Power to Illuminate

by Stacy Klein

in Diversity & Inclusion

Post image for Power to Illuminate

(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)

TCG Blog Salon
Diversity and Inclusion Program Arc
Gender Parity in the American Theatre

JACQUELINE LAWTON: Year after year, research shows that approximately 17% of all plays produced in the United States and the United Kingdom are written by women. We’re stuck at this number and it’s hard to comprehend. Last year, Forum Theatre convened a symposium to investigate the gender imbalance in theatre and posed this question: Is there a female dramaturgy (ie. a specific point of view that female writers bring to theatre)? If so, what does it look, sound and feel like? Who holds the agency for it?

STACY KLEIN: I am not a playwright but rather a creator of performances. I believe my work is female, as well as other things that are a part of my being. This is totally unscientific, but I think women tend to ask more questions, have a need for dialogue, and focus on breaking forms. I use the word ‘tend’ with deliberation because this is a reflection of part of a story, and of course these traits are not the exclusive domain of women. But it seems like whether one is speaking about performance or politics, this is a strong tendency.

JL: Where do you live? How do you feel your community has addressed the issues of gender parity? How has this particular issue impacted you and your ability to practice your craft?

SK: I live in rural Ashfield MA. I have toured internationally for the past thirty one years. My local community is enormously supportive of my work and give me a lot of respect. On tour it can be a very joyful experience (a recent example of this is our tour to Trinity College’s Austin Arts Center) or it can be difficult. Touring in Poland in the late 80′s and early 1990′s I actually had men tell me they would take over the light design because they knew more than me, and calling me Iron Lady because I demanded the terms of my contract. Recently the negative experiences have taken a more subtle appearance of unnervingly condescending attitudes. However it seems to have gotten to a better moment as women directors become more prevalent. Maybe more women producers and presenters would be the next step. This would also assure that women’s roles would be powerful and that writing would challenge old ideas.

JL: Do we need gender based theaters? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community? What is lost?

SK: I believe artists should do what they feel expresses their inner most content. It seems wrong to me that we would relegate this question to an issue of ‘need’ rather than desire. When Double Edge first started it was all women. This was because I wanted to work with women at the time. And because I felt there was a dearth of strong parts for women. But I couldn’t have made this work come alive if I had just based this decision on a need of society. That is not what art is about. I think that DE became a mixed company because after several years it seemed we couldn’t identify ourselves as women without men. Or it was even more personal and individual than that. But anyway, there are many people who need to work with their own gender, their own sexual orientation, their own race, and there are those that do not. That is why we have different kinds of work and to me they are all important, especially if there is passion involved in the choice.

JL: What practical action steps would you recommend to local, regional and national theatre companies to address issues of gender parity?

SK: I would make sure the subject is not excluded. In ensembles it is much easier as everyone has a voice. I think in regional and national companies, there is a trend to include many different kinds of work. I think the touring network is a bit harder to deal with where people may be separate from their communities.

JL: Why is it important that we continue to have these conversations to address issues of gender in theatre?

SK: To me it’s important that we have conversations everywhere, not just in theatre. I think sometimes theatre takes the brunt of the social problems, rather than solving the problems where they lie. For instance our congress does not have gender parity. That is a travesty. Theatre by its power can illuminate the amazing human potential, in women and in anyone. But it cannot solve problems, it can try to be just in its effort to illuminate.

Stacy Klein is the Founder/ Artistic Director of Double Edge Theatre. Under her leadership, the company has grown for over 30 years into one of the foremost laboratory ensemble theatres in the U.S. The three original performance cycles Klein directed have earned her international recognition
for daring and innovation. She recently premiered “The Grand Parade (of the 20th century),” a kaleidoscopic spectacle of history that depicts major events of the 20th century in a theatrical style inspired by the work of artist Marc Chagall. In 2013, Klein became a recipient of the prestigious
Doris Duke Performing Artist Award.

Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com