Wednesday, February 27, 2019

League of Professional Theatre Women

It's easy to discuss the lack of gender parity in theatre, but what can be done about it? The League of Professional Theatre Women exists to answer that question and to make things happen, through oral history interviews, Women Count reports, meetings, awards, and generally advocating for women in theatre.

The oral history interviews are open to the public when they happen and then available through the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. (The League plans to make the interviews available via streaming.)

In the most recent instance, theatre journalist Elisabeth Vincentelli interviewed brilliant playwright Lynn Nottage. It was everything you could want in an interview. Vincentelli asked smart and brief questions, leaving plenty of space for Nottage's thoughtful, often fascinating, frequently funny answers. Nottage spoke at length about her process, including the astonishing fact that she works on a comedy and a serious drama at the same time. (She said that she turns to the comedies when she doesn't feel like crying.) She also spoke about her activism and her private life. I could have listened to her for hours.

Lynn Nottage
Photo: Ashley Garrett
The League has interviewed an amazing who's who of theatre women. Here is an edited list:
Jane Alexander, Elizabeth Ashley, Zoe Caldwell, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Marge Champion, Betty Comden, Betty Corwin, Jean Dalrymple, Tyne Daly, Carmen De Lavallade, Christine Ebersole, Madeline Gilford, Uta Hagen, Susan Hilferty, Judy Kaye, Linda Lavin, Baayork Lee, Rosetta LeNoire, Judith Light, Laura Linney,  Judith Malina, Elizabeth McCann, Frances McDormand, Julia Miles, Charlotte Moore, Donna Murphy, Bebe Neuwirth, Chita Rivera, Mary Rodgers, Ann Roth, Daryl Roth, Mercedes Ruehl, Carole Shelley, Frances Sternhagen, Elaine Stritch, Kathleen Turner, and Paula Vogel.
The next Oral History will take place on May 6th.

The League's Women Count reports focus on Off-Broadway and provide numerical proof of how far we have to go to achieve parity. Stage managers and costume designers are majority women. However, in no other category do women hit 50% and in far too many categories, they don't get anywhere near 50%. This is important information to have.

For those of us who wonder what we can do to support women in theatre, the League provides these useful ten steps:
How can we, individually and collectively, use our personal and professional networks to advance the cause of visibility and opportunity for women in the theatre?
1.  Talk about plays you’ve enjoyed that are by and about women.
2.  Subscribe to a theatre company that produces work by women (such as the Women’s Project, Three Graces, New Georges. Google to find others.)
3.  Use your theatre-going dollars to support women artists. Join the Meet-up Group Works-by-Women.  Join other women at the theatre on a group rate discount to see professional work by women writers, directors, and designers.
4. Advocate for Blind Submissions of playwrights’ work.  Most major orchestras conduct blind auditions. Why not choose plays for prizes, grants, even productions, without regard to gender? Spread the word.
5.  If called upon to subscribe to a theatre ask, “How many women will be directing/designing/writing/performing in plays for you this season?” Tell them you prefer to support theatres that are working toward gender parity.
6.  Subscribe to NYTE to support its pledge to give parity to women in its coverage of theatre work. (It’s free!)
7. Join the DGA Women’s Initiative, New York Coalition of Professional Women in the Arts & Media, the League of Professional Theatre Women’s Advocacy Committee or 50/50 in 2020.
8. When you receive a brochure from a theatre company, count the women artists listed. Call the theatre to praise or critique them based on how close they are to parity.
9. Talk about non-traditional casting i.e. Judith Ivey as the Stage Manager in Our Town. Kathleen Chalfant as Mrs. Scrooge, Cate Blanchett as Hamlet, Fiona Shaw as Lear and Viola Davis as Gloucester. Talk, blog  and use social networks to suggest plays you’d like to see in which a woman plays the lead, or in which women play the majority of the roles.
10. Amplify these actions by passing these tips to others.
For more information on the League and what they offer, click here.

Wendy Caster

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