Statera Voices: Maggie Rogers

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the arts and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other.

Today's offering comes to us from Maggie Rogers, Literary Manager and Dramaturg for Washington Ensemble Theatre in Seattle, WA. Maggie will be at Statera's National Conference this October leading a breakout session with her colleague Sage Martin entitled, "Fat Discrimination in the American Theatre". 

Note: “All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage” by Maggie Rogers, originally appeared in American Theatre online, 16 January 2018. It is used here with permission from Theatre Communications Group.”

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All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage

American theatre must embrace all body types, and stop shunning and shaming fat performers and their stories.

By Maggie Rogers

It is time to talk about the elephant in the room: me. I’m the elephant. I’m the fat girl playing the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet senior year of high school, because as a fat girl you only play grandmas or other “undesirable” characters. I am the fat girl who sits behind the rehearsal table as an assistant director trying to keep her mouth shut while wondering why all the characters of lower status and even lower intelligence levels in the show are fat. I am the five-year-old girl in the audience who searched for anyone onstage who looked like me in terms of size. And most importantly, I am the fat girl who was told the only way I could go to the college of my dreams was if I lost 50 pounds (in case you were wondering, reader, I didn’t). I knew, even at a young age, that what they were asking of me was absurd and hazardous for my mental health.

 Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers

Before we move forward: Yes, I use the word fat. This is my identifier. Some people don’t like this word, as it has been used as a weapon against us big folks for as long as we can remember (and yes, I have been called fat to my face by complete strangers in public more times than I can count). Don’t get me wrong—I still have my Arya Stark-esque list of people who called me fat in grade school that I recite to myself every night before I fall asleep. The only difference is that now my relationship with that word is coming from a place of love within myself as opposed to allowing it to hurt me. But this act of loving myself didn’t happen overnight and is not without trauma.

As a fat theatremaker, I dedicate an immense amount of my time focusing on developing a more body-positive theatre culture. Recently in Seattle, I directed a workshop of Amplitude (or Such a Pretty Face) by Sage Martin, a new play about navigating the world as a fat woman. During the workshop, a common shared experience kept coming up in the room. There are a few familiar phrases, often repeated by fat actors and directed toward them, no matter their age or race. They include but are not limited to: “I auditioned for that college and they told me I would be perfect if I was smaller”; “You are great but we don’t think you will be able to keep up with the physical workshops”; and (my favorite), “We can’t hire you because the stock costume for [insert name of yearly holiday show] will not be able to fit you.”

So just based on my size, you somehow know:

  1. That I am physically unfit for any type of movement.

  2. That altering a costume is too much to ask.

  3. That I will only be good at acting if I lose weight.

Imagine for a moment that you are constantly being told you are not good enough because of how you look—and this is not just in theatre but every day of your life. You see people pointing and laughing at you when you are feeling fly as hell in your cute crop top. You feel them violently shift in their seat next to you on an airplane because they got stuck sitting next to the fat person. This is pure hatred from people based on you solely existing as a person of size.

Now imagine you have all this social baggage and trauma, and then you go into the theatre, a space that prides itself on being inclusive, but you are met with the discriminatory condition, “If you lost X amount of weight, you would be great.” What is being said to me, in all these spheres, is that I do not belong here as I am. That I have nowhere to exist. What really hurts is the lack of acceptance in what is supposed to be a safe space.

“If it hurts this badly, why don’t you lose weight?” Good question, stranger in the comments section. Because that is not who I am. I am a large, loud, in-your-face woman—I will not alter myself to make you comfortable. This type of insidious thinking and language against anyone breeds eating disorders and image issues. It is detrimental to someone who is already in a vulnerable position by making theatre: by taking risks, accessing your emotions daily, and having the courage to leave a piece of yourself onstage.

The stigmatization that runs rampant in our country isn’t just in the arts, obviously. Many companies refuse to believe that fat people are able to do physical work, or think that patrons will get the wrong image of a business if a fat person is behind the counter (I was once fired from a retail chain because I wasn’t “the right image the store needed”). Telling someone they were not hired, cast, or accepted to a school because of their physical appearance is criminal. It’s discrimination.

Ultimately my question really is, in a space that strives to be progressive and equitable, why are we still adhering to poisonous social conformities? I know that I am attractive, funny, and talented. Why don’t you? I am genuinely asking heads of theatre programs, directors, teachers, casting directors, and even audience members across America: Why is weight an inhibitor to you? Size is not even something commonly found in character descriptions. There is no excuse.

To be clear, this is not just about accepting fat actors—it is about deepening storytelling to encompass the whole of the American experience. We live in such a diverse country filled with endless shapes and sizes. By only representing smaller bodies onstage, you are doing a disservice to audience members who are not a size 0 or who don’t have six-pack abs. Fatness crosses every race, creed, and culture, and you want to tell me the only people that are worth seeing onstage are thin? Please. You can get on board with helicopters landing onstage, witches flying through the air, and puppets, but not a size 22 playing a lead?

We need to normalize fatness onstage and not heroicize people for casting a fat person as a sort of token. It’s time to take us beyond the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet, Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, Helen in Fat Pig—i.e. shows where being fat is considered unattractive, or fatness is a plot point, or where loving a fat person is considered taboo.

American theatre, I challenge you: Call back fat actors for lead roles where their weight is never mentioned. Put a person of size in the sexiest role in the play. Dig deep within yourself and discover those uncomfortable feelings with size you may have and try to make sense of them.

Give us fat theatremakers a chance. They may crush your expectations (pun absolutely intended).


About Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers is a Seattle based director, dramaturg, and fat activist who proudly hails from Louisville, Kentucky. She is the Literary Manager and Resident Dramaturg at Washington Ensemble Theatre, a company member with The Horse in Motion, and the Resident Dramaturg for Cherdonna Shinatra's compnay, Donna. Before moving to Seattle to complete the Literary Apprenticeship at Seattle Repertory Theatre, she obtained her degree in directing from Columbia College Chicago and graduated as the class Valedictorian of 2014.

Statera Mentorship & Kimberly Senior at The Goodman

Last month, the Chicago Chapter of the Statera Mentorship Program hosted a conversation with renowned director Kimberly Senior. As a fierce advocate of women and emerging artists, Kimberly shared her experiences and facilitated a dynamic discussion on the necessary role Mentorship plays in our lives. The gathering was co-hosted by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. 

Although mentorship can be seen as an act of kindness or generosity, I view it as a necessity, a responsibility. If we are to continue to make work, to tell stories, or even survive another 50, 100, 1000 years, we need to raise up this next generation. So how do we do this? We hold open doors.
— Kimberly Senior

ABOUT STATERA'S MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

Statera Foundation works to connect theatre women interested in moving beyond the very real obstacles that sometimes lie between our goals and our successes. The most effective way to grow, expand and manifest change is to work together. Statera Foundation is here for you. 



Here are some photos from the event:
 

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ABOUT KIMBERLY SENIOR

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Kimberly Senior is a freelance director and the director of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. Most recently Kimberly made her HBO debut with Chris Gethard: Career Suicide, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Kimberly was awarded the prestigious Alan Schneider Award at the 2016 TCG Conference. She is also a 2013 Finalist for the SDCF Joe A. Callaway Award. She is the recipient of the 2016 Special Non-Equity Jeff Award for her Chicago career achievements as a trail blazer, champion and role model for emerging artists.

 In Chicago, Kimberly is a Resident Director at Writers Theatre and an Associate Artist at TimeLine Theatre. Her work has received multiple Joseph Jefferson nominations. Kimberly founded Collaboraction Theatre Company in 1997, spent ten years as an associate artist at Strawdog Theater, eight years as an associate artist at Chicago Dramatists, and six years as an associate artist at the much beloved Next Theatre. In addition, Kimberly served as the first board president of The Hypocrites many years ago.

 As an educator, Kimberly spent ten years as both an administrator and Resident Artist with Steppenwolf for Young Adults. In addition, Kimberly either ran programs or taught for Court Theater, Northlight Theater, Redmoon Theater, Roadworks Productions, Victory Gardens, Metropolis, Act One Studios, and Acting Studio Chicago. She served as adjunct faculty at Columbia College where she teaches Chekhov, Dramaturgy and Text Analysis. Kimberly has also taught numerous classes at DePaul University and University of Chicago. She is the recipient of Columbia College's 2010 Excellence in Teaching Award. Kimberly has served as Program Director and as a dramaturg for Steppenwolf's First Look Repertory of New Work and continues to develop new plays with the Ojai Playwrights Conference.

 New York Credits: Disgraced (Broadway); Chris Gethard: Career Suicide (Judd Apatow presents); The Who and The What, and Disgraced (LCT3); Discord (Primary Stages); Engagements (Second Stage Uptown). Regional Credits: Sheltered (Alliance Theatre); Support Group for Men, Disgraced, and Rapture, Blister, Burn (Goodman Theatre); The Scene, Marjorie Prime, Diary of Anne Frank, Hedda Gabler, and The Letters (Writers Theatre); Other Than Honorable (Geva); Sex with Strangers (The Geffen Playhouse); Disgraced (Mark Taper Forum, Berkley Repertory Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre); The Who and The What (La Jolla Playhouse); Little Gem (City Theatre); Want and The North Plan (Steppenwolf); Discord, 4000 Miles, and The Whipping Man (Northlight Theatre); among others. Film/TV: Chris Gethard: Career Suicide (HBO); Upcoming: The Niceties (Huntington and McCarter); Buried Child (Writers Theatre); Support Group for Men(Goodman); Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Milwaukee Rep).

Kimberly is the incredibly proud mother of Noah and Delaney. She is a member of SDC.

Adventures in Artslandia: an Interview with Statera's Sarah Greenman

As Statera Foundation wraps up their $25,000 fundraising campaign and continues preparations for their National Conference in Milwuakee, Statera's Creative Director, Sarah Greenman, takes a short break to talk with Susannah Mars in the newest episode of Portland's Adventures in Artslandia Podcast! 

Bringing women into full and equal participation in the arts is Statera Foundation's mission. How do we do it? In this interview, Sarah talks about Statera's methods, the national gender parity movement, the falsehoods of the scarcity mindset, coalition building, and how Statera Foundation is impacting the national arts scene! So grab a cup of coffee and enjoy this interview with Statera's Creative Director! 

 
 

Statera's Melinda Pfundstein Gets Personal

Dear Friend,

Statera Foundation is growing by leaps and bounds and all thanks to supporters like you. Your generosity has allowed us to host two national conferences with a third this fall, create pathways for women artists to succeed and thrive in their work through our professional mentorship program, and now to extend our reach from the national theatre scene to the international arts scene with the addition of International Support Women Artists Now (SWAN) Day. 

There are many things that get me up in the morning to do this work, among them to forge new pathways not readily available when I was coming up in the business. I do it for a brighter tomorrow. I have three daughters and I want them to see themselves represented in art. I want them to see stories and artistic expressions that honor their experiences as being as beautifully complex and as valid as their peers’, who are boys; and I want their perception of normal to be one of inclusivity and beautiful diversity, where there is enough space for all of us. Our mission is not to tear anything down, but rather to create more space for more of what is working to balance our arts.   

WomenArts has given Statera a $25,000 matching challenge gift to be met by June 30th. We are well over halfway there, and we need your help. If you could give $100, $500, $1000, $2000, or $5000, your impact will be doubled, and I promise we will continue to put your generosity to work in creating a more balanced arts landscape, with more opportunity and better pay, toward a more inclusive industry for women in the arts.



There are two ways to make your tax-deductible donation: 

  • Send a check, payable to Statera Foundation to 755 S. Main St. Suite 4 #281, Cedar City UT 84720
  • Donate online at www.staterafoundation.org/donate (Statera pays 3% for this service) 


Your gift designates you as an advocate for the arts and ensures the continued vibrancy of Statera’s unique programming, including the launch of our Diversity & Inclusion Training this fall. Whether you consider yourself an art maker or an art lover, this work is for you. Thank you for your invaluable support! 

