Statera VOICES | Melinda Vaughn

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

3. What we are doing is important. There.

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

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

Yours, in Statera (Balance)

Melinda

Co-Founder & Executive Director

 

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

 

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