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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Nov 13, 2007

blog of note from Callie

I’ve come to realize as an artist, my brain is frequently negotiating its way around impulses and ideas that are difficult to articulate, but that there is something gained in the attempt at articulation. And the more I engage publicly in discussions on the big issues, the more I am convinced that a hesitancy to and even lack of skill in contributing to these conversations is one of the main reasons women are not produced more. and But back to women playwrights in general. The hopeful thing is, there is much ground to be gained and so we can steer the discussion. We have reviewers at the New Yorker and the New York Times taking women like Theresa Rebeck to task for writing watered-down Mamet. As a woman audience member, I was struck by the deft way she threw light on the complexities of female family relationships and obligations in caring for elderly parents in MAURITIUS. Rebeck hit such perfect notes of the sacrifice and despair and fear and entitlement and resentment shared by the sisters in the play. Not one male reviewer parsed those issues out of her play.


Anonymous said...


This quote ticked one reader off, because she thinks I'm blaming women. I'm saying women have something to learn from the male style of engagement in the business sphere when it comes to presenting our work and convincing people to produce it.

And actually, there's a deep, buried part of me that is SO angry at all the women in all of history who LET THIS HAPPEN! Sometimes I totally want to blame the victim for being complicit. I know that's not PC, but I guess I feel like if women are somehow accountable, then women have the personal agency to fix this.

But then, we all can't be like the teacher in MY CHILDREN, MY AFRICA, which I recently saw and which moved me so deeply for the way he was willing to be killed rather than be silenced. So I'm never mad at all the women in all of history for very long because I know they really were oppressed into silence--physically, mentally, economically.

I believe women have so much power, so much intelligence. We have to press on, around, and through. I do believe we'll get parity on stage. Maybe not in this generation, but we'll get there.

And I do believe that hearing, promoting, and understanding women's voices is important to the health of society.

Adam said...

I am optimistic about the future of women playwrights. The upcoming generation has lots of supertalented playwrights. Rinne Groff, Sheila Callaghan, Jenny Schwartz, Anne Washburn, Liz Meriwether, and many many more. People will have to produce them. They will just have to.

Anonymous said...

And yet, you know. They don't. The statistics haven't changed. Every quantifiable fact points to a persistent bias. Were there no fantastic female playwrights in the eighties and nineties? Really?

Anyway, Callie:
"I guess I feel like if women are somehow accountable, then women have the personal agency to fix this."

I think this is the main reason that some women take your position. Because admitting that it isn't our fault seems to take away our power to fix things. You ARE blaming women, and you're doing it because it's less scary.

I think this is wrong-headed. You do have the power to fix something you didn't create. It will only help you fix it if you get a good handle on the actual cause.

For instance, a recent study on women in business showed that adopting "male" styles actually had a detrimental affect on women's careers. The behaviour that keeps men on top is unacceptable from a bitch. So, saying "Act more like men, and it will help." is an ineffective strategy.

You seem to assume that I'm in turtle position, kicking my legs. Good god. I'm just saying fight smart, and know the real problem.


Adam said...

I don't know if there were fantastic female playwrights in the 80s or 90s. I know there is a fuckload now and they are amazing.

But they have to be talked about as much as possible and they have to advocate for themselves. (All playwrights do, not just women.) And generally, women don't speak up as much and don't send their plays out as much. There is a confidence that playwrights have to acquire to succeed and I think men are often at an advantage when it comes to that.

If you look at Paula Vogel, Theresa Rebeck and Marsha Norman, they are fierce women who have had to fight a great deal. They have an insane amount of confidence and all of them can be intimidating. Not that everyone has to be like that but I'm sure their strength helped them succeed.

As for the producers, hopefully they will catch up. Not sure what the solution to that is. except that productions will lead to productions will lead to productions and when audiences go and have a great time and ignore the dismissive critics, things will turn.

Anonymous said...

"And generally, women don't speak up as much and don't send their plays out as much."

What's your evidence for this? Do you consider it to be a primary cause of the disparity?