Sincerely,

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Melinda Pfundstein
Executive Director

Statera Seven: Suzan Fete

Statera Seven is a series about women in leadership and the path to promotion. Statera poses seven questions to past and current Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and other women in leadership roles in the American Theatre. Statera is sharing their stories and insights in hopes of finding new ways to shift the leadership gender imbalance of America's nonprofit regional theater companies. 

Today we're interviewing Suzan Fete, Founder and Artistic Director of Renaissance Theaterworks, a 25-year-old Milwuakee-theatre dedicated to promoting the work of women onstage and off. 

 

STATERA: The research on Women's Leadership in Resident Theaters presented by The Wellesly Centers for Women (WCW) and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 2016 found that there was a glass ceiling and "pipeline issue" facing women in theatre leadership. How have you improved professional development for those seeking leadership positions in the arts, particularly women and people of color?

SUZAN FETE: Renaissance Theaterworks (RTW) is the nation’s second oldest professional theater company with a commitment to gender equity and we are Milwaukee’s only women-founded women-run professional theater. Founded in 1993, our mission clearly states our commitment to providing roles for women –on stage and off. Over the last 25 years RTW has given opportunities to more than 800 theater artists and technicians; 75% of these have been women. Our staff is and has always been all women. The make-up of RTW’s board of directors ranges between 80-90% female. I am most proud of the many vital “first-time” chances we have given to women to help them advance or refocus their careers. For example, we have encouraged several local actors to try directing –Laura Gordon, for instance, directed her first show for RTW in 2004 and now she directs all over the country.

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STATERA: What is the most important single decision you have made in your journey? 

SF: To believe in myself and trust my instincts. There are always so many voices telling you what you want is impossible, or that the “better people” do it differently, it can be really hard to have faith and patience. Who cares what the “better people” think and who are they anyway?!

STATERA: Statistics suggest that women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet only 40%. Has this been true for you, and how do you advocate for your experience and qualifications when they are not explicitly spelled out in a job posting?

SF: I have seen plenty of evidence of this throughout my life.  But it has not been a pitfall for me personally, I’m not sure why. My personal mantra has always been “Oh, how hard can it be?” This has really gotten me in trouble at times. But it is essential to risk and fail boldly. Failure must become your friend, without it success is impossible. Creativity demands courage and patience.

STATERA: What roadblocks did you encounter on your path to this position and how did you navigate? 

SF: In 1993 five women (Myself, Marie Kohler, Raeleen McMillion, Jennifer Rupp and Michele Traband) founded RTW because of the lack of leadership roles available to women in professional theater.  We created our own opportunities. We weren’t able to pay ourselves for a while, but now RTW has six paid staff positions. 

  Renaissance Theaterworks was founded in 1993 by Suzan Fete, Marie Kohler, Raeleen McMillion, Jennifer Rupp and Michele Traband.

Renaissance Theaterworks was founded in 1993 by Suzan Fete, Marie Kohler, Raeleen McMillion, Jennifer Rupp and Michele Traband.

STATERA: If you had $10 million dollars of unrestricted funds, how would you spend it to improve the American Theatre?  

SF: I wish it could be ten times $10 million! I would love to create several Art Hubs across the country. Each hub would have an active and authentic relationship with their community. Each would contain at least three theaters in varying sizes. We could foster the work of new playwrights –particularly women and people of color. We would broaden our range of work and cultivate the next generation of theater artists. And we could pay everyone a living wage!

STATERA: Professional mentorship is a core part of our mission at Statera Foundation. In that spirit, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received, and from whom?

SF: “Don’t be afraid to put yourself in situations where everyone looks to you for answers –you will have no choice but to rise to the occasion.”  Tom Fulton Acting Teacher Cleveland Ohio 1988

“Just do it already!”  My mom pretty much all my life.

STATERA: In what ways are you thriving in your leadership role?

SF: I love my job!  I am so blessed.  I go to work every day with the brightest, most dedicated women I know. We work as a team to create outstanding theater that is relevant to our community. I turned 60 this spring and most of the RTW staff is half my age, working with these energetic and enthusiastic young women helps to keep my outlook youthful and positive. I may never retire!

 

Other Statera Seven Interviews: 

NATAKI GARRETT - Associte Artistic Director of  The Denver Center

JENNIFER ZEYL - Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre

BRENDA DEVITA - Artistic Director of American Players Theatre


About Suzan

Suzan is the Artistic Director and a Co-Founder of Renaissance Theaterworks - Milwaukee’s only women-run, women-founded professional theater company.  Since its inception in 1993, Renaissance (RTW) has been committed to creating roles for women theater professionals onstage and off. RTW produces three main stage plays and one staged play reading in the ninety-nine seat Broadway Theatre Center Studio Theatre in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward. Twenty-four years of debt-free operations, rave reviews and a passionate audience base speak to RTW’s success.  

Other RTW successes under Suzan’s leadership include:

♦    Finalist (12 out of 1500) in the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Play Festival 2016

♦    First successful International Cultural Exchange: sending our production of NEAT to Isithatha Theatre in South Africa – June 2013.

♦    Initiation of the Diversity Series in 2010, with a 3-year commitment from RTW to dedicate 40% of annual programming to the voices of people of color, resulting in a 900% increase in attendees of color.

♦    Recognition in OnMilwaukee.com for our leading role in helping women initiate and expand their careers in theater, September 30, 2010.

♦    Two Milwaukee Magazine awards for Best Play of the Year: BOSWELL’S DREAMS (2005) and MIDNIGHT AND MOLL FLANDERS (2000); additionally, the American Association of Theater Critics nominated RTW’s COUNTING DAYS as Best New Regional Play;

♦    From 1993 -2015, RTW produced 59 full productions and staged 33 readings employing more than 700 local theater professionals, more than 65% of whom were women.

Suzan has 30 years of experience as an actor, director, and producer in professional theater.  Suzan has a degree from University of Illinois and lives happily in Wauwatosa WI with her husband Jeff.

Statera Foundation Chosen to Lead International SWAN Day

Statera Foundation has been named by WomenArts as the new organizers of SWAN Day / Support Women Artists Now Day.

This year, Statera Foundation joined forces with WomenArts to co-organize SWAN Day 2018. This exciting partnership allowed Statera leadership to walk side-by-side with WomenArts in creating a marketing campaign, managing the SWAN Day Calendar, communicating with SWAN Day participants, supporting special web content, and overseeing SWAN Day media.

“As SWAN Day starts its second decade, it is wonderful to have this burst of new energy and ideas from the Statera women,” said Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts. “I have been very impressed with their skills and commitment, and I am confident that they will find ways to make SWAN Day bigger and better than ever."

Statera's immediate plans for expansion entail a SWAN Day convening at Statera's 2018 National Conference in Milwaukee on October 4th, broader marketing assistance for future SWAN events, and support webinars for SWAN Day organizers detailing how to build local community partnerships and coalitions for greater positive social impact.

For the past three years, Statera Foundation has focused on increasing opportunities for theatre artists who identify as women. With the addition of SWAN Day programming, Statera now expands their support and advocacy to women artists everywhere. Statera’s Executive Director,  Melinda Pfundstein, says “SWAN Day is a perfect fit for Statera’s mission and allows us to extend our reach to support and lift up women in all art forms and all around the world."

Pfundstein continued, “At Statera we have been organizing conferences and building our mentorship program because we believe in the power of women artists supporting other women artists by sharing their skills and cheering each other on. Those are the core values of SWAN Day as well. We are so grateful for Martha Richards’ vision and for the support of WomenArts. We are thrilled to be the new organizers of SWAN Day.”

Martha Richards has joined Statera Foundation's Advisory Board and will remain connected to SWAN Day efforts in a mentorship capacity. Richards also recently announced a $25,000 matching grant to Statera Foundation to support SWAN Day 2019 in addition to their current programming.

Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day is an annual international holiday designed to showcase the power and diversity of women’s creativity. 2018 saw the launch of an official SWAN Day Instagram account (www.instagram.com/swan_day) using #SWANDay. If you haven't yet, please check out the Full List of 2018 SWAN Events from 2018. We've highlighted a few below:


BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA

 Sara Osi Scott (left) and Sarah Nansubuga (right) at SWAN Day Baton Rouge

Sara Osi Scott (left) and Sarah Nansubuga (right) at SWAN Day Baton Rouge

Jackie Vanderbeck, Artistic Director of Sing for Your Seniors and an active member of Statera Foundation, hosted a Women’s Playwright Symposium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in honor of SWAN Day 2018.


CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

 SWAN Day Chicago 2018 featured a SWAN photo booth.

SWAN Day Chicago 2018 featured a SWAN photo booth.

The fifth Annual SWAN Day Chicago celebrated women artists in the Windy City and featured the mixed media talents of Katrice Buckley, Tarynn Jackson, Jaelen Isis, Tyler Clark, and Zitiali Yunuhem. DJ Gemini Jones provided the soundtrack for the evening’s festivities.

ILA Creative started SWAN Day Chicago in 2014. This year’s showcase was a fundraiser for SkyArt, a non-profit visual arts organization for the youth of Chicago’s southside.

In a city where arts programming for youth is scarce and rarely funded, SkyArt makes a huge impact in the Chicago community.


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

 SWAN Day Los Angeles 2018

SWAN Day Los Angeles 2018

The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LAFPI) hosted an afternoon of micro-reads at the Los Angeles Samuel French Book Store to celebrate women playwrights for SWAN Day Los Angeles 2018.


BOSNIA and HERZEGONVINA

 The Musicki Centar Rezonanca (Resonance Music Center) in Bosnia & Herzegovina

The Musicki Centar Rezonanca (Resonance Music Center) in Bosnia & Herzegovina

The Musicki Centar Rezonanca (Resonance Music Center) presented Red Shoe Night, a SWAN benefit performance of music and poetry for their friends  with cancer, in Konjic, Bosnia & Herzegovina.  This was the first time that the Resonance Music Center has participated in SWAN Day, and they are the second SWAN group from Bosnia and Herzegovina.


NEW YORK, NEW YORK

 SWAN Day New York 2018

SWAN Day New York 2018

Ten top film groups joined forces to do a SWAN Day screening in New York of Winnie, an award-winning documentary about Winnie Madikizela Mandela by British filmmaker, Pascale Lamche. The collaborators were:  NY Women in Film and TelevisionSAG-AFTRA, the School of Visual Arts Film DepartmentFF2 MediaImageNation Cinema FoundationWomen in the Arts & Media Coalition (WAMC), African-American Women in Cinema (AAWIC), Women Make Movies (WMM), HerFlix., and the SVA Theatre.


MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

 Dancers at SWAN Day Milwaukee 2018

Dancers at SWAN Day Milwaukee 2018

SWAN Day Milwaukee, now in its third year, invited women artists to explore their artistic and spiritual connections to nature, and how these roots nourish one’s work, activism and daily living. Dozens of new artists were included in this year’s opening celebration. The art exhibit is currently open and runs through May 31, 2018 at the Urban Ecology Center, 3700 W Pierce St, Milwaukee, WI.


NAIROBI, KENYA

 Performers at SWAN Day Kenya 2018

Performers at SWAN Day Kenya 2018

The theme of SWAN Day Kenya 2018 was Closing the Gap: Connecting Artists. Over 70 female artists participated in the day-long festival this year. SWAN Day Kenya was coordinated by Sophie Dowlar. Please take a look at this fantastic video about their 2018 festivities.


