It had been a long time since I had walked into a roomful of strangers and felt such an immediate sense of camaraderie and kinship. That was exactly my reaction upon entering the West Village’s Cherry Lane Theatre, at 7:00 pm last Monday night for We Are Theatre: Guerilla Girls on Tour hosting “a theatrical happening that would cause more plays to happen” in conjunction with the grassroots movement 50/50 in 2020 and the Women’s Initiative members of the Dramatists Guild. The place was buzzing with feminism and friendship, and I picked my way to a seat in the second row. As the lights dimmed, women started taking the stage powerfully, potently, and loudly. They delivered monologues and songs, prose and poetry, skits and musical numbers. Some women were long-standing guerilla fighters, and others were making cameo appearances. Some wrote their own material, some performed the words of others. Big names in playwriting like Theresa Rebeck contributed, as well as Brooke Berman, Kate Bornstein, Lauren Ferebee, and many other notable female writers. I was also delighted to see, among the audience members, an old friend who cast me in my first college production. I felt like I was part of something, and I was comfortable enough in that community for it not to feel proselytizing when it was declared, “We are feminists, and these are our demands.”
Although the message was spun out in several ways over the course of the evening (thirty creative sketches in an hour and a half), the themes were often the same. We want to tell the truth. Everybody hates quotas. The female voice is underrepresented in theater. (According to the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, “Over the last century, the disparity for women playwrights in America has gotten even worse. In 1908/09, only 12.8% of the productions on Broadway were by women playwrights. Some 100 years later, the percentage of major New York productions written by women was 12.6%.”) Broadway is the highest paying area of American theatre, and yet in the 2011-2012 season, only four female playwrights were produced. Generally, we are frustrated by the lack of female voices in American theatre. And we’re going to speak out about it.
Personally, I was pushed to tears by stories of women being told to write weaker characters, and equally by the loving and supportive environment of a well-described lesbian loft, full of creative pursuits and critiques. I wanted to call my mom, and my best friend at school, and my best friend from home. I knew some of the wonderful, strong women in that room personally and I was elated to belong. Having spent the past year abroad studying in Paris where I found the vocalization of feminist values muted, I was deeply grateful to be participating in this type of a forum. In France, in my experience, this conversation would never take place. How empowering to give it a space and a voice!
All in all, it was a tremendously inspiring evening of theatre. We were persevering despite the fact that, according to the Guerilla Girls on Tour, in the 2010-2011 season, 114 theaters across the country would not be producing even one play by a woman on their main stage. We had assembled, and we were going to shout our support. Pursuant to the diversity theme of the annual TCG Fall Forum on Governance: Leading the Charge in November, I’ve had equality on the brain lately. It isn’t as though powerful, articulate women are a rarity; we’re the half of the population that has been long silenced, ignored, and overshadowed. After fanning some feminist ire, I walked out standing a little taller, inspired to trot home and let my words onto paper. I wanted to add my stories, to defy the numbers, and to define my voice in the conversation. I’ve often wondered, in reflecting upon how much progress our feminist foremothers have made for us, how I could best build off of the opportunities I’ve been offered. Here was a straight answer: just say something.
Amelia Parenteau is a senior at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she studies literature, writing, theatre, and French. She is also currently the Communications and Conferences Intern for Theatre Communications Group. At Sarah Lawrence, she is the co-producer for her student theatre company, The Melancholy Players, a member of a women’s Shakespeare ensemble, and a senior interviewer for the Admissions Office.