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Monday, October 8, 2012

The Question, October 8, 2012

Anna Fuerstenberg, playwright, director, performer, critic, and educator
by Estelle Rosen

Anna Fuerstenberg was one of the founding members of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. She is currenty working on a film script, A SHIP IN THE ANDES, and a play, THE GUERRILLA CAREGIVER.

Do women over 40 have increasingly less opportunities to work in theatre?

When I started my studies in directing at Sir George Williams University, Norma Springford told me that in spite of a decade of training as an actor, I was actually a director and should pursue my education in her department. At that time I had met only one woman director on a kibbutz in Israel. (I had also met a woman general… ) but the main theatre production on that Marxist collective was directed by a man who was brought from the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv and I was outraged. 

That was a pattern… It never mattered that there were competent and talented women around; in the 1960’s we were invisible. For a time in the U.S.A., I was hired to run a theatre in Chicago, was the first graduate student to be allowed to direct professionally in Boulder Colorado, and directed and performed in Nashville Tennessee. All this was in the era of affirmative action. When I came back to Canada in the mid 1970’s I went into a kind of time warp. In Quebec French Canadian women were making enormous strides as directors, playwrights and performers. In Toronto where I had to move if I wanted to eat, not so much.

The artistic directors, who had begun to shape the new Canadian theatre world, were almost exclusively men and the plays they chose spoke to them of manly issues. In the 1980’s Rina Fratecelli asked me to gather a few professional women in Toronto where she was passing through to add to her study on The Status of Women in Canadian Theatre. Instead of the 40 or 50 I had been expecting when I got the Tarragon to give us the theatre for our meeting, there were over 300. Can you say “grass roots”?

We became Women in Theatre and soon sent Rina’s report to every Artistic Director and granting agency in the country. Soon, the men in the Playwrights Guild stopped asking why we needed a ‘women’s caucus’. For a short time things did get better and today women playwrights are also seen and produced much more often. However the truth is that a male actor has a long career whereas a woman is basically done after 50 if not 40. 

In Montreal we have the added affliction of nationalism in French theatre which is actually exclusionary, so any woman director or playwright must look elsewhere or form her own company, which oddly, not everyone wants to do. 

About six years ago the Playwrights Guild of Canada commissioned a new study on Women in Theatre, and big surprise, not much has changed in the intervening decades. 

How to be pro-active in a toxic environment? Just keep plugging away. I direct in the U.S.A. and in Ecuador, and send my scripts far and wide. The trick is to market yourself for at least an hour a day, every day. Network and keep plugging. 

Women have to be twice as good at anything to be thought half as competent as men; fortunately that is not very difficult. 

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