NEW BRITAIN, CONNECTICUT

 Martha Richards & SWAN Organizer Jennifer Hill at SWAN Day CT 2018

Martha Richards & SWAN Organizer Jennifer Hill at SWAN Day CT 2018

Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts, attended the 2018 SWAN Day Connecticut music festival on April 14th to congratulate Jennifer Hill who has organized the event for eleven straight years!  SWAN Day CT 2018 was a fabulous six-hour music showcase featuring Jen TaylorThat VirginiaMurderous ChanteuseNan RoyAudio JaneLaini and the WildfirePatti RothbergVivienne LaFlammeDJ BreakaDawn, and more. 


Since its inception 11 years ago, there have been events in almost 40 countries, and WomenArts estimates that over 10,000 people participate in SWAN events every year. The official date for SWAN Day 2019 is Saturday, March 30th. Are you hosting or organizing a 2019 SWAN Day event? Make sure you submit it to the SWAN Day Calendar!

Do you have questions about SWAN Day? Reach out to Statera Foundation directly at SWANDay@staterafoundation.org.

Please help us make the next International SWAN Day the biggest and best one yet by making a gift to Statera Foundation today.  Remember - your gifts will be matched by WomenArts up to $25,000.

Support Statera's 25K Matching Campaign TODAY

Statera Foundation is positive action for women in theatre. Our mission is to bring women into FULL and EQUAL participation in the American Theatre.

That is why we are thrilled to announce that WomenArts has come forward in support of our mission to offer Statera Foundation a matching challenge gift of $25,000. If we can raise the full amount by June 30th, your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. 
 

Support now and your contribution will be doubled!

 

As cultural arts budgets are slashed across the country, it is imperative for us to seek a larger portion of our support from individual donors like you. Our fundraising campaign runs for the entire month of June, but you don't need to wait to donate. In fact, Statera has already reached the $10,000 mark because of early donations from our biggest supporters! 

We need your help to match this $25,000 grant. Please consider a tax-deductible donation. Not only will your contribution be matched, dollar for dollar, but it will ensure the continued success and vibrancy of our programming. Join us!

Two ways to give:

  • Send a check, payable to Statera Foundation, 755 S Main Street. Ste 4, #281, Cedar City, UT 84720
  • Donate online at www.staterafoundation.org/donate (Statera pays 3% for this service)

 
Thank you for your invaluable support.

Together we can do GREAT things!

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WomenArts offers Statera a $25K Matching Gift

We are thrilled to announce that WomenArts has come forward to offer Statera Foundation a matching challenge gift of $25,000. If we can raise the full amount by June 30th, your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. 

Support now and your contribution will be doubled!

Statera Foundation is a national nonprofit that takes positive action to bring women into full and equal participation in the American Theatre. We work to achieve gender parity through our National Conferences and our innovative Mentorship Program, Our successful programming provides strategic pathways for theatre artists, arts administrators, and arts organizations to adopt equitable hiring practices and tell stories that reflect the full scope of humanity.

We hold WomenArts in the highest esteem and are humbled by their faith in the future of our organization. Statera is uniquely positioned to make a lasting impact on the international gender parity movement in the arts. What's our secret? It's YOU - the Statera community that propels our work and strengthens our potential reach and impact. 

We urge you to contribute
what you can before June 30th
to meet WomenArts' matching gift. 

As cultural arts budgets are slashed across the country, it is imperative for us to seek a larger portion of our support from individual donors like you. Our fundraising campaign runs for the entire month of June, but you don't need to wait to donate. In fact, Statera has already reached the $10,000 mark because of early donations from our biggest supporters! 

We need your help to match this $25,000 challenge gift. Please consider a tax-deductible donation. Not only will your contribution be matched, dollar for dollar, but it will ensure the continued success and vibrancy of our programming. Join us!

Two ways to give:

  • Send a check, payable to Statera Foundation, 755 S Main Street. Ste 4, #281, Cedar City, UT 84720
  • Donate online at www.staterafoundation.org/donate (Statera pays 3% for this service)

Thank you for your invaluable support. Together we can do GREAT things!

Statera Voices: Frannie Shepherd-Bates

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"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural 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 term and in our own voices. 

Today's offering comes from Frannie Shepherd-Bates, founder, director, and lead facilitator of Shakespeare in Prison (SIP), a program of Detroit Public Theatre.


“I can’t tell you how much I love Shakespeare. It’s so accurate to our experience here – he uses the perfect words. I’m so glad I found this.”

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8:15am

February 7, 2012

Programs Building: Auditorium

Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility

Ypsilanti, Michigan

I stand on the stage, smiling, shaking warm hand after warm hand — fifteen of them. I’m trying not to show it, but I’m terrified — not because all of these hands belong to people convicted of felonies, incarcerated at Michigan’s only women’s prison, but because I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’m not totally convinced that I can. Maybe half-convinced. Maybe.

What if I’m not as sensitive as I think I am? What if I say or do the wrong thing and alienate these women — or get shut down by the facility? What if this doesn’t work the way it has for other artists? This could last two weeks. Or it could last for years. Or today could be it.

I sit down on the steps that lead up to the stage so we’ll all be on the same level. I introduce myself.

I’m a theatre artist with a knack for directing, teaching, and working with Shakespeare. I’m not a scholar. I love it, I don’t fear the challenge, and I’m pretty good at breaking it down.

“What are we going to do?”

“How is this going to work?”

“What is Shakespeare?”

I tell them that I have some ideas — that I’ve researched other prison theatre programs, but most of those have been done with men, and, you know, I haven’t ever done the work myself. “So I don’t know what this looks like, really,” I say. “I’m hoping you’ll help me figure it out.”

I promise to show up consistently. I promise that I will never bullshit them. I promise to be patient,  flexible, and enthusiastic. And realistic.

Then one of them asks what I’m doing here. In prison. Why am I not afraid of them?

“Because you’re people,” I reply. “And we all make mistakes. We all make bad decisions. It doesn't have to define us. It doesn’t define you. I’m here because I believe that theatre has the potential to effect huge change. And I’m hoping that that’s what’s going to happen for us.”

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Shakespeare in Prison has evolved since those early days, but the spirit remains the same. Our work empowers incarcerated (and now formerly incarcerated) people to reconnect with their humanity and that of others; to reflect on their past, present, and future; and to gain the confidence, self-esteem, and crucial skills they need to heal and positively impact their communities. And we use Shakespeare to do it.

We work over the course of a nine-month season to explore, rehearse, and perform one play by Shakespeare. We begin with ensemble-building, reading, discussion, and dipping our toes into performance. We cast our play collaboratively. We rehearse and rehearse and rehearse until we perform. Then we analyze how it all went, take a break for a few months, and start back up with a new play.

The program’s structure is more or less set at this point, but it can still be messy; even rocky. That’s an understatement to describe that first year and a half, as we worked together to figure out what we wanted from this program and how we could get there. I quickly learned that this was going to be much harder than I’d thought — but that it could also be more breathtaking and inspiring than I’d anticipated.

I’d promised not to judge; to be patient and flexible. I learned what that takes in such a chaotic environment, working with so many people who hurt so badly, and I learned to keep my biases and frustrations at bay. Because they weren’t helpful.

I learned that people’s potential to radically alter their lives — their very identities — is innate; universal; nearly unfathomable. And I learned what a powerful tool Shakespeare can be in service of that.

“I feel liberated,” one woman said at the end of our very first meeting.

“Being on stage is a whole new high,” said a woman recovering from heroin addiction, less than two years into a four-year tenure in the ensemble.

The insight shared by these women — 141 in the last six years — was so striking and so frequent, right off the bat, that I began writing down as much of what they said, verbatim, as I could.

“Everybody needs something different, and we all get it. It’s hard to explain because it’s a feeling; sometimes there aren’t any words.”

“This whole process reminds me of the best part of who I used to be before I came to prison. The darkness can overwhelm… This is my light. Not only can I be that girl again, but I can be better. Whatever we’re feeling, it’s okay here.”

“This is my favorite thing that I do. I love the process... It’s nine months of something I never thought I could do. This is my family. You will bare your soul because Shakespeare is timeless. This is a safe place. These are my best friends.”

“I feel like I’ve changed so much in prison. I don’t like to meet new people – I’m still friendly, but I have my guard up. But I told my therapist when she asked that there is one place I feel safe: Shakespeare.”

“Prison didn’t help my self-esteem, but it did get me clean. After this, I have self-esteem, self-worth, accomplishment – I believe in myself on a lot of different levels. Hearing people say I’m good at something… I feel like I can live a different life and be the person I want to be. It seemed like a dream before – the last time I felt like that was when I was a kid.”

Theoretically, I’d believed that we would all be able to see ourselves in Shakespeare’s archetypal characters and situations; that that would give us insight into ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. That was — and has been — true. What I didn’t realize was just how profound that could be—- and how little input it would take from me for people to go there. Themselves. Sometimes in as little as twenty minutes.

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People with limited education. People who’ve sold their bodies. People who’ve struggled with addiction, or mental illness, or both. Who’ve committed acts of desperation, or who’ve just made really, really bad decisions. People who’ve killed other people. People who’ve suffered trauma so severe that I can’t even speak of it, let alone fathom it. Who’ve inflicted such trauma on others.

People of color. Indigenous people. People across all spectrums of gender identity and sexual preference. People who’ve lived their whole lives in economic hardship. People who’ve been told their whole lives that they’re stupid. That they’re worthless.

For whom being a woman usually means you’re “less than.” For whom being a woman can be dangerous. For whom being a woman often feels like the very reason you’ve made those terrible decisions; why you’ve been locked up. Why you identify with men. Or why you fear them.

And it all ends up having an enormous influence on the way our ensembles understand and stage Shakespeare. Which is often far different from how we on the outside understand and stage it.

These women have taught me that when the politics of representation are removed (because they live in a place where 98% of the people around them are of the same biological sex), there isn’t usually a reason to alter the genders of Shakespeare's characters. It’s always been an option, but we’ve literally never done it. Our ensemble members have always felt that doing so had the potential to alter the story to a point where it wouldn't have had the same meaning for them.

“I don’t know… I really click with Iago. But, you know… I love like Othello, and I hate like Iago. That’s the thing about this group. At so many points, it just shows me myself. I never thought I would be using this… but I use it in real life.”

Were you married to an Iago? Or have you been Iago — and does gender play into that? Realizing that you relate to such a character means that you are seriously analyzing parts of yourself that are far from pretty. On the flipside, realizing that such a character is within some of your ensemble members might give you insight into the Iagos in your life. It won’t absolve them — Shakespeare certainly doesn’t absolve Iago — but your new perspective might help you understand, process, and heal from your past. And it generally does.


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When we talk about making theatre accessible, we’re usually talking about providing discounted or free tickets to see plays, or educational programs, or talk backs. There’s nothing wrong with any of that (far from it!). Our work is less traditional. It’s more Theatre of the Oppressed than Royal Shakespeare Company. But it isn’t really either. It’s kind of its own thing.

Plays have directors; classes have teaching artists. In Shakespeare in Prison, we who come in from “the world” are definitely artists, but we don’t direct or teach. It’s not a class. We’re not experts. We facilitate; we guide. There’s no hierarchy. It’s “painfully collaborative.” And that’s part of its value. All barriers are removed (that aren’t imposed on us by the facility). All bets are off. So we’ve got to really own this material. And, my goodness, we sure do.

Shakespeare is, hands down, some of the most accessible theatre there is, provided the guidance is compassionate, free of judgment, and open to interpretation — even to being wrong. I’m increasingly impatient with the notion that Shakespeare is a rarefied thing; that we should sideline it because it’s been around for a long time and was written by a white man. That, because of those things, “marginalized” or “at-risk” people won’t relate to or enjoy it. I don’t buy it.

