I am Woman but I am not Roaring…

o-gender-equality-sign-facebookI had the privilege to moderate a panel on gender parity  at Salon Creative Lounge (presented by International Women Artists’ Salon). Nine women from different disciplines shared the statistics of women who work in their field; how women continue to experience discrimination in the workplace; and how some of our male counterparts are unaware of this. This isn’t a new struggle but it is a conversation that needs to continue.

I believe in a sisterhood. I believe we should always raise each other up as others are so willing to tear us down. I believe in change.

Thank you Amber Sloan (dance), Vanessa Morrison (film), Felicia Lin (publishing), Lea Anderson (music),  Liza Boulus (theater), Naomi McDougall Jones (film), Regine L. Sawyer (comic book), Shellen Lubin (theater; contributor to below article), Vera Tse (design). And kudos to Jenny Green (theatre) and Heidi Russell (visual artist/founder of IWAS) for creating the space for this conversation.

As I was preparing for the panel (and my discipline), I am across this great article by Martha Richards for American Theatre Magazine.  Here’s how we can be a part of the solution.


(reposted from American Theatre Magazine, June 9, 2015)

7 Steps for Achieving Gender Parity in the Theatre 

BY

 

At an April conference in Toronto, we came up with a plan for change that can take root and grow into a more equitable future for female theatre artists.

 

Over the past six years there have been eight substantial studies on the status of women in theatre in the U.S. and elsewhere.1 The methodologies have varied, but whether the studies were done in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Princeton, Boston, Washington, D.C., or Toronto, they revealed alarming consistencies. They have found that women are underrepresented in most job categories; that women are clustered in the lower-paying jobs; and that employment growth for women in theatre has been stagnant over time in most cities. The most recent Canadian study found that there has been minimal improvement in the status of women in Canadian theatre over the past 30 years, and that similar patterns of discrimination have been documented in Great Britain, Australia and the U.S.

We have proven that gender discrimination is a persistent problem in theatre; now we need to figure out how to fix it. As we look at the field, we can see that women all over the world are trying to address this issue with various strategies. What would happen if we could find a way to coordinate these efforts and maximize their impact? Could we reach a tipping point where the barriers for women theatre artists would finally come crashing down?

To address these questions, WomenArts joined forces with New York’s Women in the Arts & Media Coalition and Equity in Theatre (a coalition of nine Canadian organizations) to convene our first international summit on gender parity in theatre. We gathered 21 gender parity activists2 in Toronto on April 28, 2015 to review the current research, share strategies and discuss ways to transform the existing efforts into a paradigm-shifting international movement.

Our meeting included the authors of gender parity studies from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Canada, as well as representatives from other organizations that have been leading advocates for women in theatre for decades, such as the League of Professional Theatre Women, theInternational Centre for Women Playwrights and Teatro Luna. Though many of us had been following each other’s work online for years, most of us had never met face-to-face before, and it was exhilarating to be in a room together.

As we shared information about the most effective projects we had seen, we compiled the following list of strategies that seem especially promising. Throughout the day, we asked ourselves: If we had $5 million to advance gender parity, what would we spend it on? As you look at our list, we encourage you to ask yourself this question, too—even if you don’t have that kind of money. If we can articulate the kinds of staff and projects that we need, we can start looking for ways to fund them.

      1. Build alliances with other social justice groups. The biggest challenge we face is that sexism in theatre is closely linked to sexism, racism, classism and other forms of discrimination that underpin our current socioeconomic system. The arts help us think about our social and political lives in new ways, but corporate America would rather have us focused on shopping. It is no accident that the top-selling film for 2015 is Furious 7 (ticket sales of $1.4 billion worldwide in its first 12 days), a big-budget action film with so much product placement that it often feels like a two-and-a-half-hour commercial.

        This undercurrent of consumerism pulls at us constantly. If you stand in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square, you might be able to buy tickets to Broadway shows written or directed by women—but you will be surrounded by giant billboards displaying women’s bodies to sell products. For every new play with fresh perspectives on women, there are hundreds of advertisements and product placements that reinforce discriminatory attitudes about gender, race and class.