Adam said...

I don't have a study on hand if that's what you mean. A theater recently counted submissions. I forget which, but it was 1/3 women 2/3 men. Others have done this before. I think that's generally the norm.

As for the speaking up thing, do you disagree?

But also I know a lot of playwrights. Women are less likely to even call themselves or consider themselves playwrights although they write plays.

I consider this a contributing factor.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a study on hand either. I used to be a script reader, handling full slush submissions, and the gender distribution on the plays I got was 50/50. (I counted. I like counting things myself.) That's my only evidence. Do you remember what the submissions policy was at the theatre in question? I'm assuming it was open, or else they wouldn't have put it into evidence, but you never know.

On the "speaking up" thing, I do disagree. I'm not even sure what context you're putting in.

The main point I disagree with is this characterization of women as retiring mice, who, if they could only be persuaded to stand up and roar, could overcome all disparity. I think it takes bias out of the picture, and it frustrates me.

I would characterize the "contributing factors" that you describe as effects, not factors.
How strongly do you weigh them against the effect of unconscious bias?

(Also be a sport and check out Callie's for more of my way nuanced arguments. They will surely bring you round to my way of thinking AT ONCE. I'm so articulate here it's like I'm a guy.)

Adam said...

When did I ever say women were inarticulate? I know you are being facetious, but come on.

Adam said...

effects of what?

I'm not denying bias. And if your 50/50 is true, instead of the 2 to 1 that I've heard, then I have no argument.

As for speaking up or speaking out, I mean like stepping forward or generally being assertive. Would you disagree that there are more assertive men than women? I mean men are taught to be assertive.

Where did you read scripts?

Adam said...

I think there are lots of contributing factors that decide what gets produced, and bias is one and which plays are in the pile are another and personal tastes are a third. But honestly, the way theaters decide on seasons is particular to the theatre in question and there are a million factors. It might be what star or director they can get or they might want to work with the playwright they just worked with. There are sooo many possible reasons to produce or not produce a play.

Anonymous said...

"When did I ever say women were inarticulate?"

You didn't. I was making a funny joke about Callie's characterization of the male communication style as penetrating and cogent, and the female style as diffuse, and possibly rose-petal scented.

"effects of what?"

Women are less outspoken and aggressive because they catch more crap for it. Hence, female reticence is an effect of bias, not a cause of disparity.

Reframing this in terms of your second question. Men are taught to be assertive by getting success for asserting themselves. Women try the same strategy, and get punished.

I read at Victory Gardens. Their policy was open submission from all Chicagoland writers, agent or sample from all others. This is based on a sample size of...mmmmm... maybe 80 to 100 scripts. No great shakes, but better than nothing.

You could say this means that there are more and more aggressive female writers in the Chicagoland area, but then you wouldn't be able to back it up with productions. I counted that too.

Plus, even if we do assume it's 2 to 1, how do we get from that to 4 to 1? I know you're not denying bias, but I feel like people tend to get immediately distracted by all the things that women are supposedly doing wrong and think it's somehow inexcusable to say "Hey, all y'all folk in power. Be just to the ladies!"

And there are a lot a lot of young theatre companies out there who don't see this as a problem, who rarely or never produce female playwrights, and who are on their way to be the next folk in power. I don't have my gender breakdown of Chicago's 2007-8 season preview on hand, but I know it was 20% female (for both equity and non-equity), and contained dozens of equity and non-equity companies that were only producing men.

I do, however, know exactly how many equity and non equity companies are doing all female seasons: One each. At least around here, there's no encouraging rise in representation among the young guard.

Do you begin to understand my pessimism?

Adam said...

I understand your pessimism but I do have hope. And I agree 2 to 1 is far from 4 to 1.

The older playwrights I mentioned above are all assertive and I think it is necessary to be assertive to succeed as a playwright and I say this while agreeing with your reasons why women are sometimes less assertive. I think being assertive and clear is important for playwriting and I think this is what Callie was getting at.