“Shakespeare should be for everybody. It is for everybody. “

Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t seen and heard what I have. Our own bias and privilege can get in the way of seeing not just what theatre can do, but what Shakespeare can. The people I’ve worked with have found this not only frustrating, but exasperating, and even offensive. Why shouldn’t people like them (adults and children) have access to this simply because others assume they don’t need it or won’t like it? Or won’t understand it? These are phantom barriers. They aren’t real.

That’s not to say that it isn’t challenging. Doing Shakespeare is a point of pride. It gives you something to prove. It’s something you call home about. It’s something your kids can brag about; maybe it’s the first time they’ve ever been proud of you. It’s got caché. It’s a club. It’s a family.

It gives you the drive to pay it forward. To other prisoners. To your family on the outside. To others in recovery. To people serving life sentences who desperately need the new perspectives — the new worlds — that Shakespeare offers.

“It’s not that I want to be in Shakespeare. It’s that I need it. I can’t do this time without it.”

Sometimes the work leads our ensemble members to become theatre artists, but, more often, they gain confidence that propels them to do things that seem to have nothing to do with Shakespeare, or to pursue more education. Because they did this — which no one would have thought they could do — they believe they can do other things that seemed impossible. They develop new identities or reconnect with past ones. In doing so, they are not simply “rehabilitated.” They are activated.


We like to say, “You bring to it what you bring to it. And you get out of it what you get out of it.” It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from. Empathy knows no class, color, education, or gender.

“I’m here for murder… Beforehand, my mind was saying, ‘It’s wrong! It’s wrong! You shouldn’t do it…’ In one half of my mind, I’m like Macbeth, seeing it’s wrong… But my dumb ass did it anyway. But the thoughts of guilt didn’t go away.”

“Richard feels his pain. I identify with him in that way because when I was little, people would say mean things [about her skin color; she is very dark skinned], and that’s why I know how to fight. After a while, I just took it. But then I started amplifying it majorly. And I would sit and think about how I could hurt you. If I felt not dominant, not number one, if you were stronger than me, then I would attack you physically. And that’s how I feel Richard is. I see him holding in things that have hurt him and amplifying it out onto everyone else. And he doesn’t tell anyone.”

“It sucks because [Buckingham] gets it, like, a minute too late… As an addict, I saw people who almost had it but missed it, and they died. I can relate to looking at that reflection and saying, ‘Damn, I did all that?’”

“It’s like going from the suburbs to the middle of Compton. [Anne] just took the other option. Now she feels guilty, but at least she didn’t go to jail. She had to do something so she didn’t end up in the slums.”

People are people. And people are complicated. When you remove the barriers between yourself and others; between yourself and Shakespeare — specifically Shakespeare — new ideas, worlds, and experiences open themselves to you.

“I feel like Shakespeare was in prison. All this is the same shit we go through all the time--the intrigue, the lies, the people, nobody taking responsibility for their actions…”

“Things I didn’t think were in me, I could see within myself and in the characters. Seeing things in different ways has helped me become a better woman. When I came here, I was really angry and didn’t care about anything but myself. Now I see things differently.”

“I never thought I’d be smart enough to sit and have this kind of discussion about a book like this.”

“[Sonnet #35 is] the best thing I’ve ever heard… Because, to me, I think the poem was written at a point when this person said, ‘No more’… Everybody makes mistakes, but it doesn’t define you.”

“Shakespeare is my mothafuckin’ NA. It’s my AA. It’s a place where I can be me. The theatre is my home.”

“It feels so cool when you can answer Jeopardy questions, and it’s because of this class.”

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Augusto Boal said, “I think anyone can do theater. Even actors. And theater can be done everywhere. Even in a theater.”

When we theatre artists recognize that our way of making art is not the only way (even when radically altering its forms); that we who are privileged enough to do this work professionally do not have a monopoly on understanding it; that we may have prejudices that inform our work even as we strive toward equity, inclusion, and representation; then we can begin to see the incredible power that this material has, just as it is. Without anything on it. “Don’t. Add. Shit. To. Shakespeare,” one of our ensemble members recently said.

When we shake off the strictures that prevent us from seeing the power of Shakespeare — these four hundred year old words written by a white European man, but not belonging to him — to uplift and empower the most marginalized among us, we can be liberated as much as any prisoner.


7:30pm

April 3, 2018

Programs Building: Room 154

Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility

Ypsilanti, Michigan

“Frannie, can I ask you a question?”

“You bet.”

“Does this — when you come here, does this feel like work?”

I pause, letting the question sink in. “You know, I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that.” I pause again. “I guess it depends on how you define ‘work’. If we’re talking about going to a job and punching the clock: no, it absolutely doesn’t feel like that.” Pause. “But this takes a lot out of me, for sure. I always want to bring all the energy, patience, and authenticity I can. I have to be fully present every single second. And that takes a lot of effort.”

I look at the woman sitting next to her, who’s watching me with that careful look I’ve seen so often on her face — measuring my words and affect, the beginnings of a smile just barely crinkling the skin around her eyes and lips.

“But no, this definitely doesn’t feel like a job. I never feel like I want to take a day off just for fun. I never think, ‘God, I really don’t want to be around these people today.’”

“You really love this.”

“I really do.”


ABOUT FRANNIE SHEPHERD-BATES

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Frannie Shepherd-Bates is the founder, director, and lead facilitator of Shakespeare in Prison (SIP), a program of Detroit Public Theatre. She began SIP (under the auspices of Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company, which she led from 2008-2014) as its sole volunteer facilitator and administrator, personally handling every aspect of the program. Since those early days, Frannie has worked with the women’s ensemble — and now the men’s as well — to develop the structure, objectives, and pedagogy of the program; developing a culture of warmth, openness, professionalism, and dedication. In 2015, the program moved from Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company as it dissolved to Detroit Public Theatre as it was founded. As a freelance director, sound designer, and teaching artist, she has worked with more than a dozen southeast Michigan theaters and schools. Frannie has won numerous awards for her artistic and community work, and she has been featured in local, regional, national, and international media.

 

Enter the 2018 SWAN Day Song & Photo Contests

The deadlines for the Support Women Artists Now Day Song and Photo Contests are only 12 days away!  If you want a chance to win our cash prizes, be sure to enter by midnight on Monday, April 30, 2018! 

As you probably already know, SWAN Day/Support Women Artists Now Day is an international holiday designed to showcase the power and diversity of women’s creativity. Every year, you can be a part of SWAN Day by creating or participating in a local event or online activity that celebrates women artists!

This year, WomenArts invited Statera Foundation to co-organize SWAN Day efforts. While SWAN Day has officially passed (it was March 31st) the celebration continues with ongoing events and the SWAN Day Photo and Song Contests. Please send your entries to WomenArts by using the links below! Also be sure to watch last year's winning SWAN Song music video of "SWAN Girls" by Lydiah Dola below. It will make you want to hop up and dance! 

Be sure to check out the full contest guidelines to make sure your photo will qualify.  If you want to enter, all you have to do is upload your photos to Facebook, Flickr, your website, or some other online service, and then use the handy SWAN Photo Submission Form to send WomenArts your links.

The top prize for the Support Women Artists Now Day Song Contest is $1,000, the second prize is $500, and WomenArts will create other prizes depending on the entries we receive. The winning songs will be featured in the WomenArts Blog, newsletters and social media. If you have written a great song that fits their guidelines below, please send it in!

Statera Seven: Nataki Garrett

 Nataki Garrett, Associate Artistic Director at DCPA. (Photo by Daniel Benner.)

Nataki Garrett, Associate Artistic Director at DCPA. (Photo by Daniel Benner.)

Statera Seven is a series on the Statera Foundation Blog about women in leadership and the path to promotion. Statera poses seven questions to past and current Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and other women in leadership roles in the American Theatre. Statera is sharing their stories and insights in hopes of finding new ways to shift the leadership gender imbalance of America's nonprofit regional theater companies. 

Today we're interviewing Nataki Garrett, Associate Artistic Director of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. DCPA won the 1998 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre and is the nation's largest nonprofit theatre organization.

STATERA: The research on Women's Leadership in Resident Theaters presented by the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 2016 found that there was a glass ceiling and "pipeline issue" facing women in theatre leadership. How have you improved professional development for those seeking leadership positions in the arts, particularly women and people of color?

NATAKI GARRET: First, I am fighting to ensure that future generations of women and people of color can use me as a ladder to a future in the theater that includes them. I have worked hard to earn this space, and I plan to hold it for the next generation. I have spent much of my career recruiting, training and mentoring the next generation of women and people of color in the theater. I have active relationships with many of the women and people of color who are pursuing leadership positions throughout the country. We support and mentor each other because we know that together we may be able to move the needle forward, even if only a bit. There are currently no black women leading a theater with an organizational budget of $5 million or more, and of the 25 percent of LORT theaters run by women, there are no black women among them. The glass ceiling is real, and it is much lower for black women. That's a problem - and I am pushing to change that for the next generation.

S: What is the most important single decision you have made on your journey? 

NG: My decision to attend one of the best MFA directing programs in the nation. The truth is, without the validation and networking opportunities afforded to me by my grad-school training, I never would have had a chance in this industry, and my voice surely would have been silenced long ago. Simply put: My degree validates me where my race and/or gender do not. Lately, I have heard a few people in this industry try to equate their career paths without an MFA to mine, with an MFA from a top-5 grad school — and that is simply a false equivalency. If you got your seat at the table without an MFA, it might be because you have benefited from a privilege that validates you without one.

Even with the huge debt, all my career accomplishments as a director stem from the risk I took to attend CalArts. My opportunities for leadership at the Center for New Performance at CalArts and my current position at the Denver Center, starting a theater company and receiving the NEA/TCG – Career program for Directors are a result of my attending one of the best grad programs in the nation.

S: Statistics suggest that women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet only 40%. Has this been true for you, and how do you advocate for your experience and qualifications when they are not explicitly spelled out in a job posting?  

NG: My advice is to apply no matter what. You will never know what's possible if you don't apply. Even when an organization clearly wants someone who has had the opportunity to do the job for decades, I still apply. This stipulation is the simplest way to exclude most women and people of color from consideration. I also make a point to apply for every major opportunity because it is important that search committees consider a diverse slate of candidates. That makes it harder for them to justify a traditional hiring decision by saying there just were not enough qualified females or people of color to consider.

For the past several years, I have held the second-highest position at two major organizations, and I was also tasked with the responsibility of leading each organization for a period a time. But when I am interviewed, I have had to push for recognition of my leadership accomplishments. There are about two dozen artistic leadership positions open at present, and I encourage every woman who is thinking about applying to do so because their participation is itself confirmation that there are female candidates worth considering. The only way the Boards of these organizations are going to recognize our potential is if we promote ourselves. That's even more true for women of color and worse for black women because of systemic and pervasive racial bias. 

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S: What roadblocks did you encounter on your path to this position and how did you navigate? 

NG: It may sound strange but I look young. I'm sure I should see this as a benefit but as a woman of color in leadership I am often regarded as either some sort of prodigy who has yet to be discovered or a young upstart. I am in my late forties with more than 20 years of experience. I tend to reveal my age early in a conversation to quell any misconceptions. I have a friend and mentor who often says to me,  "Well you are just starting out", even though I am 10 years older than he was when he started. Another colleague suggested that I should stop revealing my real age because, "Men have to feel like they are discovering a woman in order to be compelled to help her get ahead in her career." 

S: If you had $10 million dollars of unrestricted funds, how would you spend it to improve the American Theatre?

