So Theresa Rebeck wrote an article for the Guardian’s Theatre Blog that contains some parallels to my recent post about New York Theater. She focuses more on Broadway than I did, but her fundamental point is the same as one of mine: women are grossly underrepresented. She’s reacting to Charles Isherwood’s recent New York Times article declaring this a particularly male-centric Broadway season; he notes that, as a whole, Broadways seems to be “shining a bright spotlight on the male psyche this autumn.” Rebeck rails sharply against this article, saying that Broadway seasons are always male-centric, citing the truly lamentable fact that it is rare to find new plays by women on the big stages.
And she’s right, of course. Women are woefully underrepresented. We even talked about that here in this blog recently.
Of course, people of color are woefully underrepresented as well, which she doesn’t mention. But that’s fine–it falls somewhat outside of the scope of her argument, and I can let slide the fact that she chooses to fight this battle on only one front. In her mind, gender is the big issue here; I can accept that.
I’ll also turn somewhat of a blind eye to the fact that Isherwood’s article isn’t, in fact, about playwrights at all. The oft-maligned critic (and I’m one who oft maligns him) compares this year’s season to last in terms of big, flashy roles; he cites Gypsy and August: Osage County as top shows centered around female protagonists (both of whom happened to be kind of antagonists as well–the similarities between those two characters are kind of interesting to examine, actually), and makes no mention of who wrote what play anywhere throughout the season. I don’t blame Ms. Rebeck for being angered by this failure to address the gender inequality in terms of playwrights; I do think it’s a little misguided to attack this particular article about it. It’s kind of akin to blaming a playwright for not writing the play you wanted her to write. But fair enough–there is a legitimate issue to be discussed here, and I’m glad Ms. Rebeck brings it up.
But then, we get this:
There’s some feeling in rehearsal halls and writers’ retreats and drunken dinner parties, that maybe the American theatre participates rather too enthusiastically in the supposed gender bias that the American media tosses about willy-nilly while discussing candidates for higher office. Mostly it is women playwrights who feel that way; male playwrights think the system is really, really fair and that women playwrights who raise these questions are whiners or dirty feminists.
And of course, this is the kind of paragraph that, for me, deeply weakens her overall argument. I spend a fair amount of time in rehearsal halls and writers’ retreats (and some would argue a lot more time at drunken dinner parties and their equivalents), and I’ve yet to meet a single playwright–male or female, gay or straight, black or white or Latino or Asian–who thinks “the system is really, really fair.” I take that back–maybe Tom Stoppard, when he and I were attempting to get into a locked tunnel in London (NAME DROP~!), maybe he wasn’t concerned about the fairness of the system. But most writers I know have struggled, and continue to struggle, often unfairly, with an overall system that tends to favor the same group (or if not the same group, the same kind) of writers both on Broadway and off.
Even further than that, and if you know me at all you know what I’m going to say next, I am deeply offended by and resentful towards this implication that “male playwrights” are uniformly unconcerned about the state of women in the arts. There are, of course, some of us, many of us in fact, who openly and passionately campaign for more Eisa Davis, more Quiara Hudes, more Andrea Thome, more C. Denby Swanson, more Janet Allard, more Lynn Nottage, more Sarah Ruhl, more Julia Jordan (I can on like this for a long, long time), even at the expense of our own spots in the season. And make no mistake about it–if I’m calling for a theater to do an Eisa Davis play, I’m calling, in reality, for them NOT to do my play, because, and here’s the other side of what angers me about all this, women are not the only group being shuttled in slots and suffering from underrepresentation.
AND IN FACT…if you look at the numbers I posted here a few days ago, women come out looking like champs in the Off-Broadway season as compared to men of color, who have ONE representative among the listed theaters. Now, I’m not trying to get into a “we suffer more” discussion here. We both suffer. We’re all underrepresented. 9 women out of 50 playwrights produced = unacceptable. Zero Latino/a or Asian playwrights out of 50 playwrights produced = unacceptable. This is New York City. This is unacceptable.
But here’s the thing: it’s not this monolithic group of “male playwrights” who are making things break down this way. Where is the venom for producers? Where is the questioning of artistic directors, literary managers, board members–the people who make the decisions about what gets produced?
We’re all in the struggle. Just make sure you know who/what you’re struggling against.