        As gender parity advocates, we need to find ways to counteract this consumerism, and we need to join forces with women’s organizations, anti-racism groups and others who are addressing discrimination in other contexts. This is especially important, since so many women experience multiple forms of discrimination.

        2. Work with women in other art forms. Women in other art forms are experiencing similar gender discrimination issues and are organizing their own studies and initiatives. We can show our solidarity and increase our visibility by participating in cross-disciplinary initiatives likeSupport Women Artists Now Day, an annual international celebration of women’s creativity in all art forms.

        We can also adapt innovative strategies being used in other art forms, such as these three recent film initiatives: Gamechanger Films is the first equity fund that focuses exclusively on financing narrative feature films directed by women; the ACLU has just demanded that federal and state agencies investigate discrimination against women film directors in Hollywood; and the Geena Davis Institute on Media partnered with UN Women and the Rockefeller Foundation to do the first-ever global study of gender stereotyping in the international film industry.

        3. Teach plays by women. More students need to be exposed to female playwrights in school. We feel this is one of the most important areas to address, since so many attitudes about women and girls are shaped in schools. If future artistic directors and other theatrical decision-makers have never been exposed to female playwrights in school, they are much less likely to select them for productions.

        To ensure that women are included in the curriculum from elementary school through graduate school, we want to mobilize committees of educators at every grade level to develop course materials that include female playwrights and persuade their male and female colleagues that it is important to teach more plays by women.

        One sample program that has been designed to increase the teaching of historical women playwrights is History Matters/Back to the Future, in which high school teachers and college professors across the country are being invited to include the work of an historic female playwright in one class per semester. Teachers are given a 50-minute lesson plan and other teaching materials, and their students are eligible to compete for the annual $2,500Judith Barlow Prize for the best one-act play written in the style of an historic female playwright. The teacher of the winning student receives a prize of $500. About 50 professors have joined the program so far.

        Also, the National Theatre Conference, an alliance of leaders in commercial, non-commercial, and educational theatre, has created the Women Playwrights Initiative, which asks member theatres and educational theatre programs to dedicate one full production slot (not just a reading or a workshop) each year for three years to a contemporary female American playwright. Members are encouraged to select plays that have not been produced on Broadway recently, and to invite the playwright for a residency during the production of her play.

        4. Encourage production of plays by female playwrights. Some artistic directors claim that they would produce more plays by women but they just can’t find enough good ones. The Kilroys is a group of female artists in Los Angeles who consulted with artistic directors, literary managers, dramaturgs and others to compile a list of excellent contemporary plays by women that has been widely publicized and distributed. As a direct result of our meeting in Toronto, women in Canada are now working on a “Kilroys list” of Canadian female playwrights.

        Another initiative that could be replicated is the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, which will take place in Washington, D.C., in fall 2015. More than 50 professional theatres in and around Washington, D.C., will present world-premiere productions of a work by one or more female playwrights. This festival will be the largest collaboration of theatre companies working simultaneously to produce original works by female writers in history.

        The International Centre for Women Playwrights encourages productions of plays by women through their 50/50 Applause Awards, which recognize theatre companies that produce seasons where 50 percent or more of the productions and performances are of plays by women. The program started in 2012, and they have given out more than 100 awards so far. The honored companies receive an award logo to use in their publicity, and they are invited to participate in a celebratory video.

        Since female playwrights tend to create more female characters, and women are often selected to direct their plays, producing plays by women often results in increased employment for other women in the field.

        5. Meet individually with artistic directors. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Shotgun Players’ 2015 season features six mainstage plays and six staged readings by female playwrights, and they have made a commitment to strive for gender parity in future seasons. Magic Theatre in San Francisco has also just announced that their 2015–16 season will include six productions by female playwrights.