NG:  I would start by providing grants to companies that are committed to developing a new subscription plan that doesn’t require theater patrons to pay for an entire season up front. The current subscriber model only attracts a tiny portion of the population because the number of people who have access to a large amount of disposable income is inherently limited. I fundamentally believe many theaters currently avoid risk by programming seasons that only appeal to their current, affluent subscriber base. Perhaps making it possible for lower-income patrons to reasonably participate in the subscriber process would also encourage regional theaters to program more inclusive seasons for the other 99 percent of their communities who are often alienated and underrepresented on and behind the stage. There are so many companies working on effective community-engagement strategies to attract new audiences to the theater, but they are not realizing their adherence to the current subscriber model is a fundamental barrier to more inclusivity.

I would also create a fund to support women and people of color who need the kind of support I could have used when I was forced to turn down an internship opportunity that I was offered at NYTW in the late 90’s. This fund would defray living expenses so candidates with proven financial need can attend an internship or apprenticeship. Preference would be given to women and people of color pursuing leadership careers. The metric to determine eligibility would not be based solely on current income, as most middle-class black people are a paycheck or two away from financial crisis. I would use debt-to-income ratio. I believe these efforts would provide some economic stability for those who need it while pursuing an administrative or artistic career in the theater.

S: Professional mentorship is a core part of our mission at Statera Foundation. In that spirit, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received, and from whom?

NG:  “This is a business of relationships.” This is my mantra. I work to create and maintain good relationships with virtually everyone I meet. The professional theater is a very small world with a constantly shifting landscape. You never know who you are speaking to at any given moment, or where they are going. I believe it’s just good practice to be decent to everyone.

S: In what ways are you thriving in your leadership role?

NG: I was hired as the Associate Artistic Director of the Denver Center but for more than a year I have been charged with the duties of the Artistic Director during our ongoing leadership transition.

The theater is a hierarchical industry where one’s title is important. Officially appointing someone as interim makes it easier for artists to know who to count on for support and guidance. I was never offered the interim title. Despite the obstacles, I persevered without the title, and that allowed me to be more collaborative. I galvanized my teams for support and empowered others with ownership of their own outcomes. With the artistic team, I was able to keep the DCPA Theater Company moving forward to the end of what is turning out to be a record-breaking season, including the most successful production in the history of the Space Theater – Macbeth, directed by Robert O’Hara, which finished $119,000 over the show’s projected revenue goal. My team and I produced a season that was fully inclusive, adventurous and at times outlandish but always sought to represent a broad-ranging view of the human condition. I also initiated and negotiated co-productions for two of our commissioned plays – The Great Leap by Lauren Yee with Seattle Rep and American Mariachi (which finished $108,000 over goal) by Jose Cruz Gonzales with the Old Globe Theatre. Neither of these would have been possible without my drive to give these playwrights additional opportunities for continuing to develop their works. It has been a gift to provide opportunities for those whose voices and stories are not often seen on our stages and to invite new audiences into our spaces through work that reflects their lives and values. My goal was to create a space where people from disparate experiences and backgrounds could rub elbows and find intersection and connection.

I was given a literal seat at the Artistic Directors’ table at the 2017 TCG conference in Portland. Not surprising, I was the only black woman in most of the rooms, and only one of a handful of other identified women of color. I witnessed the palpable reluctance many of our current artistic leaders revealed about participating in the equity, diversity and inclusion work the TCG has been engaging in for the past several years. I also witnessed the exhausting work a few artistic leaders continue to engage in, working as allies and leading the charge for change in this industry.

My personal mandate is to leave a place better than I found it. This thriving and talented community has inspired me by holding me to their high standard of leadership. They unknowingly helped me show my beloved industry what means to have a woman of color – a black woman – be successful as artistic leader of a large theater organization, even for a short period of time.


ABOUT NATAKI GARRETT

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Nataki Garrett is the Associate Artistic Director of  Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theater Company.  Since January 2017, Garrett continues to serve as their producing artistic lead during their search for and on-boarding of their new artistic director coming in May 2018. She is credited with producing the most financially successful production ever in their renowned Space Theater in the 40 year history of the DCPA. Formerly the Associate Artistic Director of CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP) Nataki is a Company Member at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company a recipient of the NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Directors and a member of SDC.

Nataki Garrett is co-Artistic Director of BLANK THE DOG PRODUCTIONS (BTD) a LA/NYC based ensemble Theater Company, which is celebrating its 10th year and is dedicated to developing and fostering new work by emerging, adventurous and experimental artists.

To read Nataki Garrett's full bio, please visit her WEBSITE.
 

SWAN Day 2018

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Happy SWAN Day to everyone who participated this year! SWAN Day is an international holiday designed to showcase the power and diversity of women's creativity. This year Statera Foundation was thrilled to partner with WomenArts in co-organizing SWAN Day. This successful partnership has been a complete joy and it has been a great fit for the Statera mission. Combining our organizational strength expands our reach and exemplifies the collaborative and grassroots nature of SWAN Day.  

Yesterday was the official date for SWAN Day, but the party continues through the month of April. With 183 women-led events on the SWAN Day Calendar, there's more to celebrate! Today we'd like to share an open letter from WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards.


Dear Friends,

First of all, I want to wish all of you a very happy Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day!

And second, I want to thank you for persevering as artists. l know it isn’t easy, and I have tremendous respect for all of you who keep dreaming and creating in spite of all the obstacles.  There were so many inspiring listings on the SWAN Calendar this year!

In these challenging times, SWAN Day reminds us that there are thousands of women artists all over the world who are working to heal the planet through their art.  We had almost 200 SWAN events this year, and I encourage you to scroll through the lists at the bottom of this page of all the U.S. SWAN Events and the International SWAN Events from 11 different countries.

Although our SWAN Day 2018 list is long and diverse, it only includes a fraction of all the women artists in the world. Just think about how much creativity, energy, and power we have collectively!  We are a tremendous positive force already, and we can be even stronger if we can find more ways to work together and get the resources we need.  SWAN Day is a great first step because it gives all of us a chance to share our hopes and cheer each other on.

Please take some time to make a direct connection with at least one woman artist on SWAN Day. Talk to her in person, give her a call, write her a note, or send her a gift – do anything that shows that you appreciate her creativity. There is tremendous power in these simple acts of respect and recognition, and they provide models of the supportive attitudes and behavior that we want to spread around the world.

I want to say a special thank you to my partners at the Statera Foundation – especially their Creative Director, Sarah Greenman, who has managed all of the social media for SWAN Day 2018.  It has been a joy to work with her, and we are already cooking up plans for next year.  I am using her “Happy SWAN Day” image above as my Facebook profile picture today, and I invite you to do the same.

Thanks so much to all of you for making SWAN Day 2018 such a wonderful success.  We encourage you to seek out the work of women artists on SWAN Day and every day. Together we will build a world where women artists get the respect they deserve.

Sending Lots of SWAN Love to All of You,
Martha Richards, Executive Director, WomenArts

 

CLICK HERE to read the BIG List of 2018 SWAN Events!

 

On March 31, 2018, SWAN Day Houston honored WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards with the first ever SWAN Day Award for Achievement. Although Martha was not there in person to receive the award, this video was shared at the event. Martha speaks so beautifully about SWAN Day and the importance of this international holiday. Enjoy! 


Martha Richards is the Executive Director of WomenArts, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing visibility and opportunities for women artists in all genres. Prior to WomanArts, Richards served as Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College and as Managing Director of StageWest in Springfield, MA. A member of the California Bar, she was one of the founding directors of California Lawyers for the Arts. 

Statera Seven: Jennifer Zeyl

Statera Seven is a new series on the Statera Foundation Blog about women in leadership and the path to promotion. Statera poses seven questions to past and current Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and other women in leadership roles in the American Theatre. Statera is sharing their stories and insights in hopes of finding new ways to shift the leadership gender imbalance of America's nonprofit regional theater companies. 

Today, we're interviewing Jennifer Zeyl, Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre in Seattle, WA. Founded in 1972, Intiman Theatre is the recipient of the 2006 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. 

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STATERA: The research on Women's Leadership in Resident Theaters presented by the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 2016 found that there was a glass ceiling and "pipeline issue" facing women in theatre leadership. How have you improved professional development for those seeking leadership positions in the arts, particularly women and people of color?
    
JENNIFER ZEYL: Over the 12 years of my freelance set design career, I only ever had one male-identified assistant. I had 11 female-identified and continue to work with womxn. Scenery design is already a male-dominated career and fabrication environment and I wanted to be able to mentor women as I was by my mentor Christine Jones. Period.

On the other hand, Intiman has more opportunities to share power and leverage privilege than a solo set designer and we do. Jobs: On our small staff of 10 there are two male identified members, (POC_and 7 female identified (4 POC) and one non-binary non-POC rockstar. Leadership: For the past 3 years Intiman has engaged with a Co-Curator to assist (Andrew Russell, former AD) with season planning. The women who have participated have all been POC and totally empowered to make top leadership decisions. We have a free Emerging Artist Program, led by our 2017 Co-Curator Sara Porkalob, which focuses on creating autobiographical solo performance.  The participants in this program are over 70% female identified, 74% POC and 15% non-binary.

Our 2018 Season, Co-curated by KJ Sanchez, features work by Talyor Mac (HIR), Allison Gregory (WILD HORSES) and Karen Zacharias (NATIVE GARDENS).

S: What is the most important single decision you have made in your journey? 

JZ: I married the right person. There is no way on earth that I could have accomplished one half of what I have without their support and understanding.
 
S: Statistics suggest that women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet only 40%. Has this been true for you, and how do you advocate for your experience and qualifications when they are not explicitly spelled out in a job posting?  

J.Z. I don't know if I should answer this one. I've only applied for a few jobs.
 
S: What roadblocks did you encounter on your path to this position and how did you navigate? 

JZ: Gender bias in my own backyard! I have been with Intiman for many years, first in 2010 as a seasonal set designer then + production management, then + Associate Artistic director full time, then Artistic Producer full time - you get the idea. The year I became PM, in 2013, I had access to all of the contracts past and present and SAW that in the same past season, for very similar shows, a male-identified colleague (and dear friend) with whom I went to grad school, out-earned me by over 2k on his design fee. FACE PALM. Needless to say, I fixed that real quick.
 
S: If you had $10 million dollars of unrestricted funds, how would you spend it to improve the American Theatre?

I think I would first talk with youth about what support they need in reinforcing their messaging. I'm so tired of the same bad ideas and as I write this youth are Marching for their Lives. I am inspired and listening. Though, if they didn't have any ideas (fat chance) programs like Public Works are really moving the needle in important ways.
 
S: Professional mentorship is a core part of our mission at Statera Foundation. In that spirit, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received, and from whom?

JZ: Oof.  I'm trying to get better at even asking for advice, let alone taking it. My therapist said to me recently, "You're one of the most disciplined people I know; what if you turned your self-discipline towards your joy and relaxation?" I'll let you know how that goes.
 
S: In what ways are you thriving in your leadership role?

 Photo: Alex Garland

Photo: Alex Garland

JZ: I make really great theatre in a radically inclusive way. For example, I just directed Taylor Mac's HIR.  This is a dark comedy addressing the effects of oppressive masculinity on a white suburban family. This play is a classic absurd realism piece where the extremity of the realistic given circumstances are so heightened it becomes absurd. There are four characters each suffering in traumatic states that isolate them from each other. PTSS, stroke recovery, domestic violence and gender transition. None of these experiences are personal to me or any of the actors playing these roles so - I assembled a Cultural Advisory Council to keep it real. It was helmed by a dazzling non-binary Dramaturg (see Crosscut interview with them below!) and comprised of a Marine Sergeant, an Army Major, a vascular neurologist, a speech pathologist, a police detective specializing in domestic violence, and 3 trans folx, one of whom is a counselor. It's important to me as a white woman to not tokenize in the telling of stories variant from my own.


