Go Deeper

Other Blogs: Theater and The Woman Question

Posted April 24th, 2013

Remember all that hubbub about the lack of women playwrights being  produced in professional theaters in our fair United States? Numbers from recent years that you thought might have in fact been numbers from a century ago? And then the startling, but perhaps red herring, revelation that women artistic directors/producers favored male playwrights, and their male equivalents were more equal in their selection. This was then followed by a lot of pop gender psychological discussion. And then people went back to doing what they always do.

But not entirely, and in this interview on HowlRound with Carey Perloff, the artistic director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, begins to tease out some of the more systemic problems of the theater as a profession, and how they affect women to a greater degree than men (for whom the profession also sucks, just it sucks that much more for women). This has to do with not the attraction of being in the theater, nor lacking of wanting to be in the field, but the impracticalities and unstable nature of theater as a career. For anyone with a family, or a home, or who no longer want to live like a vagabond, these impracticalities are brazenly clear–for those without, you just don’t know.

Carey explain, “I wanted to be a director and a writer. I never intended to run a theater. I did it because it was the only way I was going to have a family. You’re very lucky if you’re in an institution as a director because you don’t have to be on the road all the time. Being on the road with children is impossible.”

I think it’s important not too look at this not only as a gender issue. It is recognizing that if half your creative population has a mystifying lack of representation  in a particular institution, then there are problems with that institution as a whole that need to be addressed. It is not a women problem, or a male problem, it is a problem with theater as an industry period. And theater is not a particularly healthy industry nor does it sustain a healthy economy for its practitioners. Addressing the difficulties and barriers that are felt more acutely by a higher percentage of women than men, and finding ways to mitigate those difficulties will lead to thinking about new models and new opportunities for performing arts, ones that careers can be made from.

That said, it is important to examine all the issues that become most visible through gender realities, for which women in theater still disproportionally get the short end of a short stick. “The other thing that’s really interesting to me is that something like sixty percent of theater tickets in this country are purchased by women between ages forty-five and seventy. But you tell me how many older women there are in this profession,” Carey notes. “When Irene Lewis got fired at Baltimore Center Stage—Irene, one of our most important theater artists in this country, one of the best artistic directors I know, a real mentor to me, a terrific artist, a compassionate human being, just positive in every way—when she got fired, I think I was the only person who called up and said, ‘Would you like a job? Do you want to come and direct?’ That was unbelievable to me. Maybe this is this country’s obsession with emerging artists, but we certainly throw away older artists in this field, and we particularly throw away women over forty-five.”


–Said Johnson