Last COTE Tales of 2009 - This Weekend!

11:43 PM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

COTE Tales is Co-Op Theatre East's play reading series. It's an opportunity for progressive theatre artists to come together for a chance to network and hear the work of up and coming playwrights.

On Sunday, December 6th 2009, Co-Op Theatre East will present readings of:

Double or Nothing: A short steampunk play By Rebecca Nesve

In this steampunk parable inspired by the life of a historical
prisoner of conscience, magazine editor Leigh Hunt, jailed for
printing an revolutionary editorial, receives a visit in his cell from
a mysterious woman from the Poetry Society. She offers him the chance
to keep his magazine going: by letting an automaton she has designed,
which is programmed with Hunt’s own knowledge and beliefs, take over
as Editor-in-Chief.

REvolutions : by Elaine Romero

In Latin America, at the height of a military regime, a mother learns
that a young revolutionary has been murdered in the plaza. She risks
everything to find out if the young man is her grown son.

Featuring Performances by: Adam Schneider, Alex Herald and Sheira Feuerstein

Directed by: Casey Cleverly

For more information visit:


Margaret Mead Quotes:

10:40 AM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

"If one cannot state a matter clearly enough so that even an intelligent twelve-year-old can understand it, one should remain within the cloistered walls of the university and laboratory until one gets a better grasp of one's subject matter".

"What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things".

"Sooner or later I'm going to die, but I'm not going to retire".

"One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don't come home at night".


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5 Variations of Cat on My Shoulder

2:12 AM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

And now for something a bit light ...

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graduate school word vomit: volume 1

8:55 PM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

This is the post that I've been promising myself wouldn't happen until AFTER the GRE (on Monday) but I'm frustrated and tonight I'm feeling especially uninspired on a count of several things, mostly having to do with finances since it's becoming harder and harder (but not yet impossible) to make theatre in this bumfuck economy, let alone any kind of political and/or socially engaged art that according to "recent studies" nobody wants to see because it makes them "depressed". I remain optimistic though because regardless of the situation, we still endure (even if it means performing in the street because spaces are unaffordable/unavailable... which we do, and enjoy). I think I'm angry because I have so many ideas for pieces and plans for action that are at a complete standstill because there's no funding for it at the moment. Of course I'm not talking about funding from the McCarther Genius or NEA Grant either, I'm talking about the bare minimum to rent and light a space or hold rehearsal, or better yet... afford to not work a shift (and still be able to eat) so we can hold a rehearsal. Certainly, this gives me more time to flush out ideas but it's also been making me recognize the fact that THIS is how it could always be. Because we live in a society where artists are underpaid and under appreciated financially (see the article that I posted a few days ago under this post) I have to accept the reality that financial stability may or may not happen through theatre and if it does not happen, I could always be uninsured and living day to day looking for "survival work".

So, after separate discussion(s) with RS and AS that involved (not necessarily in this order) a weepy midnight phone call, a pumpkin with a Freud face on it and a really good hamburger at the Beekman in addition to this career coach (which has nothing to do with RS/AS) ... because I wanted to hear the opinion of a complete stranger (yes, I spent $$ on a coaching session) who happened to give me some of the best advice of my life ($$ for the WIN!), I've decided to go ahead and apply to PhD programs. I was set on not doing it but upon hearing "The kind of theatre you do will never be appreciated outside of the academy... don't you want to have stability AND still get to do your work?" one too many times, I'm sold for several obvious reasons. Not only because I want to be comfortable (I believe everyone should be comfortable) but eventually I'm afraid that my work will suffer, become stale and there will be no space for improvement and evolution if I'm in the same place financially.

