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. 


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.



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


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. 


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.


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!”


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. 





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.


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.


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.


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

Statera to Partner with WomenArts for SWAN Day

February is all about LOVE and PARTNERSHIP. That's why we are so excited to announce that Statera Foundation is joining forces with WomenArts to organize the 11th Annual SWAN Day (Support Women Artists Now Day)! 

SWAN Day is an international holiday designed to showcase the power and diversity of women's creativity. Its also a great fit for the Statera mission. Combining our organizational strength expands our reach and exemplifies the collaborative and grassroots nature of SWAN Day. 

  Left to right: Shelly Gaza, Martha Richards, Melinda Pfundstein Vaughn, and Sarah Greenman at Statera Foundation’s 2016 National Conference in Denver, CO. (Photo: Malloree Hill)

Left to right: Shelly Gaza, Martha Richards, Melinda Pfundstein Vaughn, and Sarah Greenman at Statera Foundation’s 2016 National Conference in Denver, CO. (Photo: Malloree Hill)

Join us! The official date for the Eleventh International SWAN Day is Saturday, March 31, 2018, but since many people will be observing religious holidays that weekend, please feel free to host events any time during March or April. The spirit of SWAN events is far more important than the exact dates. Artists can also enter the SWAN Day Song Contest and the SWAN Day Photo Contest for cash prizes.

There have been over 1,700 SWAN Day events in 36 countries in the first ten years of this new holiday. To get a sample of the range of the events, please visit the List of SWAN Day 2017 Events or browse through the descriptions of SWAN events in the WomenArts Blog. Artists and arts organizations are welcome to post their women-led events on the SWAN Calendar throughout the year.

For more information about participating in SWAN Day, please visit www.womenarts.org

Giving to STATERA feels so GOOD!

Please consider a gift to Statera Foundation this holiday season and support our work for equity and intersectional gender balance in the American theatre. Take a look at the video below and thank you for partnering with us!

Hello Friends,

This fall I visited a former student who had recently moved to New York to pursue her dream of being an actor. A year ago, she was matched with her Statera Mentor, and because of this match had a job secured by the end of her first day in the city, that connects her to industry leaders and allows her the flexibility and stability to set roots and pursue what she is there to do. 

Thank you for making stories like this possible! Your generosity allows us to fulfill our mission of bridging the gap between passion, preparation, and opportunity for theatre artists who identify as female. This is why we set an end-of-year goal to raise $10,000. 

Your support allows us to continue current programs like the next Statera National Conference in Milwaukee, WI, October of 2018; to grow the Statera Professional Mentorship program, currently in its second class in Chicago, IL, and ready for its national re-launch next year. Your donations also allow us to look forward to the 2018 launch of Statera Membership, and to engaging with theatre leaders, who are ready to make change toward intersectional gender equity in their own organizations. 

Please help us meet our goal by clicking this link to make your tax deductible donation. Every dollar counts, and your support designates you as an advocate for gender parity in the theatre. 

Yours in Statera (balance), 

Melinda Pfundstein Vaughn
Executive Director
Statera Foundation



#GivingTuesday kicks off the holiday charitable giving season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. Please consider a gift to Statera Foundation today.

Statera Foundation is an all volunteer non-profit organization and we rely on your contributions. Join us in our work for intersectional gender equity in the theatre and beyond!  Click here to donate or use the button below. THANK YOU!!! 

Statera Welcomes Marti Gobel to the Advisory Board

Statera Foundation announced today that Marti Gobel will join the Statera Team as a member of the Advisory Board. Marti is an actor, director, and teaching artist. Originally from San Diego, CA, Marti now resides in Milwaukee, WI. She currently serves as Educational Coordinator for Renaissance Theatreworks, Milwaukee’s only women-founded, women-run professional theater company dedicated to improving gender parity. 

Marti Gobel, Headshot #2 (2013).jpg

Ms. Gobel earned her BA in Performance Theatre (Philosophy, minor) from UW Whitewater and completed an Acting Internship at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre (2008-2009). Marti has served as a lead teacher at FirstStage Theatre Academy in Milwaukee as well as a lead teacher and program designer for UPROOTED Theatre's education department. A JF Kennedy Center trained teaching artist, Marti also serves as adjunct professor at Marquette University. Marti actively engages in public speaking opportunities and advocacy campaigns to encourage diversity in the arts. 

To learn more about Statera's Executive Team, Advisory Board, and Program Directors, please visit: www.staterafoundation.org/team.

 Nick Narcisi and Marti Gobel perform in Renaissance Theaterworks recent production of "Sex With Strangers." (Photo: Ross E. Zentner)

Nick Narcisi and Marti Gobel perform in Renaissance Theaterworks recent production of "Sex With Strangers." (Photo: Ross E. Zentner)

 Marti Gobel in Next Act Theatre's “No Child.” (Photo by Timothy Moder)

Marti Gobel in Next Act Theatre's “No Child.” (Photo by Timothy Moder)

 Marti Gobel and James T. Alfred (foreground) and Greta Wohlrabe and Gerard Neugent (background) in Milwaukee Rep's "Clybourne Park".