Interested in reading more about Jennifer's first production as Artistic Director at Intiman. Reviews for "Hir" by Taylor Mac, a co-production with ArtsWest, are linked below. Intiman's next offering is "Wild Horses" by Allison Gregory and directed by Sheila Daniels. 

●      The Stranger:  If You Go See Hir, Don't Make the Mistake I Did

●      Seattle Gay Scene: ArtsWest/Intiman’s Production of Taylor Mac’s “Hir” Strikes All The Right Chords…And Then Some

●      Seattle Times: "Whatever you think of Taylor Mac’s ‘Hir’ at ArtsWest, the play provokes"

●      Westside Seattle: Review: ArtsWest, Intiman join to present Taylor Mac’s “Hir”

●      Drama in the Hood: Taylor Mac's HIR a knockout at Seattle ArtsWest Theatre

●      BWW Review: ArtsWest's HIR Takes Gender/Family Issues to an Absurd Level, and That's Funny?

●      Seattle P-I: Family Dysfunction at Arts West

●      Crosscut: New play in Seattle takes apart the American dream

●      Seattle Weekly: The Sunset of Masculinity

●      Broadway World: ArtsWest And Intiman Team Up For Taylor Mac's HIR

●      Westside Seattle: Coming soon to ArtsWest, Taylor Mac’s Hir

 

Inclusion Riders Signal Inclusive Hiring Practices

 Frances McDormand during her Oscar acceptance speech for a lead role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Frances McDormand during her Oscar acceptance speech for a lead role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Frances McDormand gave an unexpected rallying cry for gender parity in films at the end of her acceptance speech for her Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.  During an evening where 33 men won Oscars and only 6 women, McDormand said, “I have two words for you – inclusion rider.”

McDormand was referring to a legal strategy for increasing intersectional gender parity that is the brainchild of Stacy L. Smith, the prolific founder/director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the leading think tank studying diversity and inclusion in entertainment.  Smith has been urging film actors and content creators to fight “Hollywood’s epidemic of female invisibility” by negotiating for inclusive hiring practices as part of their employment contracts.

Smith argues that since actors and content creators negotiate for all kinds of special terms (“riders”) in their contracts related to their hours, housing, transportation, and other working conditions for each film, they could also use their bargaining power to promote the hiring of more women, including women of color and women in other under-represented groups. Through their inclusion riders, actors and content creators will hopefully persuade producers and directors to think of diverse hiring as an integral part of their creative process instead of some onerous external requirement.

Inclusion Riders Address Unconscious Biases in Hiring

 Stacy L. Smith, Social Scientist and Founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

Stacy L. Smith, Social Scientist and Founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

Smith’s research has included extensive interviews with producers and directors, and she has found that their hiring decisions are often shaped by unconscious biases rather than intentional sexism or racism. They were not opposed to hiring diverse casts – but they were in the habit of hiring white men.

Inclusion riders can serve as consciousness-raising tools that encourage the producers and directors to consider gender,  race, and other demographic factors in their hiring decisions instead of just going with their unconscious biases that favor white men.

For instance, Smith has found that most feature films have about 45 speaking roles, and most of them are not the leads or even secondary characters. There are usually many minor characters who only speak a few words, but in a big-budget film those small roles pay well.  Those roles are routinely given to white men, but an A-list actor negotiating to join a film could use an inclusion rider to ask the producer to fill those lower-level speaking roles with people who reflect the world we actually live in.  This would mean that about half of those roles would go to women, and that people of color, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups would also be represented proportionally in each gender.

Smith estimated that if notable actors cast in the 25 top films of 2013 had made use of inclusion riders in their contracts, the proportion of balanced films (i.e. films with half-female casts) would have jumped from 16 percent to 41 percent – a substantial increase in employment for women with no extra cost to the producers.

Stars Who Are Using Inclusion Riders

 Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

This past January, during a Women Breaking Barriers panel at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Octavia Spencer explained how Jessica Chastain used a rider to secure equal pay for Spencer in their upcoming film Molly’s Game.

[Octavia] had been underpaid for so long,” Chastain explained. “When I discovered that, I realized that I could tie her deal to mine to bring up her quote. Men should start doing this with their female co-stars.”

Many A-listers have taken action since McDormand’s speech. The Hollywood Reporter released a story announcing that Paul Feig is the latest filmmaker to adopt an inclusion rider for the projects produced under his banner, Feigco Entertainment.

Michael B. Jordan also announced that his production company, Outlier Society, would start adopting inclusion riders. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck followed Jordan’s lead by pledging that their production company, Pearl Street Films, would do the same.

Thanks so much to Stacy L. Smith for her decades of brilliant research and advocacy,  and to Frances McDormand for shining a spotlight on this simple and effective strategy for increasing employment for women and for making sure that films reflect the demographic realities of our times.

More on Inclusion Research and Riders

Inequality in 900 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBT, and Disability from 2007- 2016
This 50-page study by USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative examines a decade of popular films and finds that women, people of color, and people with disabilities are consistently under-represented.  The first five pages provide many helpful charts and graphs that summarize the findings of the study.  Here are a few sample findings:

  • Just 31.4 percent of speaking characters were female, even though they represent a little more than half the U.S. population.
  • Women represented 4.2 percent of the directors and just 1.4 percent of the composers.
  • About 29 percent of speaking characters were from non-white racial/ethnic groups, compared with nearly 40 percent in the U.S.
  • Only 2.7 percent of speaking characters were depicted with a disability, despite the fact that nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. have one.

Stacy L. Smith’s TED Talk: Data Behind Hollywood’s Sexism
Stacy L. Smith’s TED Talk explains how the inclusion rider is a crucial tool for moving the dial on intersectional gender parity in film. This link has the YouTube video of her talk and the transcript in 21 languages.

The Inclusion Rider Template from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative
This is a sample inclusion rider that could be adapted to use in contracts for actors or content creators.

Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Research and Reports
This page has links to additional inclusion studies.


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About the author: Sarah Greenman serves on Statera's executive team as Creative Director. She is also a writer for the WomenArts blog and contributor at Houzz. Sarah is a playwright, actor, artist, and activist. Learn more at www.sarahgreenman.com

Statera Voices: Valerie Rachelle

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"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural 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 term and in our own voices. 

Today's offering comes from Valerie Rachelle, Artistic Director of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland, OR. 


  Valerie Rachelle, Artistic Director

Valerie Rachelle, Artistic Director

By Valerie Rachelle

A few months ago, over a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a friend confided to me, “It wasn’t until I was 40 that I realized only women had to work this hard to get this far.” She was right. It was never something I had really acknowledged before. 

I look back at my career now and see how many doors I had to kick open, while my male counterparts walked through that same door unlocked and wide open. I worked. I pushed. I put myself out there. I knocked down doors. Every once in a while I would look at some of my male colleagues’ careers and think, “Wow - I have much more experience and they got that job over me?” 

I thought, ‘that’s how life goes’. That’s how education goes and how theater goes. I thought that working harder was the norm for women in higher education and theater. I know now that I am not alone and the deck has been stacked against me. I never said anything before because there wasn’t anything to say. It was the status quo and I didn’t even acknowledge the inequity.

“Every year I’m expected to do more and more and more. From my first year, I was expected to do even more than the entire rest of the faculty.” - Anonymous, Full Time Professor

In an article by Pete Musto, he found that in 2017 a new info-brief by ACE's Center for Policy Research and Strategy updated key statistics about women in higher education. This info-brief examined issues like tenure, compensation, and representation in high-ranking leadership positions. The indication was that women were being prepared for leadership positions at a much greater rate than men. For three decades, female students earned more than half of all baccalaureate degrees and for the past decade half of all doctoral degrees. The report found that despite the number of female graduates available for leadership positions, women did not hold associate professor or full professor positions at the same rate as their male peers. This information prompted me to reach out to women I know in leadership positions in theater departments at the university level.

“No one (on the faculty) in six years has come to see me teach. Not once…” - Anonymous, Adjunct Professor

I interviewed three different women, from three different states, at three different colleges. They are all full-time tenured professors. Two of these women are also the head of their respective acting departments. Their experiences as women in power were eye-opening to me. These women don’t work together, their theater departments are hundreds of miles apart, and yet, their experiences are undeniably similar. 

I inquired about workload, expectations, the delegation of responsibilities, and support from colleagues, subordinates, and from the department and/or president’s/dean’s office. All three of these professors felt the pressure to perform better, take on more outside classroom responsibilities (whether asked to, expected to, or taking it on themselves), and put in more hours than the rest of their colleagues.

“I do not feel my voice is heard. I always feel like I’m fighting. Things I say - no one registers.  [A male colleague] will repeat what I have said and a male faculty member will finally respond.  Tenure has helped me speak up more but I’m more fed up because it doesn’t get better. It only gets worse.” - Anonymous, Head of Acting

Although women are trained, sometimes at a higher rate and with more experience, our voices aren’t always heard. Is this why we stop speaking up? Is this why we stop asking for help? Do we take on more work, more hours, more responsibility because it is actually the path of least resistance? Or is it perception?

A study done in 2014 entitled “Faculty Service Load and Gender: Are Women Taking Care of the Academic Family?” found that “...in the liberal arts, having female chairs correlated with women doing more service, especially within the department.” As to correcting the imbalance, the study found that “women simply need to become more protective of their research time, as men are.” Yet they face “grave consequences if they are not perceived as team players,” while men on the same faculty usually don’t. Perception feels important.  In order to be respected in a leadership position, it feels like we need others to perceive us as infallible. In order to be infallible, we put in the extra hours and take on more responsibility than our counterparts. When we do take it all on and succeed, it becomes the expectation. Once the workload becomes too much and we begin to delegate, it can be perceived as weak.  

“There are things in the department that I shouldn’t deal with. But I’m sent by higher powers to deal with things like sexual harassment. My boss has been accused of sexually harassing students. The dean's office refuses to take care of it and I end up going in and trying to fix it myself.” - Anonymous, Head of Acting Professor

The pressure to look superhuman also seem to come from within. The women I spoke with all admitted they take on more work without being asked because if they didn’t, “it wouldn’t get done.” Or “...the work just isn’t done with the same level of detail.” In my own experience I feel the need to take everything on because even if it did get done by someone else, it wouldn’t be done to my standards. But, Is that really true? Is this our fear of letting go? Of failure? Do we stop trusting others because we have been burned in the past?  

 “No, I don’t delegate anymore. There is no one I can trust in my department.” - Anonymous, Full-Time Professor

My own frustrations as faculty at major universities mirror these women as well. In 2014, I was interviewed as part of the final three for two different tenure-track theater professor positions. One in a rare place where 90% of the theater faculty were women. The verdict there? I was overqualified to teach their students acting and directing. The other? As the only female applicant in a male dominant department, my final interview was with the President of the school. He was accompanied by one of the Human Resources staff during the interview (I now know why). During the interview, he asked me questions that the HR staff member had to continuously tell him he couldn’t legally ask me. “Do you have children?”, “How are you going to work full time and be a mother?” “Do you realize the number of hours a full-time position like this requires?” There weren’t many questions about my qualifications and when he challenged me on my resume I started shaking with anger. After a short breakdown outside alone (I wasn’t about to lose it in front of him), an apology email from HR (probably to make sure I didn’t sue), and a good vent over the phone to my husband, I took a step back. Why didn’t I realize this as part of the problem until just recently? I just assumed this was part of everyone’s experience in academia. I mean, don’t we all have stories like this one in our careers?  

One cannot always pass off these internal departmental problems as part of the structure of that particular program. The women I interviewed have worked in numerous departments, as have I, in order to get to where they are as professors. The story from place to place has a recurring theme. We see it in the research and we see it in the studies and statistics. We see it in the classrooms and in the admin office. Women are outnumbered, paid less, and do more than our male colleagues. Gender bias runs deep and shows up in our everyday behavior. 