So, for the 2nd time, at the 11th hour (shame, shame), I return (hopefully for the last time) to the graduate school application process which I had started, worked very hard on in the spring but over the summer gave up because of the GRE. I want to do everything right because I never want to do this again. I have HUGE issues with the GRE that go beyond the quantitative portion... I'm talking ethical issues. No, I'm not just pissed because I have to do math that I haven't seen since 11th grade and it's bringing back memories of my high school standardized test failure(s) ... I'm pissed because the GRE is completely classist and tests nothing I will need in graduate school (remember, I've been there... I'm certain of this). I'm pissed that apparently my 3.8 undergrad GPA and 4.0 graduate GPA in addition to a stellar CV, writing sample and statement of purpose will apparently take backseat to a test in which you must have close to $2,000 to take a class in order to score well (the class teaches you how to take the test...). What if I don't have $2,000 to give ETS and its minions? Or better yet, what if I spent that $2000 on airfare and expenses to do fieldwork in the area I plan on working in? Yes, I understand it's a "hoop you must jump through" but that still doesn't stop me from questioning this and the very system that creates such a thing. It's a fact that the $150 fee you pay to take the GRE goes to maintain the ETS country club (the Kaplan book says so!)...

However, I will save the specific GRE rant until after Monday...

I love everything about the field of anthropology and (obviously) theatre too. I love the energy, atmosphere, fieldwork, participant observation... the whole shaabang. I love teaching and working with people. However, I have HUGE issues with the academy. I have no interest in becoming a pedant (GRE word... woot!) nor do I necessarily care about publishing for the academy or other "academics". I hate theory that takes you in circles with no answers. I do not want to study something for 10 years only to discover that it has absolutely no practical use in the real world and therefore I'm stuck in the ivory tower vacuum. I care about the people and I really believe this country needs an affordable and accessible education system. I believe it's the job of the academic AND academic institutions to work within their respective communities location wise to develop accessible forms of education.

I'm trying to take the feedback and criticism I received in graduate school and apply it to my new statement of purpose and writing sample. I'm incredibly passionate about what I'm studying. It's so important and needs to be examined both my scholars and artists. However, I need to bolster (GRE word... woot!) my argument up intellectually (because apparently the Palestinian refugee crisis will matter more if I can contextualize it using Marx and Foucault?)

Tonight I revisited the statement of purpose that got me into NYU's performance studies department (fully funded). I didn't overload it with quotes from "groundbreaking" theorists or name drop. Truthfully, I didn't even know how to do any of that. While it is not "theoretically dense", contains few intellectual quotes and citations, has no gratuitous jargon and does not outline my course of study for the next 5 years, just lists all my goals and the dreams I had of saving the world with my degree in performance studies and all the uniquely wonderful things that would come along with being in that program (and don't get me wrong, PS is uniquely wonderful in many ways) it embodies something that my new statement just doesn't have. It's completely and utterly honest, genuine, organic and rather optimistic. Can't fake that, right?

I'm looking over my new "statement of purpose" and laughing to myself at the pretentious language I use and my bullshit list of important "who's who in this field and that department" all the while thinking Is THIS what they really want? Is THIS what it means to be sophisticated in the eyes of the academy? Is THIS what I really want... to be like THIS?! Sure, I can do it and make it sound good but shouldn't this be about finding new solutions and exploring new ways of thinking about this rather than regurgitation? I want more. Theatre gives me this because there are virtually no boundaries or constructs. I'm not sold yet on the academy but looking forward to (hopefully) being pleasantly surprised.

I hate that I'll most probably have to conform. Often I try really hard to fit in with people and at places that I think I should be at for whatever reason and it never feels right. Sometimes I go to extremes to do things just so THEY will love or respect me, even if I think it's stupid or could care less. I'm always looking to be part of something greater than me. I know it's wrong but I do it anyway. I think everyone does this to an extent. Sometime in between the beginning of my Master's and now I have become so preoccupied with how I'm viewed by THEM (I'm using this as a general term... all of the "thems" in my life from the system to my closest friends) that I have lost Ashley. And while I know she's still in there somewhere, I have to admit that it's taking me longer than expected to find her again and that concerns me...

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COTE Presents:The Living Voter Guide

9:19 PM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

Pamphlet from "The Living Voter Guide"

This weekend Robby and I performed "The Living Voter Guide" a new piece of street theatre that Robby has been developing. It was very successful and definitely headed in the direction of where we want to take COTE.

