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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Theatre for Thought, April 5, 2011

Lost Voices: Are our female writers being left behind?
despite a wealth of feminine talent and influence, male writers conyinue to dominate our stages  
joel fishbane

I first became aware of  Theresa Rebeck after I realized I had stolen one of her titles. Sort of. In 2009, I developed a play with PWM called The Understudies only to learn that a few years earlier, Theresa Rebeck’s play The Understudy had opened on Broadway (fortunately for me, the plots are very different). I’ve been paying attention to Ms. Rebeck’s career ever since - mostly to ensure I didn’t steal anymore titles - and I noticed a few weeks ago that she did a remarkable thing: at a recent conference in NYC, Ms. Rebeck tackled the question of sexism in theatre.

You can – and should - read her remarks here. Ms. Rebeck paints a rather startling picture of a woman’s life in the arts and on the subject of the number of female playwrights getting produced in New York, she provides some depressing figures. Given the number of women dominating our own theatre scene, not to mention Centaur’s women-friendly upcoming season, I had wondered if perhaps the problems Ms. Rebeck spoke of did not exist in Montreal.

Ms. Rebeck implies that female playwrights are marginalized by a male-dominated industry due to the erroneous belief that their work contains a “feminist agenda”.

Oh to be young and naïve. Here are some figures for English Montreal for 2005 – 2010:

- of the 30 shows produced by Centaur,  26% were written / translated 
by a women

- of the 30 shows produced by Segal, 16% were written / adapted 
by women

- of the 253 shows listed in the QDF calendar under the headings of 
Professional and / or Independent Theatre, 21% were written /adapted / 
translated by women. 

None of this includes offerings from festivals like the Wildside or Fringe, where female playwrights tend to fare a little better. But even so, I found this to be a pretty startling statistic. 

In her speech, Ms. Rebeck implies that female playwrights are marginalized by a male-dominated industry due to the erroneous belief that their work contains a “feminist agenda”. I highly doubt that this explanation suits Montreal where, as I said, a large number of women in executive artistic positions. Both QDF and PWM are helmed by women and many major companies – Porte Parole, Imago Theatre, Segal Centre, Scapegoat Carnivale, Talisman Theatre, Persephone Productions – have women as artistic directors. Others maintain a strong feminine presence on their artistic team (Sidemart relies heavily on the skills of Sarah Yaffe; Tableau d’Hote returns time and again to Liz Valdez and Naomi Poulin). The city’s most influential theatre critic is a woman and there is no shortage of talented female scribes – look no further then Anabel Soutar, Alex Haber, Amanda Kellock, Laura Teasdale, Katharine Dempsey. 

Centaur’s newest season is 50% female-driven, which proves that the quality is there if we make the effort to seek it out.

Yet despite this wealth of feminine talent and influence, male writers are continuing to dominate our stages. 

Unlike Ms. Rebeck, I am unable to offer any theories as to why this is happening. Thanks to my pesky Y chromosome, I cannot pretend to have the slightest clue about the sort of obstacles female playwrights may be facing in this city. But if any of them have an idea, I would encourage them to speak up. Clearly a dialogue is needed if we hope to explore ways for there to be equal representation on the stage. Centaur’s newest season is 50% female-driven, which proves that the quality is there if we make the effort to seek it out.

And speaking of opportunities for talented women, the Kentucky Women’s Writer’s Conference has issued a call for new works by female writers. The top prize is a workshop, money and a production in 2012. For more details, visit here. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, Joel. I haven't seen many plays written by women, and I'll admit that many of the plays written by women that I have read did, in deed, have a feminist agenda, which might speak more about the type of plays I read than anything else.

    From my understanding of women's writing in general, however, it is often apparent to me (and others) that even in literary categories where women dominate the industry, such as young adult fiction, male writers still dominate many of the nominees and award winners in many cases. I couldn't say that this is due to a "feminist agenda" for sure, but that stereotype might be there.

    I commend the Centaur Theatre for planning to have woman's plays representing 50% of the upcoming season's drama. It is a great accomplishment, and as a woman and a Montrealer, I hope that they keep it up. On another note, however, I would argue that even if many of the executive positions are filled by women in Montreal's theatre scene, it doesn't necessarily mean that they all feel the need to promote female playwrights. Having two X chromosomes doesn't mean that you're a feminist - in fact, there are many female writers, especially journalists, who have been active participants in the backlash against feminism. Though I'm not saying that the female executives are in anyway part of the backlash, but sometimes, women think that women are already equal. Last year's statistics would suggest otherwise, but still, I have hope that given Centaur's choices, female playwrights might slowly have an equal chance all over Montreal. Finally, even when many executive members are men, if people on the board of directors or other funding bodies are predominantly men, then they'd have to agree with the drama selections. Maybe it is there that some theatre companies are falling behind.

    Thanks for giving me a chance to think about this more fully. :)


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