women out there, how will I compete? I’m sure this sounds familiar.

But I love my craft more than I can express. Nothing fills me with more joy. Nothing sets my inner light into prism like embodying a soul and telling her story. No, I’m here to stay. So then I faced a choice: resign myself to the way things are, or imagine the way things could be and set my sights there.

But I’m just one person! And I don’t want to rock the boat - I have to make a living, you know! Relationships are everything in this business, so how can I question the status quo without offending the decision makers? Here are some ideas that I’ve found helpful as I make my way.

Assume we’re all on the same side. It’s been my experience that when issues of professional equality are brought to men’s attention, in every case so far the men have been just as interested in how to level the playing field, once they realize they are wearing the same spectacles I was wearing. This is not a case of women vs. men; it’s a case of the culture being so large that we don’t know it’s there. It’s like being in the ocean and trying to identify water.

Once in a while there’s someone (man or woman) who doesn’t want to deal with issues of equality in the arts. My primary goal is to establish good working relationships with everyone who crosses my path, and as my develop those relationships I get a sense of who is open and who is not. From there I can choose who to engage in a conversation.

Ask the question. A friend once told me a story that made quite an impact:

A woman was in the kitchen, fixing a roast for Sunday dinner while her husband entertained their extended family in the living room. She pulled out the roast and cut both ends off, seasoned it, places the vegetables around it in the pan, and set it in the oven.

“Why did you cut the ends off, Mommy?” her young daughter asked, peeping her eyes just over the kitchen counter.

The mother thought for a moment. “Well, it’s how my mother always did it, so I guess that’s why. I’m not sure though, now that you ask. Mom!”

The girl’s grandmother came into the kitchen and the mother asked her why she always cut the ends off the roast.

“Well, that’s how my mother always did it, so I always did it, too.”

The girl’s great-grandmother lived in another state, so the mother called her up. “Nana, my little girl was asking me why I cut the ends off the roast and I learned it from Grandma, but Grandma says she learned it from you. Why did you always cut the ends off your roast?”

“Because that was the only way it fit in my pan."

So often hints are done they way they're done, because it's how they've always been done. But now that I'm seeing clearly, I can ask why. Pay attention to that little voice inside that says, hmmm. Give it voice. Ask the question out loud. Wow, are there really only two Equity actresses in this whole season? I wonder if any of those Shakespearean roles could be played by a woman? How often does this theatre hire female directors and designers? I wonder how things would be different if women had a stronger voice at this theatre?

Examine the size of my dreams. Last year the women in the artistic company at the Utah Shakespeare Festival gathered together to talk about women in the arts, and my eyes were opened to out-of-the-box ideas and possibilities for myself as a performer. Why not work up one of Hamlet’s monologues? Why not try some clowning, which is generally men’s work in the Shakespeare canon? Why not consider trying a lesbian relationship in Much Ado About Nothing? Not just a woman playing a man, but playing a woman in love with a woman, not as a gag but for real? What would it be like if I could be considered for Benedick, Feste, Hamlet? How might that change the entire conversation in a production?

Surround myself with other change-makers. The patriarchal culture we live in champions masculine qualities such as competition, isolation, and dominating the top of the mountain as earmarks of success, but recently much is being written about feminine qualities of collaboration and community and “a rising tide lifts all boats” attitude. All of us have both masculine and feminine qualities, and we succeed best when we find the healthiest expression of both. Women especially thrive in circle with other women, so I love to find others who are speaking the language of change, and gather up on a regular basis. Statera’s upcoming conference is a perfect way to get connected with community.

Expand on what’s working. It’s easy to get bogged down in what’s not going right, and those issues do need to be addressed - I have a strong activist side and sometimes I just have to howl when the world isn’t evolving as quickly as I would like! But I keep my sanity and joy by looking out for what’s working, and calling that out for expansion. When I see a theatre company like Berkeley’s Shotgun Players create an entire season of plays directed by women, I love to shout about it! When I see a director create a little more room for women in his play, as Brian Vaughn inched a third woman into his cast of the male-dominated Henry IV Part II at the Utah Shakespeare Festival this season, I want to celebrate that progress, and every increment of progress I see. Two of my favorite sayings go hand in hand: what you resist persists, and what you focus on expands. So in general I like to focus on where strides are being made, and call attention to those successes. Who knows, maybe another theatre company will make a change just so they can be noticed and celebrated, too. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Statera VOICES | Melinda Vaughn

"Statera Voices" is a series dedicated to reclaiming dominant culture narratives as a means towards gender balance in the theater and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories and celebrate each other. It is here that we join in a circle of mutual trust and support to share our thoughts and self-reveal on our own terms and in our own voices. 

Our inaugural "Statera Voices" offering comes from Melinda Vaughn, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Statera Foundation. Vaughn is an actor, director, educator, mother and advocate for women in the arts. She received her MA in Arts Administration from Southern Utah University, where she also serves on the faculty as an Assistant Professor. Vaughn is currently in the acting company at the Utah Shakespeare Festival


I told our team that I would kick off the Statera Voices blog with a post. Draft after draft I wrote and rewrote, trying to be eloquent about this thing that is so much bigger than me, and savvy-versed about all things gender parity. Delete, delete, delete.