How It Worked: Robby was the "Living Voter Guide" and answered all questions that spectators posed to him on the issues as the candidate running for mayor. For example, someone would ask: "Where does Bloomberg stand on gun control?" or "Who is Jimmy McMillian?" and Robby would answer as the candidate. In the occasion that a question stumped him, he'd direct them to the candidate's website. You'd be surprised to see how many people didn't know there were 8 candidates on the ballot. My role as the joker was to bring people in and hand out fliers encouraging people to vote.

Some Video:

Some Images:

Robby as "The Living Voter Guide"

Talking with New Yorkers

Me as the Statue of Liberty

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Biting the Invisible Hand

9:14 PM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

Posted Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 1:48 am by Alan M. BerksIssue: Making art work

By way of introduction

I have been depressed for the past three years, more or less, by my professional career. It has effected my ability to write and my personal relationships. For the past three years, I have been a sickeningly dull, whiny drinking buddy. From 2003-2006, I wrote as often as a dog sniffs for food and with as much mindless, joyful curiosity. After 2006, writing—something that has been like medicine and candy to me since I was 11—I found as hard to do as I would find brain surgery, and as frightening.

Some months, I’d force myself to sit in front of a blank piece of paper every day, holding a pen, following some advice I heard once about the force of habit. I might as well have been holding a scalpel over a bleeding patient’s head for all that I knew about what to do. Worst of all was the feeling that no one would care if I let the patient die.

Coming out on the other side now, I suspect my brooding sprang from some amorphous sense of injustice. Hadn’t I worked hard enough, sometimes completing three full length plays in one year? Hadn’t I challenged myself enough, experimenting with a different genre with every script, pushing the boundaries of form in noble service to some grand artistic ideals? Hadn’t I proven myself, with stellar critical reviews and even standing ovations at the end of a few productions? Hadn’t I treated people well, respecting the audience’s intelligence and honoring my collaborator’s ideas? I mean – What the hell? What else are you supposed to do in this business to get ahead besides produce quality work that people like, and lots of it?

Of course – of course, of course, of course – a good part of my failure to build a successful career was my own damn fault. I understand marketing but failed to market myself. I have a tendency to bristle at authority figures (a tendency I’m sure I share with the authority figures I come across in the performing arts), sometimes consciously saying the wrong thing to the right people and only charming the wrong people with the right lines, watching myself self-sabotage as though from a distance, like some kind of drunken ship captain who actually turns his boat toward the iceberg on a maniacal whim.

Plus, my fortitude is not particularly admirable. Three prolific years may have been exhilarating for me, but it's really nothing in the timeline of a career in the arts, which sometimes seems to operate according to an “opposite of dog years” calendar. One year can be like one month in the orbit of the arts world. It may take six months, six years—or twenty—before the sun comes around to your part of Alaska.

Surprisingly, the depths of my depression didn’t arrive when I finally started to wonder whether I was actually a good writer. Taste is too subjective, and I knew that already. At least my wife likes my work. Anyway, anyone who is still trying to make art after the age of 30 is compelled by something other than, or at least in addition to, other people’s high opinion of them. I realized pretty early on in this phase of my depression that even if I came to the conclusion, “I suck,” it wasn’t going to help me much. I’d just have to get better.

The bottom of my depression actually arrived when I finally asked myself what the heck I was expecting? Was I really expecting to make a living? As a playwright? Really? Does anyone make a living as a playwright? I could count them on one hand. I didn’t necessarily suck as a playwright, but I did have to conclude that I was a fucking moron. It was a wonder, I realized, that I was still able to find my mouth with a forkful of food.

Are the arts different than other industries?

Five years ago, my best friend was building multi-million dollar homes in Lincoln Park in Chicago, a leafy, idyllic little urban neighborhood near the lake and DePaul University. He had a plan sketched out that ended with his retirement at the age of 40. A beach in Costa Rica had his name on it, I think.