        It seems that one-on-one discussions with the artistic directors and peer pressure can have a powerful impact on a theatre’s commitment to gender parity. In the case of Shotgun Players, the male artistic director revealed in a recent panel discussion that he had not been thinking about the depth of the gender disparity problem in theatre until female company members spoke up and asked for gender to be a consideration in season planning.

        6. Work with the unions. Since unions have the power to defend their members from unfair labor practices, we need to find more ways to work with our unions to advance gender parity in theatre. We need to work with them to develop equal opportunity standards for theatres that would ensure fair hiring practices for women as well as equal pay for equal work. We also need to have deeper discussions with unions about the best ways to represent their members in a field that is so severely under-funded. We want theatre managers to treat women fairly, but we also recognize that arts funding has been steadily decreasing over the past 30 years, and that few people are making a living from their work onstage.The 2013-14 Actors Equity Theatrical Season Report indicated that only 41.3 percent of their members worked at all in 2013–14, and that the median income per working member was $7,483 for 16.7 weeks of work.  Only 9 percent of those working members (i.e., fewer than 1,600 people nationwide) made $50,000 or more from their Actors Equity employment.

        If we achieved gender parity on those totals, it would mean that only 800 women nationwide would make $50,000 or more from their Equity work. That’s just not enough! Our fair labor strategy needs to include advocacy for much more funding for the arts, and the unions could be powerful allies in this work.

        7. Legislative approaches. In the upcoming elections, we need to make sure we educate all the candidates about the need to increase arts funding at the federal and state levels. We also need to investigate whether women artists are getting their fair share of federal and state arts funding and file petitions as needed.

We offer the list above as a starting point for discussion. We plan to organize follow-up meetings over the coming year to get more people involved, and we want to form committees to work on various strategies. WomenArts has also compiled a list of ways that different kinds of theatre artists can advance gender parity on our Choices You Can Make page.

If you have comments or suggestions, or if you would like to volunteer to organize a gender parity discussion in your community or serve on a committee, please write to WomenArts. We look forward to working with you to build a world where every woman will be able to express the full range of her creativity.

SPECIAL THANKS:  Special thanks to Shellen Lubin, co-president of Women in the Arts and Media Coalition, Rebecca Burton and Laine Zisman Newman, co-chairs of the Equity in Theatre Initiative and Christine Young, WomenArts board member, for their help in organizing the Toronto gender parity summit.

FOOTNOTES
1- Links to the Recent Gender Parity Studies:
  Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative looked at 4,800 plays from 2002 to 2010 in Los Angeles; Chicago Storefront Summit looked a 1113 plays produced in Chicago in 2009; Emily Glass Sands, a Princeton student examined the status of women playwrights nationwide in 2009; the League of Professional Theatre Women studied 355 Off-Broadway productions between 2010 and 2014; The Counting Actors Project & WomenArtsexamined 500 productions in the San Francisco Bay Area from 2011 to 2014; Gwydion Suilebhanhas published three annual reports on playwright and director demographics in Washington, D.C., with assistance from David Mitchell Robinson and Patricia Connelly; Equity in Theatre has just released a study of women in Canadian theatre; and the StageSource Gender Parity Task Force is about to release an analysis of productions in the Greater Boston area.

