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:

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


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 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

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 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

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

Samantha White (1).jpg

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

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

Statera VOICES | Erika Haaland & Minita Gandhi


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

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

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

Minita Gandhi (left) and Erika Haaland (right)

Minita Gandhi (left) and Erika Haaland (right)


STATERA: Tell us about your work in the theatre.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


STATERA: What is your own most memorable mentorship experience?

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

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

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

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

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


STATERA: Tell us about your engagement with Statera Foundation.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


STATERA: What were your initial findings?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

On Common Ground

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

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

Kathleen Mulligan (left) and Fizza Hasan (right)

Kathleen Mulligan (left) and Fizza Hasan (right)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary McColl to Speak at #StateraCon16

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

About Mary McColl

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

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

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

Stretch Goal Announcement | $12,000

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

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

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

Final 3 Days of Kickstarter

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

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

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

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

The True Meaning of #iamstatera

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

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

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

Statera to Raise $10,000 on Kickstarter

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

Chris Crass | Featured Speaker at StateraCon16

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

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

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

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

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

Hey You! You're a Mentor!

By Jennifer Tuttle

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

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

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

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

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

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



Statera National Conference | October 14-16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Statera Mentorship Program Announcement

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

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

Jennifer Tuttle - Photo by Ryan Kipp

Jennifer Tuttle - Photo by Ryan Kipp

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

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

Statera VOICES | Rehana Lew Mirza

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

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

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

      Photo by Christine Chambers

      Photo by Christine Chambers


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

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

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

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

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