Now, he’s working a contracting job he hates just to maintain the payments on his debt.
I mention it because I don’t believe that anyone is entitled to their dream just because they dream it, or even because they work hard and diligently at it, or because it’s a pretty sounding, artistic dream. It’s a tough professional world out there in all industries. Restaurants open and close six months later. People sink their life savings into a business, and the inventory doesn’t move. All of us have to do what we do to make the ends meet, and the arts are no different in that respect. So I can’t make a living as a playwright. Not everyone is going to, or even should, survive in this business. No one promised me a rose garden.

I do, however, think that the performing arts industry is different than other industries in at least two large ways: One, we take it lying down. My friend laughs at the amount of money I work my ass off for in the arts world. He wouldn't accept that amount of money to design a toilet for your property no matter how much he loved designing toilets. More than that he— and everyone else in the world— would argue, cajole, advocate, threaten, conspire, and push to get paid a living wage for the work that he did.

Farmers lobby for subsidies. Corporations finagle tax breaks from their city and givebacks from their workers. Rich people hide their money in tax shelters. Unions push for adequate working conditions for their members, all of which is generally considered to be an appropriate demonstration of the mechanics of economic self-interest. But when artists mention how many non-industry related jobs they're working, people seem to think that they should just shut up and be happy they get to play dress up.

Second, in so many ways, the system isn’t set up for success. Last weekend in a restaurant, my server was the professional, Equity actress in the sold-out show that I had tickets to see later that night. A few years ago, I remember, a stalwart of the Twin Cities acting community offered to clean my house for extra money. Sometimes, I get jealous of all the readings my fellow playwrights have around the country until I’m reminded that they had to pay for their plane ticket to that little West Coast theater, and they have to get back early Monday morning so they don’t lose their temp job. In what other industry can you do a good job, achieve some level of professional recognition and skill, and still not be able carve out, or even imagine in the future, a sensible, secure living?

My friend knew what he had to do to achieve his goals as a builder. Some of it was within his control; some of it was not. But at least there was a path that sloped uphill.

The performing arts only make sense economically if you see it as part of the same industry as television and movies. A young actor, writer, or director sharpens his chops on small stages in Minnesota until eventually moving to Los Angeles and, maybe, if they’re exceptionally good, lucky, or pretty, building up to a reasonable paycheck by first getting some entry level job on a sitcom.

I’d sleep better if I accepted that scenario, but I don’t. In reality, I believe that television and movies, even the good ones, are analogous to nationwide chain restaurants. They can be good— though often they aren’t— but the experience they provide is very different than the experience a nice local restaurant provides.

Like an idiosyncratic neighborhood joint, theater provides a very different type of art and entertainment to the community in which they reside than television or movies provide. Though I like them sometimes, I don’t want to live in a world where I only get to eat in chain restaurants that were designed by people who live miles away from me.

What’s the point?

We do complain too much in the arts. We spend a laughable amount of time justifying to ourselves and others the special, even prophetic, nature of our chosen profession. My friend built beautiful houses that were as much personal expressions of his personality and sense of the world as, I suspect, my plays are an expression of mine. Many people impact the world in many ways.

Nevertheless, for those of us who have chosen this path in the world— which when you think about it makes no less sense than building houses with bedroom-sized bathrooms and "his and hers" shower spigots— for those of us who work in this industry, what are the roads to survival? How do people build lives in the arts? Because, after all is said and done—the drinks have been downed, and the whining is done—some people do and at least a few more people should.

What comes next?

I thought that I'd introduce this month's column with an honest admission of my own self-interest. I do have a dog in this fight; I’m biased. I know that art makes life better—my life, certainly, but also sometimes other people’s lives too. I feel the driving need to know how I can actually keep doing it.

So, the rest of the month, I’ll be exploring in this in-depth column, or blog, or whatever you want to call it, how performing artists in this state wrestle with this problem. Some of them have pinned it to the mat. Others are still grappling, and others have given up and walked away. What are the challenges? What are the strategies? What are the new ideas, and what old ideas are still viable? How is this performing arts industry supposed to work so that we can actually, passionately, make more work, and better?