2 – List of People Who Attended the Summit

Boston: Julie Hennrikus, executive director, StageSource
Chicago:  Alexandra Meda, executive director, and Abigail Vega, managing director, of Teatro Luna
New York: Shellen Lubin, co-president Women in the Arts & Media Coalition and co-secretary,League of Professional Theatre Women; Maria Nieto, Women in the Arts & Media Coalition board member representing Writers Guild of America; Lesleh Donaldson, actor; Sophia Romma, co-chair of International Committee of the League of Professional Theatre Women and vice president ofInternational Centre for Women Playwrights; Patrick J. O’Neill, founder, O’Neill Foundation; Peggy Chane, producer and member of International Committee of the League of Professional Theatre Women; Yvette Heyliger, actor and playwright, Dramatists Guild Women’s Initiative &Obama for America organizing fellow.
Los Angeles: Jennie Webb, playwright and cofounder, Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative; Alice Tuan, playwright and teacher
San Francisco: Martha Richards, executive director, WomenArts; Christine Young, theatre professor, University of San Francisco, founder, Works by Women San Francisco and board member of WomenArts; Valerie Weak, actor, teacher and founder, Counting Actors Project, and cofounder, Works by Women San Francisco Meet-up Group.  Richards, Young, and Weak are all members of the Gender Parity Committee of Theatre Bay Area.
Toronto: Rebecca Burton, co-chair, Equity in Theatre and membership and contracts manager,  Playwrights Guild of Canada; Laine Zisman Newman, co-chair, Equity in Theatre and dramaturgical associate, Pat the Dog Theatre Creation;  Jennie Egerdie, Metcalf intern, Equity in Theatre;  Michelle MacArthur, PhD, instructor, University of Toronto, and author of Achieving Equity in Canadian Theatre; Cole Alvis, executive director of the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance and artistic producer of lemonTree creations; Sheila Sky, executive director, Associated Designers of Canada.

Martha Richards is the executive director of WomenArts

First Fridays with Valerie G. Keane: Why Won’t Anyone Come to My Show?!

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Ron Swanson knows what’s up.

How many times have I heard the lament, “Why can’t I get anyone to come to my show?”

I am going to give you the answer.  Are you ready?  Here it is: because it is hard to get people to come to your show.

Really, really hard.

For those of you who are reading this and already disagreeing with me, good for you.  You have been doing something right and have gained momentum and reputation and it is you who should be writing this article, not me.  But here I am at my keyboard and I am far from perfect and I am writing this as much for myself as for the person who also finds it enormously hard to get people to attend their artistic ventures.

The first thing we can do is stop taking it personally.

On one level, it’s a numbers game.  It’s the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule, as it’s more commonly known.  80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  In business, and your art is a business on some level, 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.  In life, I often find that 20% of the people in the world are awesome and 80% of the people in the world are not so awesome.  Not evil or malicious, just not as awesome.

Of the 20% that are awesome, not every person in that 20% can come to my events 100% of the time.  They have conflicts because they are out in the world, just like me, creating great things that bring joy and happiness to others.  They can’t afford to come to every show because, most likely, they have not sold their soul to corporate America and have made sacrifices to be able to create their art and live an existence where they can peacefully rest their head on their pillow at night.  Or, they just don’t have the cash for another show because this economy still sucks and, to quote Sweeney Todd, “times is hard.”  They may also not be able to come because they just need a night off to themselves to do grownup things like clean their house or spend time with their family or – and I know this is a radical thought – just really need a night to do nothing and recharge so they can keep being awesome.  I don’t take any of these reasons personally as to why someone cannot come to my show. None of these reasons are about ME.  And who am I to say that my show is more important than someone else’s art, someone else’s money, or someone taking care of “first things, first”?

Here is another reason why people might not show up for you all the time.  Hang on to your hat.  (I love a good hat so please hang on to it.)  You are not the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Please, yes, have a positive attitude about what you create and love it and cherish it and be outrageously proud of your work.  But, oh my goodness me, please don’t have any delusions about your work.  Being angry because you are “so brilliant and amazing” and why didn’t this one or that one come to see you just makes no sense.  Oh, the rants I’ve seen on social media.  Stunning.  The in-fighting, especially in theater groups, that I have seen over who got what role and who didn’t, and wanted to shout, “Please get some perspective!  You are in a church basement.”  Don’t even get me started on “reviews” in the local paper that have sent people into hysterical, weeping fits.  Listen, as a writer, I have a small body of work consisting of some mediocre poems.  As a performer, I have a modicum of raw talent that I have never honed or invested time in studying the craft of.  It’s an honor that anyone lets me perform or read in public at all.  We live in New York City where we can go see a Broadway show or hear a Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet read any time we want.  The fact that anyone shows up to anything I do, in the theater or the literary world, is a blessing and a miracle.