“My attitude is to do good work and the work should speak for itself.” - Anonymous, Adjunct Professor

What’s next? Do we continue to work hard or harder and let the work speak for itself? 

Yes, we do!  
And, no - Hell no! 

I know now that the conversation needs to accompany the work. I will call out that President, I will tell HR how someone really affects their institution. I will hire more female colleagues. I pledge to speak up when I see inequity.  I vow to celebrate when the paradigm shifts. My work does need to speak for itself but so do I. My voice, your voice, our voices need to be heard. There is hope.  No, wait, let me try that again. “THERE IS HOPE!”
 


ABOUT VALERIE RACHELLE

Valerie Rachelle, Artistic Director of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland, OR. Valerie is a professional Director and Choreographer who has been freelancing for over 20 years. Valerie was born and raised in Eugene, OR and started as a dancer. Along with her professional dancing, Valerie is also a classically trained singer. She attended California Institute of the Arts for her BFA in Acting and moved to LA where she co-founded a not-for-profit theater dedicated to producing new works – Lucid By Proxy.

Valerie attended the University of California Irvine for her MFA in Directing. Upon graduation, Valerie spent four years at PCPA Theaterfest where she was Casting Director/Resident Director/Choreographer. Valerie has worked at theaters around the country including Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Syracuse Opera, Fresno Grand Opera, Glendale Center Theater, Performance Riverside, Lucid By Proxy, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Morgan Wixson Theatre, Summer Repertory Theater, and PCPA Theaterfest. Valerie is currently the Artistic Director at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland OR.

Statera Seven: Brenda DeVita

Statera Seven is a new series on the Statera Foundation Blog about women in leadership and the path to promotion. Statera poses seven questions to past and current Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and other women in leadership roles in the American Theatre. Statera is sharing their stories and insights in hopes of finding new ways to shift the leadership gender imbalance of America's nonprofit regional theater companies. 

Today, we're interviewing Brenda DeVita, Artistic Director of American Players Theatre (APT) near Spring Green, WI. From June through November, APT produces nine plays in rotating repertory. With annual attendance of over 100,000 and an annual budget in excess of $6 million, APT ranks as the country’s second largest outdoor theater devoted to the classics.

 Brenda DeVita, Artistic Director of American Players Theatre.

Brenda DeVita, Artistic Director of American Players Theatre.

STATERA: The research on Women's Leadership in Resident Theaters presented by the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 2016 found that there was a glass ceiling and "pipeline issue" facing women in theatre leadership. How have you improved professional development for those seeking leadership positions in the arts, particularly women and people of color?

BRENDA DEVITA: In the time I’ve been at APT, the organization has gone from being entirely male-led to female-led. Since I became artistic director four seasons ago, we’ve hired a female managing director, the senior management team is 2 to 1 female to male, female stage directors have increased from 1 of 9 in 2013 to a projected 4 of 9 in 2019, and the design teams are made up of 50% more females than five years ago. We are intentionally choosing plays that reflect the female journey in equal measure to male-dominated stories. And as a classical company, this is challenging, but we are committed to it.  I know that our attention to parity in this regard has led to our initiative in diversity and inclusion in our company, having increased these hires exponentially in the past five years.

S: What is the most important single decision you have made on your journey? 

BD: Honestly, learning to trust my instincts. To listen to myself in the face of an industry which told me to value other things. Coming to APT 23 years ago and leaving my acting career behind to become a company manager for actors I had just been on stage with seemed absurd to most people. But I trusted my gut that APT was a pretty spectacular place. So by defying most logical thinking, I found a home and purpose I am fulfilled by and proud of. 

S: Statistics suggest that women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet only 40%. Has this been true for you, and how do you advocate for your experience and qualifications when they are not explicitly spelled out in a job posting?  

BD: This isn’t a job I applied for; it’s a job I’ve grown up in.  Nothing in my past made me think I was right for this job. It was only what was in front of me that made me think it was right for me. So I guess it hasn’t been true for me, though unfortunately, that statistic doesn’t surprise me. 

My advice: trust yourself. Look for the work and do it without permission. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what you’re capable of doing. Do it. Fail. Learn. Do it again. Gather your experience, your strengths. Risk looking foolish, and practice humility because it’s going to come anyway… you may as well be good at it. And apply for those jobs that on paper look impossible if it’s what you want to do.

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S: What roadblocks did you encounter on your path to this position and how did you navigate? 

BD: Though I’m loathe to admit it, my own insecurities were a roadblock. My fear that I was posing – faking it. And I assumed that others weren’t doing that – that men didn’t do that. Eventually, I figured out that everyone does it. So I could own that I was doing it, stop apologizing for it and just do my work. 

Starting as an actress and moving up the ladder to artistic director (doing every job in between on the way), it’s a drag that I felt I had to prove to people that I was smart. And resilient and strategic and a hard worker. But, ultimately, I asked myself, is that a bad thing? It didn’t feel good, but honestly, that probably made me a better leader and a better person.  

S: If you had $10 million dollars of unrestricted funds, how would you spend it to improve the American Theatre?

BD: I’d like to create vast opportunities for women and people of color to explore true collaborative leadership and develop leadership styles that promote “we” instead of “I.”  Also, I’d start a paid training program for people at the associate level (associate artistic directors, associate designers, associate directors, etc.) to get real experience while making a living wage so we can bridge the experience gap that the theater industry has perpetuated. 

S: Professional mentorship is a core part of our mission at Statera Foundation. In that spirit, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received, and from whom?

BD: “Never buy your own bullshit. Be sure to have trusted humans around you to tell you the truth when you need to hear it.”  -- I don’t know who said this…maybe Winston Churchill or someone.  

“Never apologize for being an optimist.”  -- Gretta Berghammer (my college professor)

“You can cry yourself to sleep every night and still be successful at this.”  -- Susan Sweeney (my colleague and dear friend)

“They pick on the ones who can take it. Remember that. Even when don’t think you can.”  -- Judy Corkery (Mom)

S: In what ways are you thriving in your leadership role?

I’m thriving by doing my work with a team that I trust. Also, I resist the notion that leadership equals power in any way – it’s my job to empower others to do their jobs well. Together we look at what problems we need to solve in the organization and work together on them. 

Also, I value what I’m great at and lean into that. At the same time, I’m absolutely committed to learning what I’m not great at. The goal is to know what I know and what I need to learn. 

How we do what we do is as important as what we do. And what we do is really important. 

 

Follow AMERICAN PLAYERS THEATRE online:

WEBSITE   |   FACEBOOK   |   TWITTER  |   INSTAGRAM


ABOUT BRENDA DEVITA

Brenda DeVita is artistic director of American Players Theatre. APT is one of the country’s most popular Shakespeare festival theaters, welcoming more than 110,000 patrons each season to its home outside of Spring Green, WI. In 2014, the Wall Street Journal called APT the “best classical theater in the country.” 

Brenda came to APT in 1995 when her husband, actor Jim DeVita, was hired to play Romeo. Never one to idly sit when there was a job to do; she accepted the position as Interim APT Company Manager. Over the next several years, Brenda played many roles at APT: she began to assist Artistic Director David Frank with casting-combing through thousands of actors’ resumes to find the six or eight needed each season. It became clear that she had a gift for connecting with actors who have a passion for classical texts and being able to talk them into spending six months doing Shakespeare in the middle of nowhere.  

In 1999, she helped David Frank create the Core Acting Company, which now consists of 13 actors for whom APT is their artistic home. In 2004, Brenda was appointed Associate Artistic Director and soon began to take over much of the day-to-day artistic management, including season selection, hiring directors and designers. Among her many accomplishments is the establishment of the Acting Apprentice program, now in its 10th year. It has grown to be an elite training opportunity for early-career actors with a passion for Shakespeare and the classics. 

Brenda has also grown APT’s voice and text department to become among the most robust and respected in the country. Each APT production has its own full-time voice and text coach who is charged with not only coaching the actors individually with voice technique and text interpretation but also collaborates with the director on the overall production. 

In January 2014, Brenda was appointed Artistic Director. Since her appointment, she has continued to advance APT’s mission to bring the classics to as wide and varied an audience as possible. She has also begun a diversity and inclusion initiative to increase the number of diverse actors, artists, and staff in the APT Company, as well as increase the diversity of APT’s audience. The 2015 season – the first she planned as Artistic Director – broke all box office records, reaching nearly 115,000 patrons. 
 

Made In Her Image: Empowering the Next Generation of Women Film Makers

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According to research by the USC Anneberg School for Communication and Journalism, of the top 1000 grossing films between 2007 and 2016, only five women of color worked as directors. And women comprised only 5% of directors in the top 250 films in 2017. Made in Her Image is working to change these statistics.

Made In Her Image is a non-profit focused on social equity within the film, media, and entertainment industry. They serve girls ages 8 to 18 by curating engaging programming based on media literacy and empowerment. They are dedicated to the advancement of young girls and women within film, media, and technology. And their goal is to create and build the future film pioneers and revolutionaries of tomorrow.

Although all girls are welcome, Made in Her Image is strategically focused on targeting girls of color. For their first offering, the organization will be hosting two film camps for girls. The first will be taking place in Phoenix, Arizona. The second will be taking place in Los Angeles. Dates have not yet been announced.

The 3-4 day camps will happen in June and July 2018. They are designed to empower girls to emerge having worked on, or participated in making their own mini- film.  Each girl will be partnered with a mentor within their individual production groups. The camps will also include seminars, workshops, and a possible studio field trip option. Made in Her Image is currently developing the curriculum for the project using tips and inspiration from other women in the industry.

In a statement from Made In Her Image: "We want our girls to create and be their own change - to be their own voice - no longer waiting on an industry to give them the images they want to see."

Click HERE for camp registration. 

Radical Inclusion at Sound Theatre Company

This article was originally published by WomanArts.

 Cast members of “You Can’t Take It With You” at Sound Theatre Company. From left to right: Corey Spruill, Ayo Tushinde, Laura Steele, Chris Shea, Tee Dennard, Gurvinder Singh, Laurie Lynch, Aaron Jin, Shermona Mitchell, Andrew Weiss, Neve Mazique and Bob Williams.

Cast members of “You Can’t Take It With You” at Sound Theatre Company. From left to right: Corey Spruill, Ayo Tushinde, Laura Steele, Chris Shea, Tee Dennard, Gurvinder Singh, Laurie Lynch, Aaron Jin, Shermona Mitchell, Andrew Weiss, Neve Mazique and Bob Williams.

By Sarah Greenman

One in five Americans identifies as having a disability and they span all ethnicities, genders, and ages. And according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) disability is even more common in women (1 in 4) and minorities (3 in 10). So where are their stories? This season, you’ll find them at Sound Theatre Company in Seattle, WA.

Sound Theatre’s 2018 season is called The Human Family: Toward A Radical Inclusion, and features artists living with disability. They will present the comedy classic, You Can’t Take It With Youwith an inclusive cast, an ASL version of Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the world premiere of Rules of Charity, a play about the relationship between a wheelchair-bound father with cerebral palsy and his caretaker daughter.

The company is also offering their Making Waves program, which includes a series of readings of plays by disabled playwrights, art exhibitions, accessible performances and other experimental works.  All programming will be made accessible for audience members with disabilities.

Sound Theatre Company is known for consistently employing women and artists of color, and fostering an inclusive and diverse environment is integral to its mission. Teresa Thuman, Founding and Producing Artistic Director for Sound Theatre, is wholly invested in a humanizing approach to art. She says, “We are intentionally centering the role of people with lived experience of disability, rather than featuring metaphorical roles created for able-bodied audiences. This is not inspiration porn. We are reframing disability.”

