(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton. 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.)
Diversity & Inclusion blog salon: Gender Parity in the American Theatre
At this year’s TCG Conference the very last session I attended was “All Women Conversation: Power, Ambition, and Equity (responding to Lean In).” Playwright Karen Hartman was an ideal facilitator, as she cut right to the chase and allowed us to analyze success stories: what strategies and tactics worked that others might replicate? We could’ve spent 90 minutes (and then some) bemoaning the state of affairs. But Ms. Hartman lead the conversation with a laser focus on action. That was exactly the message I needed to hear.
Several of the Kilroys were present in the session, and they talked a bit about why and how they went about curating a list of incredible plays that happen to be written by women. (The Kilroys were the rockstars of the conference; everyone was buzzing about their list.) They also raised the idea of finding funders to incentivize producing plays written by women.
One recurring message that struck a chord was that we should make the argument to those in power at these theatres that they need to represent their community in the work that they do. Most non-profit mission statements include emphasis on community. But if only 10% of a theatre’s board is women, that’s no reflection of the community. If a theatre hires one woman to direct in a season of eight shows, that doesn’t mirror the audience. All we ask is that theatres live up to their own mission.
Another effective argument we can employ is that quality artistry and excellence can’t happen without diversity and inclusion. We have to make the business case because some people, frankly, don’t get the moral imperative. Work/life balance policies, for instance, improve the workplace for everyone. Happy workers yield a better product.
The most salient message for me was to take action with a sense of urgency. It’s difficult to measure the outcomes of a conversation like this, but there were some immediate results for me. I left the session feeling ready to advocate for other women and willing to walk away from the proverbial table when I’m not getting what I deserve.
I got home from San Diego that Saturday night and I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking about 50/50 in 2020. I started inviting fellow theatre practitioners to like the initiative on Facebook. I was choosing women in theatre who I knew to be feminists. Preaching to the choir. And then I thought, you know, I’m not giving people enough credit. Now I have close to 100 colleagues who “like” 50/50 in 2020. Not real change, no. Just a Facebook page. But people are thinking about it. A seed is planted that I can come back and water later. The wonderful thing about 50/50 in 2020 is that it’s a clear, measurable outcome. We’ve got six more years, ya’ll.
With the spirit of that conference conversation to guide me, I was called on only days after returning to advise a friend engaged in negotiations. She ended up with a title to match her credentials, skills, and reputation. What an incredible victory. I’ve also had some really interesting conversations with male colleagues in which I was much more direct about the changes I’d like to see. And I’ve begun gathering ideas on inclusive policies that could result in real institutional change. I’m feeling movement on some things that I thought were immovable. What is this funny feeling I’m having? Is this…hope? Feels new. And exhilarating.
Thanks to Karen Hartman and Rachel Dickstein and any others who helped make this session happen. And to all of the other women that were in that room, you are my inspiration.
Lynn Lammers serves as Artistic Associate at the Williamston Theatre, producing work for, by, and about those who call the Midwest their home. Ms. Lammers is also the Artistic Coordinator of the Transforming Theatre Ensemble, which is housed in the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives at Michigan State University. Ms. Lammers is a freelance director, a mentor for Wharton Center’s Young Playwrights Festival, a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and has a Master’s Degree in Theatre from Michigan State University.