Marti Gobel and James T. Alfred (foreground) and Greta Wohlrabe and Gerard Neugent (background) in Milwaukee Rep's "Clybourne Park".

 Marti Gobel in "Twilight: Los Angeles" at Next Act Theatre. (Photo by Ross Zentner)

Marti Gobel in "Twilight: Los Angeles" at Next Act Theatre. (Photo by Ross Zentner)

Intimacy Directors International Offers Dec. 10th Workshop in Oklahoma City


Intimacy Directors International (IDI) is a non profit dedicated to safe, authentic, and dynamic scenes of intimacy on stage and screen. Their work has been steadily growing since its inception - being featured in The NY Times (among others) with work intimacy directing at the Stratford Festival, Yale School of Drama, and a number of other Universities and Theaters across the country and in Canada.

IDI's next 2-part workshop for directors and choreographers interested in Intimacy Director training will be in Oklahoma City. This workshop is offered in conjunction with Oklahoma City's Fresh Paint Performance Lab.

From IDI's event page on Facebook:

Intimacy for the Stage for Actors and Performers

December 10th: 11:00 am to 2:00 pm

$100 or $75 for IDI Members

We will examine IDI's Four Pillars of Intimacy Standards and Protocol by applying them to safe and repeatable exercises. Only guided exploration, no improvised intimacy. Kissing isn't required. As a performer, you will be provided with tools to find chemistry quickly and safely onstage, secrets to portraying sexual vulnerability without mingling actual romantic feelings with a partner, and tricks uses to make the choreography feel and look less rigid. (Directors can choose to observe this workshop for free if they are attending the second workshop)

Intimacy for Directors and Choreographers: The Pedagogy behind the process

3:00 to 6:00 on December 10th

$125 or $100 for IDI Members

We will be using information and experiences from the previous actor workshop as pedagogy tools to improve and explain techniques, and I will be sharing IDI's protocol and standards so that participants can bring the information back to their respective companies. This approach is meant to provide a standardized method to prevent trauma and harm during rehearsal and performance processes. Although the title refers to Choreographers and Directors, all areas of theatre focus are welcome, especially Stage Managers.

Light snacks and drinks will be offered, due to the short dinner break between classes. To reserve a spot, and for more information: email Tonia Sina at IntimacyfortheStage@gmail.com.


On Common Ground | Ithaca, NY

StateraCon presenter Kathleen Mulligan continues her fantastic work with Theatre Wallay this month. “On Common Ground” is an ongoing project, funded by a grant from the U.S. Embassy, Islamabad, that explores the effects of violence on public space.

Since October 2016, U.S. and Pakistani artists have worked together to create an original theatre piece based on Pakistani artists’ experiences and perceptions of public space. Interested in seeing a staged reading of the new material? Please join Kathleen at The Cherry Arts Space in Ithaca, NY on Monday, November 13 at 7pm. Suggested donation $5.00. All donations benefit The Cherry Arts Space. Reception with artists to follow. For more information, please visit the Theatre Wallay presents On Common Ground Facebook Page.


Statera Announces Suzan Fete as 2018 StateraCon Chair


Statera's National Conference in Milwaukee, WI is less than a year away! And we are thrilled to announce Suzan Fete as our 2018 Conference Chair. 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. Suzan also has 30 years of experience as an actor, director, and producer in professional theater. You can read her full bio HERE. Statera Foundation and Renaissance Theatreworks look forward to an exciting partnership in the coming year!


Conference Chair  |  Suzan Fete
Assistant Chair  |   Lisa Rasmussen
Co-Coordinator  |  Melinda Vaughn
Co-Coordinator  |  Shelly Gaza
Co-Coordinator  |  Sarah Greenman

Gender Parity and the Classical Canon


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

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

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

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

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

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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

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

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

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

- Lisa Wolpe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Dawn Monique Williams

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

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

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

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

 Pictured: Jack Greenman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Pictured: Jack Greenman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Pictured: Sam White. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Pictured: Sam White. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

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

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

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

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

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

 Pictured: Frank Honts. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Pictured: Frank Honts. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

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

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

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

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

 Pictured: Geoffrey Kent. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

Pictured: Geoffrey Kent. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill. 

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

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

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

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

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

- Geoffrey Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Pictured: Teresa Thuman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill.

Pictured: Teresa Thuman. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Pictured: Conference participants. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill.

Pictured: Conference participants. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is Precisely the Time When Artists Go to Work


by Sam White

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

 I have been feeling extremely lethargic lately.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Money is a good soldier” ~Shakespeare

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

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

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

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

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

“Strong reasons make strong actions” ~ Shakespeare

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

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

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

I’ll use myself as the example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As one of my other favorite writers wrote:

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

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

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