When disability is depicted onstage, it is usually framed within a stereotypical narrative of uplift and courage. Roles in such productions are often offered to able-bodied actors, which means that most actors with disabilities don’t even get the opportunity to play themselves. Obviously, theaters should give priority to disabled actors in roles defined as disabled. The next step, of course, is to consider them for all roles. Thuman says, “Human disqualification is rampant. We desperately need different bodies represented on stage.”

Thuman credits Statera Foundation’s National Conference (Denver 2016) for inspiring her last two seasons at Sound Theatre. “Attending Statera’s breakout session with Phamaly Theatre (presented by Lucy Roucis and Jenna Bainbridge) totally reframed my relationship with theatre. The whole conference shifted my understanding of my own work.”

 Teresa Thuman accepting a Gregory Award for Theatre of the Year on behalf of Sound Theatre Company.

Teresa Thuman accepting a Gregory Award for Theatre of the Year on behalf of Sound Theatre Company.

“There are great innovations happening around the country in these creative, evolving dramatic forms of cultural inclusion; I believe we in Seattle are behind in embracing this exciting theatrical movement,” said Thuman in a statement. “These days particularly, everybody needs to be invited to laugh, to love, to celebrate family and to dream of a better world. We also look forward to a long overdue conversation about the importance of people with disabilities in our art, our theatre, our storytelling and every aspect of our modern lives.”

Sound Theatre Company is not alone in their quest to reframe disability on and off stage. On March 1, 2018 Roundabout Theatre opens their production of Amy and the Orphans, a new play by Lindsey Ferrentino, which stars Jamie Brewer, an actress who has Down syndrome. Brewer and her understudy Edward Barbanell are the only known performers with Down syndrome to play the lead in an Off-Broadway or Broadway theater production.

In 2015 Mixed Blood Theatre founded the Disability Visibility Project, and solicited forty theatre professionals to share plays that they feel best speak to disability in two ways: plays with theme or content on disability and/or plays with characters with disabilities.

Other theaters that are inspiring audiences to re-envision disability through professional theatre include theaters like Phamaly Theatre Company,  Deaf West, PhameApothetaeIdentity TheaterWry CripsInterAct Center for the Visual and Performing Arts,  Theatre Breaking Through Barriers,  That Uppity Theatre Company’s Disability Project, and Nicu’s Spoon Theatre Company.

Sound Theatre’s first offering in their new season is “You Can’t Take It With You”, Directed by Teresa Thuman and Assisted by Sadiqua Iman. It runs February 24 – March 11, 2018 at Center Theatre at the Seattle Center Armory. For more information, visit www.soundtheatrecompany.org.

RESOURCES:

National Arts & Disability Center (NADC)  The mission of the NADC is to promote the full inclusion of audiences and artists with disabilities into all facets of the arts community.

Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts is a nonprofit that promotes full diversity in theatre, film, and television. They focus on authentic dialogue about race, culture, and disability that embraces the complexity of underlying social and historical issues. Formerly called the Nontraditional Casting Project, they have a disability advocate on staff.

Disability and Theatre: A Practical Manual for Inclusion in the Arts by Stephanie Barton Farcas.

Disability Aesthetics by Tobin Siebers.


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About the author: Sarah Greenman serves on Statera's executive team as Creative Director. She is also a writer for the WomenArts blog and contributor at Houzz. Sarah is a playwright, actor, artist, and activist. Learn more at www.sarahgreenman.com

On Common Ground: Reclaiming Public Space in the Wake of Terror

This article was originally published by WomanArts.

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By Sarah Greenman

In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Florida many parents are left wondering how to explain and address horrific acts violence to their children. Can theatre help communities reclaim public spaces, museums, movie theaters, concert venues, and schools? Theatre Wallay says yes.

On Common Ground is a devised theatre piece that explores how communities reclaim public places which have been targeted as venues for terror. At a time of heightened political, social, and religious sensitivity and growing intolerance to diversity all over the world, Theatre Wallay is using theatre to address the disappearance of public cultural spaces due to extremism.

 Executive Producer, Kathleen Mulligan (left) and Theatre Wallay Artistic Director, Fizza Hasan (right).

Executive Producer, Kathleen Mulligan (left) and Theatre Wallay Artistic Director, Fizza Hasan (right).

“Economic considerations and shifting priorities are killing off cultural spaces, which are perhaps the best means to combat fear and terror and division," says Theatre Wallay Artistic Director Fizza Hasan. "Public cultural spaces build tolerance and bring people together in a climate of mutual respect and understanding through creative and artistic expression.”

On Common Ground is largely a women-led project. Executive Producer Kathleen Mulligan and Producer Linda Alper, both American Fulbright scholars, created the piece in collaboration with Theatre Wallay, a repertory company helmed by Artistic Director Fizza Hasan. The piece was directed by David Studwell and featured eight Theatre Wallay actors/writers, two Pakistani musicians, a dancer and a stage manager. 

While the piece originated in Pakistan, its first performances took place in the United States. We need look no further than the recent mass shootings in Parkland, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and Newtown to know that this topic resonates with American audiences. "For people all over the world - violence has overtaken our public spaces",  Kathleen Mulligan said in a recent interview with WomenArts. "Parents are afraid to take their kids to a park,  high school students are afraid to go to school in the U.S., and their parents are afraid to send them. What does that say about our world?"

The History of On Common Ground

Initial writing sessions and loose rehearsals began in Islamabad in September of 2016. Then in the summer of 2017, Theatre Wallay traveled to Oregon and performed On Common Ground at Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, Oregon and again on the Green Show stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In the fall of 2017 Theatre Wallay artists traveled back to the US to present a workshop at Ithaca College. The entire project was made possible by a grant from the US Embassy in Islamabad.

 Vocalist: Razia Abrar

Vocalist: Razia Abrar

When asked how the project came into being, Mulligan said, "Fizza and I were meeting via Skype sessions to throw around ideas. And then the attack on the children's amusement park in Lahore happened. And we knew what our subject needed to be."

On Common Ground Returns to Pakistan

On Common Ground has come full circle and has been translated into Urdu for Pakistani audiences. Zard Paton Ka Ban (On Common Ground) is now touring theaters 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 by visiting their FACEBOOK page or WEBSITE.


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About the author: Sarah Greenman serves on Statera's executive team as Creative Director. She is also a writer for the WomenArts blog and contributor at Houzz. Sarah is a playwright, actor, artist, and activist. Learn more at www.sarahgreenman.com

Four American Theaters Name Women to Top Posts

This article was originally published by WomanArts.

  Left to right: Pam MacKinnon, Jennifer Zeyl, Rachel Fink, and Marcela Lorca.

Left to right: Pam MacKinnon, Jennifer Zeyl, Rachel Fink, and Marcela Lorca.

By Sarah Greenman

This winter, four major American theaters filled open Artistic and Executive Director positions with women theatre-makers: Pam MacKinnon at American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco,Jennifer Zeyl at Intiman Theatre in Seattle, Rachel Fink at Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, and Marcela Lorca at Ten Thousand Things Theater Company in Minneapolis.

These appointments feel like a hopeful shift in theatre leadership even though three of the four new hires are replacing current women Artistic Directors.  Although Margo Jones is credited with launching the regional theatre movement when she created Theatre ’47 in Dallas, Texas seventy years ago, and there have been many other visionary women leaders, most of the top-paying jobs in the field have been going to white men.

In fact, Women in Leadership in Resident Theater, a 2016 study commissioned by American Conservatory Theatre, found that women have never held more than 27% of the leadership roles in American non-profit theatres.  During the data collection period for this study in 2013-14, the researchers at Wellesley Centers for Women found that there were only 15 women artistic directors at the 74 LORT regional theatres around the country, and only one of them was a woman of color.  There were 19 women serving as Managing Directors or Executive Directors, and none of them were women of color.

 Founding regional theatre visionaries: (Top) Margo Jones talks with Tennessee Williams during rehearsals for "Summer and Smoke", (bottom left) Zelda Fichandler, founder of Arena Stage in Washington D.C., and (bottom right) Nina Vance, founder of the Alley in Houston, TX. 

Founding regional theatre visionaries: (Top) Margo Jones talks with Tennessee Williams during rehearsals for "Summer and Smoke", (bottom left) Zelda Fichandler, founder of Arena Stage in Washington D.C., and (bottom right) Nina Vance, founder of the Alley in Houston, TX. 

Given this context, it is not surprising that the four women who have managed to beat the odds to get these important positions are all powerhouses.

Pam MacKinnon is a Drama Desk and Tony Award-winning director known in the industry as a leading interpreter of Albee. MacKinnon has been named ACT’s new Artistic Director and succeeds Carey Perloff who helmed the theater for the past 25 years. With a budget of approximately $23.8 million*, ACT is one of the larger regional theaters in the country. MacKinnon currently serves as president of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (a union) and she is also chairwoman of the board for New York’s Clubbed Thumb, where she has been a champion of new plays. MacKinnon’s first day on the job is July 1, 2018.

Designer and producer, Jennifer Zeyl, is the curator and creative director of Genre Bender at City Arts Magazine and also the founding co-artistic director of Washington Ensemble Theatre (WET) in Seattle. Zeyl is Andrew Russell’s successor at Intiman Theatre, which has a budget of roughly $1.1 million. She has already spent two months on the job. In a statement about what to expect under her leadership, Zeyl said, We will hold underrepresented stories to the light while centering new artists, unlikely combinations, and lived true stories, reminding our audience and artists alike that we are what makes America great.”

Rachel Fink, former Executive Director of Theatre Bay Area and Founding Director of Berkeley Repertory School of Theatre, has been named Artistic Director of Lookingglass Theater, which has an annual budget of $5.6 million. An outspoken advocate for gender equity in the theatre, Fink recently served on the steering committee for the Berkshire Leadership Summit.  Fink succeeds Rachel Kraft and will begin work on February 19th.

Born and raised in Chile, Marcela Lorca is a director, choreographer, and master teacher. She became Movement Director for the Guthrie Theater in 1991, and has since coached more than 100 plays. She is also Head of Movement for the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training program. Lorca was named Artistic Director of Ten Thousand Things Theater Company, which has an annual budget of roughly $800,000. “I’ve known and admired Ten Thousand Things’ work for many years,” said Lorca in a statement. “The company’s imaginative staging of epic stories, its respect for actors, and its commitment to women and artists of color have been a source of joy in our community.” Lorca succeeds founding artistic director Michelle Hensley.

There are still more than 20 artistic director vacancies at major theatre companies across the country, along with a handful of executive and managing director positions. In TCG’s recent article, “American Theatre’s Leadership Vacuum: Who Will Fill It?“, Executive Director Teresa Eyringhighlighted the importance of this transitional moment: “There absolutely is an opportunity to build a more inclusive and diverse leadership composition of the American theatre field. And there is absolutely a responsibility to recruit with a special eye toward identifying talent among women, people of color, trans people, and others.”

Despite these new hires, women and people of color still face serious “pipeline issues” as identified by the Women in Leadership in Resident Theater study. Here are some ways to help encourage an equitable shift in leadership:

Apply for the Jobs! If you feel qualified to be the Artistic Director or Managing Director of a regional theatre, please consider applying for some of the available jobs.  If you know other women who might be qualified, encourage them to apply too!  We need to cheer each other on!

Contact Board Members/Hiring Committees – If you know board members at any of the theaters that are hiring or if you are on the board yourself, please advocate for qualified women candidates to help them get the jobs.  Personal recommendations are often very important to hiring committees, and your positive comments about a candidate can make a big difference.

* Annual theatre budgets are from the 2016 fiscal year via Guidestar.


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About the author: Sarah Greenman serves on Statera's executive team as Creative Director. She is also a writer for the WomenArts blog and contributor at Houzz. Sarah is a playwright, actor, artist, and activist. Learn more at www.sarahgreenman.com