Artists are crazy as hell and they won’t take it anymore.
But instead of throwing their heads out the window and expressing their fury, as news anchor Howard Beale urged his viewers to do in the 1976 film “Network”, they express their frustrations at the institutional status quo of the ramparts of social media.
When Center Theater Group announced its seasonal lineup for the Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theater last week, it seemed that diversity had been prioritized in ways that had not always been the case in the theater organization most. most prestigious in LA.
Michael Ritchie, the outgoing artistic director of CTG of whom I have been very critical in the past, seemed to listen to We See You, White American Theater movement. The Taper and the Douglas present an impressive array of color artists.
But one group has been visibly overlooked – the group that makes up about half of the human population: women.
Only one offering of the Taper season, a cover of Pearl Cleage’s 1995 piece “Blues for an Alabama Sky,” was written by a woman. The other five, which enthrallingly include Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play and Rajiv Joseph’s “King James”, have male writers.
Douglas’ lineup includes two new plays by young male playwrights of color: “Alma” by Benjamin Benne and “Tambo & Bones” by Dave Harris. But the only other offerings are two local productions taken over for Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theater. This is the “To T or Not to T? From the Los Angeles LGBT Center. A Comedic Trans Journey Through (T) estosterone and Masculinity ”, written and performed by D’Lo, and“ The Art Couple ”of the Sacred Fools Theater Company by Brendan Hunt.
Again, there’s a refreshing array of humanity on display – but with a missing piece that can’t be attributed to the luck of the draw.
The American theater has entered into a settlement with itself on issues of race and fairness in the workplace. But its blind spot when it comes to the representation of women, especially among playwrights, is a recalcitrant reality.
The condemnation of CTG was swift. Writer and activist Sarah Schulman expressed her dismay in a series of tweets:
- “I emerged as a playwright decades ago into a world of all-male and all-white seasons – with all-male, all-white critics who were hostile to female writers who had different perspectives than the men who directed. the world.
- “Because we were initially fired by an unfair system, we have clouds hanging over our work. We have had to endure generations of watching our male peers get opportunities that we never had.
- “There are hundreds of women my age who have never had a fair chance but still create because we are playwrights in our souls. Today, the Mark Taper Forum announced its new ten-part season in which the great Pearl Cleage is the only woman included.
- “HOW CAN IT STILL BE?” It’s so depressing, stupid and infuriating. When is this going to end? “
Playwright Jessica Goldberg, one of the many artists who responded to Schulman’s protest, replied, “Thank you for that Sarah, even though it makes us want to cry.”
Others, however, were too angry to cry. They wanted action. And on Tuesday, Harris, whose transformational drama “Slave Play” was supposed to have kicked off the season of Taper, decided he could do more than complain. He threatened to withdraw his coin.
“As an Angeleno and theater lover, I think Los Angeles audiences deserve a fair representation of playwrights working in the United States right now,” he tweeted, adding, “I spoke to my team and I would like to start the process of removing ‘Slave Play’ from the season at this time.
As Twitter applauded this act of solidarity, CTG offered an apologetic response from its account on the platform: “We understand your frustration, disappointment and even your anger at the scarcity of female voices in the seasons to come. While we have put together programming featuring voices from many perspectives and identities, we recognize that we have not lived up to your expectations … (and ours) when it comes to gender equality, and for that, we apologize. We can and will do better. We will follow up with a larger statement from Michael Ritchie. ”
No artistic season will ever satisfy all audiences. But a theater’s track record speaks volumes about its priorities, and female playwrights have been woefully under-represented at the Center Theater Group. Forget about parity. The rarity was the elephant in the Taper Room.
To make matters worse, the more adventurous writers tend to be referred to the Douglas, the smallest of CTG’s three locations. It was here that Young Jean Lee’s “Straight White Men,” which became the first play by an Asian American woman to be produced on Broadway, premiered, along with “School Girls; Or, The Play average African girls.
Both of these works would have elevated the all-too-usual dull level of the Taper. But women’s works hardly ever seem to get the benefit of the doubt, even as the most erratic male playwrights are offered chance after chance, in a vicious cycle that rewards figures established to be established by a system tilted in their favor. .
CTG’s season announcement features several notable female theater performers, including a few female directors, who may face even more formidable gender biases. But one reader, an art writer, shared with me a letter she sent to CTG complaining that a woman writer’s only piece at Taper is directed by Phylicia Rashad, who she described as “l ‘apologist for sexual predators’, following Rashad’s defense of his former co-star Bill Cosby.
Observers of artistic institutions will never suffer from a lack of things to oppose. But taking inventory is essential – not to call for the sake of calling, but to reveal the role models and decision makers behind those models. At CTG, these decision-makers are mostly men.
Ritchie added Luis Alfaro to his brain trust to help guide CTG during this time when issues of equity, diversity and inclusion have become a priority. But its team of associate art directors are predominantly male – and it shows.
Who is in the room matters. Ritchie and Meghan Pressman, the managing director and chief executive officer, released a longer statement on Tuesday evening. Their appeal might boil down to the following: Don’t worry too much about the numbers. Yes, something is wrong, but have faith in our commitment. More is to come. Do not worry.
Harris’ action, however, clearly sounded the alarm bells. Ritchie and Pressman end their statement on a conciliatory note:
“Today we received a notification from playwright Jeremy O. Harris that he would like to begin the process of removing ‘Slave Play’ from this season in the hopes of making room for more women. “Jeremy’s opinion and believe in him as an artist. We hope to continue our relationship with him in the future. We are coming together and will be able to share more in the coming days on the impact on our coming season.” “
Theater managers are evolving in a new landscape where the balance of power between artists and managers is changing. Cultural policy, traditionally subordinated to economic imperatives, can no longer be dismissed with a wave of the public relations baton. Responsibility has arrived – and not too soon.