Return for regular updates that will include interviews, research, and reports from around the state. In deference to the Internet, I’ll try to make each post much shorter than this— but I can’t promise anything. I bristle at authority, even my own.


From the November Issue of American Theatre ...

9:11 PM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

American Theatre is a fantastic publication that you can also read online at .

Not There Yet
Marsha Norman

Discussing the status of women in the theatre feels a little like debating global warming. I mean, why are we still having this discussion? According to a report issued seven years ago by the New York State Council on the Arts, 83 percent of produced plays are written by men—a statistic that, by all indications, remains unchanged. Nobody doubts that the North Pole is melting, either—we see it on the news. These are both looming disasters produced by lazy behavior that nobody bothered to stop. End of discussion. What we have to do in both cases is commit to change before it is too late.

But, you ask, why is it a disaster that women writers are wildly underrepresented on the American stage? Actually, it's awful all over the arts world for women. My painter pals tell me that at one big museum in New York City, the new acquisitions by men are on the walls, while the new work by women is all in crates in the basement. Only in the orchestra world are the gender numbers equal, and that's because they started holding blind auditions a few years ago.
The U.S. Department of Labor considers any profession with less than 25 percent female employment, like being a machinist or firefighter, to be "untraditional" for women. Using the 2008 numbers, that makes playwriting, directing, set design, lighting design, sound design, choreography, composing and lyric writing all untraditional occupations for women. That's a disaster if you're a woman writer, or even if you just think of yourself as a fair person. We have a fairness problem, and we have to fix it now. If it goes on like this, women will either quit writing plays, all start using pseudonyms, or move to musicals and TV, where the bias against women's work is not so pervasive.

In the late '70s, when I came of age as a playwright—along with Beth Henley, Wendy Wasserstein, Tina Howe, Paula Vogel and Ntozake Shange—we thought the revolution would be over by now. We thought we were changing things, that regional theatres and New York institutional theatres would soon be presenting seasons filled with plays by women. But that did not happen.

The regional theatre movement spun out into a new-play gold rush. Theatres deserted the writers they had just discovered, seeking fresher, newer faces. Even today, newly discovered writers of all kinds find themselves forgotten all too soon, in the theatre's version of Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. This has been hard on all writers, but it has been hardest on women.
NYSCA's aforementioned three-year study of the status of women in the theatre came to precisely this conclusion: Women are welcome at the front door of the theatre but not at the stage door. This goes for actresses, costume and lighting designers and directors as well as writers. (If you haven't read the NYSCA report, you can find this staggering document online at

At the Juilliard School, I have taught playwriting with Christopher Durang for 17 years. Our students are all fantastically talented and bold—and successful, by and large. They win Pulitzer Prizes, write big musicals and movies, and run TV shows. But upon graduation, our men get far more stage productions than our women. And the women who are produced are likely to get one production, not 10 or 15, as the men almost always do.
Last spring, one of our former students, Julia Jordan, instigated a new study of women writers in the theatre, carried out by Princeton researcher Emily Glassberg Sands. One of the most horrifying facts to emerge from this study was that women have a better chance of reaching production if they write about men than if they write about themselves. Imagine if writers of color were more likely to enjoy a career if their plays were populated by white people.
This past season, theatres around the country did six plays by men for every one by a woman, and a lot of theatres did no work by women at all, and haven't for years. And as the writing has disappeared, so have roles for actresses and jobs for costume designers and directors. It doesn't take an economist to draw a conclusion here. Either women can't write, or there is some serious resistance to producing the work of women on the American stage.

My purpose in this essay is not to compare the two big studies on this subject. The NYSCA report and the Sands study together form an unassailable case. The NYSCA study portrays the scope and depth of the bias facing women's work. The Sands study addresses why fewer scripts by women are submitted to theatres (she calls female playwrights "discouraged workers") and demonstrates to theatres why it is actually in their best economic and artistic interests to choose more plays by women.