And I'm not sure it's valuable to say be fair to women. Instead I think we need to advocate for specific artists. Be like "you need to do this play". Because people do plays they want to do, not out of some sort of obligation to get the right mix of people.

And if you're still reading for that theatre and have any say in what is produced I hope you are advocating for the best plays.

Anonymous said...

"I think there are lots of contributing factors that decide what gets produced"

I don't think this point is of much value to the discussion. Sure, it'd be a good response if I'd said "X Theatre should have done Jane's play instead of Jim's." But once we get to systemic discrepancies, we have to look at systemic causes. Without the effect of bias, those many many other factors would cancel each other out, and we'd have an equitable distribution.

And then we get back to "Just pick the best plays." Whoah. For a man who's not denying bias you're sure trying to argue it out of relevancy. LMs and ADs who are laboring under their unconscious bias are not picking the best plays. You've got to either concede that, or argue that women just aren't as good. Unconscious bias can only be defeated by conscious self-examination, and yes, that means looking at the "mix" of people to see if it has anything to do with the people in the real world. If it doesn't, bud, check your floors and walls for a problem with women.

As for advocating at VCG- HAH! They've literally never produced a play out of their slush pile. I'm not sure why they have it.

Adam said...

I'm not arguing out of relevancy. I just told you a bunch of great playwrights and said they should be produced, but because their plays are great, not because they are women.

so what is your solution? or is your pessimism because there is no solution?

I think advocating for individuals and individuals advocating for themselves is a good solution. And it seems more feasible than toppling a system of bias.

Anonymous said...

Dude. If you're not interested in toppling a system of bias than I guess we're not going to agree on any solutions. Toppling the system of bias is kind of my entire premise.

Adam said...


Anonymous said...

First, by admitting that a problem exists. Then, by asking, demanding, cajoling and manipulating those in positions to perpetuate marginalization of marginalized groups to change their behavior. I mean, it isn't complicated. It's just very, very hard.

Do you think such a system is worth toppling? I do. Do you think it's possible? I hope so. Which of us is being the pessimist now?

Adam said...

Ok. How many LMs and ADs have you told this to? Have you written any letters or made any phone calls to this end or are you all blog bluster?

Because i have recommended many excellent female playwrights and plays by women to theaters and it has led several times to productions. My method has shown results.

And I'm sure what Callie is doing is going to help her too. So I see no reason why you need us to see the world through your lens. You could just accept that we are all on the same side and that each of us is doing what we can to work towards solving this problem.

Anonymous said...

Oh, honey. I'm even worse than blog bluster. I'm anonymous blog bluster. Because talking about this sort of thing with ADs and LMS tends to get them even madder than you're getting. Not that I have any pull with those people, or even talk with them that often. If I see an opening, I'll drop the "No women this season either, eh?" bomb, and run for shelter. But I'm no glutton for punishment.

Although I'm sure that everyone you've helped get on stage is grateful, I don't know if your method gets results. I would define results as "change in representation" not "individual productions" (which women can totally get, thankyouverymuch). And I would define "method" as "problem solving strategy meant to get women better representation."

But you've been talking as if pushing to get women produced is bad, and you should only look for genderless good plays. Which would mean that your advocacy is coincidental. Unless you're saying OUT LOUD that you are only looking for good plays, while secretly pushing plays by women as hard as you can. That's a strategy I can get behind! It's so similar to the way most professionals say they're just looking for good plays while pushing plays by men. GENIUS.

Sir, I applaud you.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea a positive personal epiphanic post in the vein of "I am a valuable person with something to say" could cause so much frothing at the mouth.

I'm so pleased with myself.

But I can't sit by and watch you talk to Adam like he's stupid because he's a he.

As far as your plan for "demanding, cajoling and manipulating those in positions to perpetuate marginalization of marginalized groups to change their behavior," it sounds like a perfectly ineffectivve [and passive-aggressive] plan for getting parity on stage, and a perfectly efficient plan for annoying the crap out of the powers-that-be.