I rewrite, again, fresh off of watching the Tony Awards, where women theatre artists swept up in areas in which they had never before been recognized. Shout out to Lisa Kron, Jeanine Tesori and Alison Bechdel for the success of Fun Home. Good grief, I am so moved by Ms. Kron’s acceptance speech and her rousing call to arms, to make space for all of us in our house, that is the theatre. As it goes with inspirational words, I took from hers just what I needed: “Our house is so big.” There is room for all of us.

I am just scratching the surface of understanding and articulating things, of which I have long had only a feeling about. So, I am going to lay out some things here, maybe clumsily, backed only by intuition and the ear of my trusted circles, in order to come from a place of honesty. I keep tip-toeing around conversations with brilliant gender parity advocates for fear that I will say something wrong, or less-than-gender-balanced. So, in the spirit of naked truth, and saying some things out loud, here are a few things weighing on me as we embark on what needs to be done. It is my hope that you, the reader, will take me as and where I am.

 

1. I think the conversation about gender parity is really difficult. There, I said it.

I get that in a perfect world, it wouldn’t be. But if we are going to call it what it is now, to the end of growing from here, I say we admit that it is really difficult. My own reference point has been in regional theatres, doing works largely by or surrounded by Shakespeare. We all know what numbers women are up against there. Many of our regional houses are stuck between a rock and a hard place, doing works in the public domain (no royalty fees) as a way to keep their operations in the black. There are typically not enough women in these works, to give women work. My experience as an actor doesn’t even touch the issues for designers, technicians, administrators and staff in the theatre; experiences which have more to do with long-ingrained business practices and gender roles than the requirements of a playwright’s script. These are major problems.

But, above the problems and frustrations with gender imbalance, I think we all want the theatre to thrive. I think we want our arts organizations to operate comfortably in the black, so that we as artists, arts administrators, and arts educators can make a difference in our way; AND that we want to tell the whole story while doing so, profitably. I think it is possible, and necessary, to do both in a more balanced way than exists now. I express this, not to give theatres an “out,” but merely to state that I am not here to raise my fists or take down organizations or artists in the quest for balance.

 

2. I think every person has a different idea of how gender balance should look. And I think all of these ideas are valid. Additionally, I think it is really hard to talk about what I need/deserve as a woman, and I don’t think I am alone in this. Oh, that word: ‘deserve.’ There. I said it.

I am currently working on Kate in Taming of the Shrew on the heels of co-founding a nonprofit for gender parity in the theatre. How’s that for stifling the artistic process. Trust me, I have absolutely been in my head through the process. I am trying desperately to turn off the Statera bug in my ear so that I can see my acting partners, and truly hear their hearts’ understandings of the words they have to speak. I find that bug especially difficult to silence as I make sense of my own lines and actions.

What a gift Kate has been, right now. I see that my gender role habits and ideals are deeply ingrained, and part of my blood. I see the same in my acting partners, the artistic team, the staff, the media and everywhere around me. And you know what? I also see so much love. So much support. So much mutual respect. I get that this is not the case for every person in every situation, but this experience at this time, is teaching me that love, support and respect are bridges between what needs to be done and what could be.  

 

3. What we are doing is important. There.

Why is that so hard to say as an artist? I often feel the struggle and pressure to articulate why I do what I do, and what impact it has in the scheme of things. As you read this, you may or may not think, “Why is the theatre such an important aspect of the global conversation on gender parity?” I’ll tell you, as soon as I have this thought, I see the words of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the U.S. to become a physician, emblazoned in the forefront of my mind: “What is done or learned by one class of women becomes, by virtue of their common womanhood, the property of all women.” It is true, we are working in our corner of the theatre; but factor in the millions of people who are audience to what we do, and that makes the theatre a platform, on which we ought to get gender parity right.

So, here is my call to arms: Let’s love each other. Let’s lift each other -- where and as we are. Let’s meet in the middle. Let’s combine our efforts and our passion to make a real difference. Let’s not overlap our efforts, but rather raise each other toward a common goal, to simply make room for all of us, in our house. And let’s do it by crossing a bridge built on love, support and respect.

Yours, in Statera (Balance)

Melinda

Co-Founder & Executive Director

 

I see our lances are but straws: our strength as weak, our weakness past compare, that seeming to be most, which we indeed least are.
— Kate, Taming of the Shrew

 

Call for contributors! Please join us and send your Statera VOICES submission to staterafoundation@gmail.com.

Early Bird Registration | Conference 2015

Registration is now open for Statera's inaugural conference, July 31 - August 2, 2015 in Cedar City, Utah. Join us for this amazing 3-day gathering! You'll have the opportunity to attend small group break-out sessions moderated by noted professionals, attend world class theatre at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and network with women from every corner of the theatre profession. 

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to meet, brainstorm and focus our mutual energies on promoting equality for women in the American Theatre. We want your voice to be part of Statera's founding vision. 

The registration fee for conference is $150, but from now until May 30th, Statera is offering "Early Bird" registration for $125. You can read all about the conference itinerary HERE. We are beyond excited to meet you all this summer at the first ever Statera conference!

One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go.
— Sheila Murray Bethel