As in the global warming debate, nay-sayers will always try to pit the authors of these studies against each other, hoping to derail the discussion and get back to the status quo. In this case, squabbling over methodology is particularly pointless. All the method that is required here is to look at the last season produced by the theatre nearest you.

I have one purpose here, and that is to try to determine why this situation is still so bad. Why does the American theatre ignore its women writers? No other developed nation does this. American fiction and poetry don't do this. The list of top American novelists, poets and short-story writers is easily half women, and reflects all races and creeds. The only American writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature in the past 50 years was a woman, the great Toni Morrison. The richest writer in the world is a woman, J.K. Rowling, and the longest-running play in England was written by a woman, Agatha Christie. The problem is not that women can't write.
And it's not audiences, either—they like plays by women. In the last 10 years, according to American Theatre's lists of the top 10 most-produced plays at TCG theatres, 30 percent of the top 2 on the lists were written by women. That's nearly double the percentage at which plays by women are produced overall. Of these same plays, more than half have female leads. Plays about women have won 7 of the last 10 Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.

Plays by women make money, too. The Sands study indicates that Broadway plays written by women earn on average 18 percent more than those written by men, even when the data are controlled for the type of play and corrected for massive failures and for whopping successes like Wicked, whose book was written by a woman, the great Winnie Holzman. Plays by women sell on average 3,538 more seats per week than do those written by men.

So why, with so much money to be made and so many audiences to please, does the American theatre resign its women writers to readings and development? Why do the critics correct, condescend and admonish women playwrights as if they were schoolgirls trying and failing to write like men?
I don't know the answers to these questions. But let's look at the major players in this situation and see who's saying what. At the very least, we can figure out what role each of us has to play in turning it around.

Literary DepartmentsOne of the most disturbing findings of the Sands study was that literary departments can be reluctant to champion plays by women because they fear their artistic directors won't choose those plays, and that will make the department look bad. This is what Sands and Jordan call "prophetic discrimination." The study also found that women artistic directors had the same fear, and thus failed to credit a work by a women writer as having as much economic value as the same play with a man's name attached.

(This last bit was reported incorrectly by some media sources when the study was announced. They pounced on the sensational and false claim that women artistic directors don't like women's plays. The actual finding, one more time, was that women artistic directors knew plays by women would face bias and thus predicted they would have a lower economic value.)
Literary managers are caught in a kind of limbo. They don't have much real power and they are swamped with work. They probably know more about good writing and good writers than anybody else in their theatre, but in practice, they feel very much on the outside, underpaid and underused. Worst of all, they have been put in charge of readings and re-readings, the process by which most new plays are worn out. We are wasting our lit managers, their time and their talents.

Richard Nelson, writing in these pages in September '07, was right: Theatres need to abandon development, talkbacks and rewrites. I suggest they adopt the rules of the fine art world—if you like it, you buy it. You don't bring a piece into your gallery, take a brush and change the red patch in the bottom of the painting to green, and then decide not to buy it and send it back. That's exactly what happens to playwrights' work in development.

Any artist whose painting hangs in a theatre lobby has more artistic control than the playwright whose play is on the stage. We have to stop letting staff and patrons fiddle with plays; literary managers need to stop second-guessing their audiences and their artistic directors. They need to adopt a gender-blind process for discovering and discussing new work. And they need to do this now.

Artistic DirectorsOkay, artistic directors are in a tough spot, too. They tell you that they have their boards of directors to satisfy, so they have to look for hits. They troll the Broadway crowd for enhancement money and keep an eye out for movie stars looking for some "theatre cred." And as for gender equity—they throw their hands in the air and say, "Women don't send us their plays." This one just kills me. Nobody sends out their plays anymore; plays come to theatres from agents, directors and actors, all of whom can be asked for plays by women. Or, in a pinch, an artistic director could go to the website of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which for the last 32 years has produced a list of the 10 best plays written by women (
The truth is, many artistic directors are too tired to look for any plays they don't already know. But these plays are not locked away in drawers; all you have to do is ask for them. One of the strangest things about my career as a teacher is that for all the glory of my students at Juilliard and NYU, I have never, ever, received a phone call from an artistic director of a regional theatre—or from a Broadway producer, for that matter—asking me to recommend one of my writers for a production. I have called them, to be sure. I have stopped them in parking lots and Broadway lobbies to talk about Juilliard kids. But something about the communication system is off. Artistic directors, stop saying you can't find great plays by women. Call the agents, call New Dramatists, call the Dramatists Guild, call the teachers. Call us.