When you commented on my blog: "Men (and others who lack strong feminist beliefs) always have to be cossetted during discussions of sexism. They take it all so personally, poor souls, and then they take it out on you personally." Well, to that I would say you and I are decidedly not aligned. Great negative generalizations about men take the discussions way out of where they should be. I adore my male colleagues for caring about this issue, and I don't want to alienate them by being condescending.

To which you may say all I'm spouting are great negative generalizations about women, but I firmly believe that, because we've been silenced for so long, we need to practice that which many of us are uncomfortable doing in the public sphere (and by public sphere I do not mean anonymous comment threads)--speaking up with strength and reasoned arguments so as to be heard clearly.

So you are welcome to say I'm "blaming women, and [I'm] doing it because it's less scary," but I'd say you're being provocative behind a pseudonym, which is also "less scary" than putting your name to your words.

The respectful challenge I hand you is to own up to who you are and speak your truth loudly and publicly in such a way that can effect change. Which is what I'm trying to do in person in the public/professional sphere.

Once you do that, get back to me, okay?

PS--Thanks for the blogument. It's been a while. I wish more women had them online. By stating your side so strongly, I reexamined my own side and refined my thoughts further, though I didn't change them.

Anonymous said...

We were commenting at the same time, Anon.

Your latest begs one final thought--this idea of yours of "dropping a bomb" and then running away...

What would happen if you stood there and saw the discussion through? What if you channeled all this valid rage into more effective communication?

Do you want a dialogue or do you want to poke at people and then run away?

Anonymous said...

Just because a course of action might annoy the powers that be doesn't mean it isn't right.

And please forgive the generalizations about men that I didn't intend to make. It was a misplaced parentheses. The sentence should be:

"Men (and others) who lack strong feminist beliefs..."

I find this to be most people. Sorry the accidental generalization offended you. You'll find that in the rest of my posts I was careful not to make them.

And I freely admit that I'm being provocative behind a pseudonym because it's less scary. I'm no provocateur. I just don't want to make enemies, or have my radicalism out there on the internet, one google search away. The internet can be useful for this, and if it's not specifically disallowed by a site, I take it as kosher.

And indeed, Adam, if you feel I'm talking to you with condescension, or as if you are stupid, I do apologize. Not my intention. This is a debate, right? And we show respect to our opponents with fully-formed arguments, decent colloquial grammar, and no personal remarks. I feel my conduct's been pretty good! But you are welcome to ask me to leave at any time, and I'll trot off to a feminist site to bother people saying wrongheaded things about theatre. No longer debating me will have the same effect.

p.s. If you'd like more women arguing online, there's always the feminist blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

"What would happen if you stood there and saw the discussion through? What if you channeled all this valid rage into more effective communication?"

It goes rather badly and I end up with an AD that dislikes me. So that's why I "run away". Not physically. That would be weird. I just listen to the justifications, nod my head, make a few jokes and say "Ah, well, you do what you can." And then I change the subject.

Maybe I'm hoping it's more of a seed than a bomb? I despise conflict. Really. I know you guys won't believe that, but it's totally true.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, I have to leave the internet now, so you're getting rid of me without any particular effort!

Adam said...

You need to stop misrepresenting me. Well, anyone really. It's no way to argue. You don't argue the points, you just redefine.

Representation is made up of lots of small productions. so each production is good. you can talk in big terms and do nothing or talk in small terms and do something. Why would you choose to do nothing and then criticize people who do something?

and to answer your question, I pass on good plays to people who I think will like them. I help people create relationships with theaters i think they will get along with. Would I not do this for a guy? of course not, although lately, it's been women. Perhaps because lately the good plays I've seen were by women. Hard to say. in any case, it makes me optimistic. Many of the exciting new work right now is by women and I think we will continue to see their work done in larger and larger theaters.

Adam said...

and in a way by doing nothing and not speaking up to the powers that be, you are proving my point that women don't advocate for themselves enough.