Art affects the world.  No doubt.  What you do will affect people in the world.  That is a gift.  But if you are creating art for anyone else but you (and possibly an entity larger than yourself), you’re going to endure a lot of suffering.  The people that show up for you are the right people.  No more, no less.  Everyone at your event is exactly the person who was meant to be there.  Treat them that way and don’t insult them by mourning the people who didn’t come like they did.

I recently read my work at a large festival.  I was slated to be the first reader of the day on a Sunday morning.  When it was time for me to begin, there were zero people in the audience.  (Is this a mystery?  It was a lazy Sunday morning and they had to take a ferry – a whole ferry – to get there.)  The festival was a big deal to me, personally, as it was a very meaningful marker on my journey.  I had been asked to lend my voice to in this amazing celebration of poets across five boroughs when, just one year previous, and just trust me on this, that is not anything even close to something that would have happened in my life.  So, here I was on Sunday morning.  Zero people.  (Ok, there were five people who were there waiting to see the next readers.  I think two of the five people actually were the next readers.)  I didn’t care.  I didn’t even realize that I didn’t care until the end of the day on my way home.  It wasn’t a thought.  I got on that stage and I stood there and I spoke my words and I took in that big, brilliant, unwitnessed moment.  It was very Zen.  And it was so delicious.  And I’m not telling you this to prove to you how evolved I am (oh my, no – I am quite flawed and imperfect) but I am saying it to suggest a possible way of experiencing your own art, without suffering.  Without the ego’s dependence on anyone outside of yourself.  I am telling you, much like a new and fabulous hat, it feels great.  It is infinitely more meaningful and rewarding than any sold-out house, standing ovation, mega-kudos I’ve ever received.  Life is often counterintuitive, isn’t it.

Next month, I’m going to talk specifically about things that do and do not work in terms of getting people to show up and see your work.  I’m not contradicting myself here, even though I just expounded on the merits of doing it for no one.  I did say, oh yes I did, that your art, on one level, is a business and you do often need people in seats in order to keep producing more work and doing what you love.  But before we talk about what works with other people, I wanted to talk about what works with YOU.  You first.  Don’t take it personally.  Have perspective.  Have humility.  Humility is not self-deprecating.  Humility is doing what you do for a purpose larger than yourself with no expectation of what the outcome will be.

And one more thing.

Above all, just be a nice human being.  I remember a Seamus Heaney tribute I went to (one of many) that was sold out with a few hundred people in the audience.  I was so taken by this.  Admittedly, I have not read as much of Seamus Heaney’s work as most poets have.  I have great admiration for his poetry and it is beautiful and carefully crafted and he was, undoubtedly, one of the greats.  But so are many other poets and I couldn’t imagine a major venue being sold out while they were still alive, let alone after their death.  I felt I was missing something in terms of truly understanding what all those people were doing there and, not only there, but at multiple other sold-out tributes to Mr. Heaney.  After the performance, I asked the people who attended with me, “Why do you think Seamus Heaney is such a popular poet?”  And they answered, “Well, his poetry, of course.  But probably, mostly, because he was so warm and genuinely nice and he made anyone around him feel wonderful.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the biggest reason that people will come, not only to your show, but will gather by the hundreds in your honor long after you are gone.

It’s not your fancy marketing plan; it’s how you have put your arms around people and taken a moment to celebrate their intrinsic worth.

173 (1)Valerie G. Keane is very honored to be part of the current Queens literary scene.  Her next appearance will be as a featured poet in Mike Geffner’s Inspired Word All-Stars on Thursday, August 14th at Coffeed in Long Island City.  (Tickets and info: http://tinyurl.com/pclsx9b)  Valerie’s work was recently published in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of the Newtown Literary Journal and she is the founder of Poetry & Coffee, a very juicy discussion group in Queens for writers and readers, where people are waking up to great poetry and to life. (You can find Poetry & Coffee on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Poetry-Coffee/1474070439496056) When asked if she is a poet, Valerie says, “I still don’t know how you qualify as one and no one seems to know where the application form is.”