Funders, Donors and PatronsWhat do funders, donors or patrons have to do with this, you ask? They don't write plays; they don't pick plays. But funders have failed virtually across the board to ascertain whether the theatres they support are presenting the work of women and people of color. This is simply unacceptable stewardship of public and private money. Is this a question that cannot be asked: How many plays by women did you produce last season?
A few years back there were virtually no plays by writers of color on our stages. That is now unacceptable. The resulting work by women of color has been especially notable. But the number of women writers produced in America has remained virtually the same for a century. Cheers to the foundations who ask how many writers of color a theatre produces. But what is this cultural agreement that more than 80 percent of plays should be by white men, and everyone else can share the remaining 20?

The NYSCA report observes that both women and men consistently overvalue the work of men and undervalue the work of women. So maybe we are conditioned by our society to see the ideas of men as superior. Then again, most of us are also hard-wired to want to go 80 miles per hour on the highway regardless of the speed limit. But there are laws that keep us from doing that, so we don't kill each other. If we need rules to give women equal access to American stages, then the NEA and all the big funders should impose these regulations on us until these numbers improve. The Endowment must take the lead here—its guidelines prohibit the support of theatres that discriminate against every group of writers in America except women. This is not okay.

Change is possible. In the example of nontraditional casting, the casting directors of America simply called everyone's attention to the fact that actors of color should be allowed to audition for all kinds of roles, and cast in nontraditional ways. This has produced a huge and wonderful change in the life of the American stage. This is what we're looking for in regard to work by women—a real change in consciousness and in behavior.

The next time you're in a theatre lobby, look up. Odds are, the patron named over the entrance to the theatre is a woman. Women like the theatre. Women buy 70 percent of theatre tickets sold, and make up 60 percent of the audience. But year after year, they are mainly offered plays written by men. Even when the story is about a woman, the play will almost certainly have been written by a man.

Donors and ticket-buyers need to stop being so passive. Women writers need them on their side.
The Writers ThemselvesThis brings us to the final group that has been blamed for the underrepresentation of women in the theatre—the playwrights themselves. Women's plays are boring, people say. They have too much talk and there's no event. They choose "soft" subjects and aren't aggressive enough about promoting themselves and their work.

But I fear that a more accurate picture of the writing complaint can be seen in something the late critic and author Mel Gussow once told me. He said, "Marsha, people like the plays of yours where the women have guns." In other words, Gussow was saying, people like plays in which the women act like guys, talk like guys, wave guns around and threaten to kill each other. In my experience, his observation is true. The critics have liked my "guy" plays—the ones with guns in them—and pretty much trashed the rest. Seven of the nine plays I have written go virtually unperformed. Thank God I had the sense to write for television and film and write books for big musicals, so I could get health insurance, feed my family and can now afford to teach.
Are those other seven plays of mine worse than Getting Out and 'night, Mother? Well, how would you know? You haven't seen them. They are perceived to be "girl plays," concerned with loss and death, love and betrayal, friendship and family. But no guns.

Are you with me here? There's no such thing as a girl play. But the girl's name on the cover of the script leads the reader to expect a certain "soft" kind of play. I don't get this. Lillian Hellman did not write girl plays. Neither did Jean Kerr or Lorraine Hansberry or Mary Chase.
The expectation of soft work from women writers comes from something way more awful in the society—the commercial romantic idea that all female stuff is soft, an advertising idea. Buy these products and you will have soft hair, soft skin and a soft voice. Unfortunately for writers, soft is perceived as playful and decorative and insignificant, not worthy of our time. We don't like soft in this country—we like hard here. Hard guy stuff, like in guy plays.

The problem is—and I say this having seen what feels like thousands of them—plays by men are not more violent or more active or smarter or raunchier or more tragic or more anything than plays by women. But plays by men are expected to be better even before they are seen, even before they are read—even, yes, before they are written. This is bias, pure and simple. And we also don't like bias in this country, so it's time to stop thinking this way. Women's plays are written by women, that is all.

A digression: I spend a lot of my free time reading about the brain. I recommend to you a remarkable new book, On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee. Hawkins founded Palm Computing and invented the communications tool Graffiti; Blakeslee covers science and medicine for the New York Times. Their book sets out a new model for understanding brain function, one with serious implications for our topic. The brain, they say, is a memory machine. It remembers events, sorts memories into bins, and then makes predictions for us based on the contents of the bins.

"Most of what you perceive is not generated through your senses," they say. "It is generated through your internal memory model." This model is made from the stuff in the bins, and you can call it an invariant memory or a stereotype. But "you cannot rid people of their tendency to think in stereotypes because stereotypes are how the cortex works." Our cultures and family lives teach us stereotypes, the book says. But "to prevent the harm caused by stereotypes, we have to teach our children to recognize false ones, to be empathetic and skeptical."
On Intelligence would suggest that the reason we expect women's plays to be soft is because we have them in the soft bin instead of the play bin—and we have them there because we keep sticking the qualifying word "women's" in front of them. So I propose that we stop saying the words "women's plays." We should, if we have to, simply say "plays by women," or just "plays." End of digression.

This is not to say that men and women know the same stories. And this is the final argument for more plays by women on American stages: We need to hear all the American stories, not half of them. When Bill Gates went to Saudi Arabia, he declared publicly that the only way it could possibly compete as a first-class country was if it started using more than 50 percent of its brain power. And the women, covered in burkas, their identities obscured as their society demands, cheered. If American theatres want to produce the best work, they will have to find a way through our own cultural issues in order to grant equal status to the words and work of women.
A theatre that is missing the work of women is missing half the story, half the canon, half the life of our time. That is the situation we have now.

I was deeply moved a few weeks ago, when Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times proclaimed in print that saving the women of the world was the central cause of our time. "The world is awakening to a powerful truth," he wrote. "Women and girls aren't the problem; they're the solution." If you didn't read this important piece called "Saving the World's Women," find it on the Times website. Telling the stories of women is the first crucial step in insuring their safety and their worth. We must join Kristof in this cause. Lynn Nottage's beautiful play Ruined is a perfect testimonial to the power of a storyteller to make a difference.

As women writers, we must demand the best of ourselves. We must travel and learn and listen. And then we must claim our place on the American stage. We have to be more aggressive in this regard and help each other more than we have, and not just side with the boys because we expect them to win.

Finally, communities must insist that critics be removed if they prove they cannot judge the work of women without snide condescension and dismissive ire. There have been several such situations over the past few years that should have ended up in court, in my view. Critics should be put on notice by their publishers and by our theatres. Newspaper boards may not be able to challenge a critic's taste, but they sure as hell can fire people whose reviews reveal a dislike of women. We need more women critics, and we need them to write without the expectation that a woman's work will be less significant than that of a man. And when they like a piece by a woman, they need to write without the fear that they themselves will be found lacking for admiring the work of a woman.

In her book Writing a Woman's Life, Carolyn Heilbrun says: "Power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told." That's the challenge here. We have to commit to telling all the stories of this country. We need to make some new rules for ourselves, and do our jobs fairly. We need to stop expecting plays by women to be soft. We need to see what they actually are when we read them. We should've done this a long time ago. But we can do it now. We can even up these numbers and then we will never ever have to read or write this article again.
And then we can get to work on the climate.

Marsha Norman is a Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright, co-director of the playwriting program at the Juilliard School, and former vice president of the Dramatists Guild of America.

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