 

Rant III: There’s No Need for Condescension

I wrote the rant, thought I saved it but alas, I did not.

The gist of the post was that it is so unnecessary to be condescending. The tone of your voice doesn’t sound nice. You come off very arrogant. You sound mean and a bit elitist.  I have been the recipient of this over the last month. Though your truly has been guilty of this in the past, I have really tried to make a concerted effort to restrain from saying what doesn’t need to be said or what shouldn’t be said. I also know myself very well, so if I have been condescending, I probably said I was being condescending. Anyhow, the worst part of condescension is the holier than thou attitude and lack of compassion.

So, instead of responding with patronization, I take a moment and think about another way of responding that isn’t biting or dehumanizing. I take the assertive approach rather than the aggressive. There’s a time and place for everything. I just pause and play out the situation.

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Check out my other project with the EstroGenius Festival. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays of October,  the staff of the festival answer the Estro 5. I am really proud of how this came together!

Rant II: What Do You Mean By What Am I?

I have been asked for as long as I can remember, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” So for my whole life I have had to take a moment to decipher the question or just answer the question. When asked what am I, I usually push the person to be clear. When asked where I’m from the answer is very automatic. I am from New York. Oh, but that’s not usually a good enough answer for the interviewer. “Oh, no, no! WHERE are you from?” Hmm. New York? That’s where I was born and raised. That’s what I identify myself  first. That’s so part of my DNA. I also follow it up with what they really want to know. What people are really asking me is, “What is your ethnicity?”

My answer is “Well, I’m Indian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.” That doesn’t satisfy them. So I tell them that my family is from Trinidad (where I’ll be in a week! Woot!). Well, why did I even say that! Because I have always always gotten this response, as recent as Friday…”But you don’t look Trinidadian!”

Oh my goodness. What does that even mean? What is it you want to know? Do I have to give you a lesson on the colonization and enslavement of the people of the Caribbean? Okay well, I’m not going to. Wiki Trinidad and Tobago and you’ll get a lesson or read The History of Trinidad and Tobago by Eric Williams.

I just find it irritating that I am questioned about my true self. Someone said to me the other day that I am passing as a Trini. Passing? Really. I am proud New Yorker who is fortunate to grow up in a city with diversity. I am also proud Trini who can tell you the history of the twin islands and promote its tourism (really, you should visit because it’s not as expensive as the other islands). I am also a proud descendant of the many cultures who make me who I am. I embrace my Catholic and Hindu upbringing. I enjoy Indian dancing and soca and merengue (and hip-hop and headbanging). I love that I can appreciate roti and curry chicken, arroz con gandules, and macaroni pie on one plate. I have a shalwar and those who know me know I love a scarf.

For the last decade I have now had to explain the McDonald portion of my name. That just brings a whole new set of confusing information to the person interested in me. A woman said to Ian and me that she never saw a couple like us. Really? We live in New York City. Interracial couples and families a go-go. We are both products of interracial couples. Just because Ian is caucasian doesn’t mean he doesn’t have roots. He is of Irish, Sicilian and German descent and all three of those cultures are proudly represented by him. His German grandmother’makes a kick ass stuffed cabbage, his Sicilian-German mother can cook just about anything and his Irish grandmother makes a wonderful plum pudding. People have told us to our faces that he isn’t really Irish because he was born here… *sigh* His Irish grandmother wouldn’t appreciate that.

I know that I am stuck with this until I die. I just want to be accepted for me and not pigeon-holed by my ethnicity. Not fitting in feels awful by itself. When you add the snarky and, at most times, insensitive question, it feels like I am not who I thought I am. Granted that lasts a moment but  still. Stop being obtuse.

And no, we are not going to have children for the sake of seeing what they would look like! Yes, I have gotten that question too. That’s another blog.

I want to take a DNA test so I can find out my percentages. I know that I am made up of more than what I listed and I love that.

My name is Malini Singh McDonald. I am a tough New Yorker with Trinidadian sass. Two snaps and a whine.