Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The F Word

I never considered myself a feminist. It had a negative, bra-burning connotation to me. I was never particularly proud to be a woman, nor was I ashamed of it. I just considered myself to have landed on this half of the population and I believed it had no effect on my life. At the end of this past summer, I checked my courses online and found that, without warning or notice, Makeup Design had disappeared. The first time I signed up for that class, they rescheduled it to a time slot when I was in a class required for my major. This time, no rescheduling, no apologetic email. Nada. Just a very frustrated short person. I had no real interest in an elective outside of my department and the only other option was with the teacher who had me in five previous classes and was about to have me in two more, even if I didn't take her elective. Finally, I registered for the class, figuring that if nothing else came up, I had survived taking 15 hours at a time with this woman before (my friend aptly named it the “Sharothon”). Nothing else came up. And I was stuck in Women in Dramatic Arts.

It ended up being the most influential class I took.

Yes, we read Aphra Behn and Clare Boothe Luce and talked about the women in Ibsen's plays, but we more importantly gained understanding about the true circumstances concerning women—that the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be ratified, our pay is not equal, our sexuality must be hidden behind pantsuits to be taken seriously, and in other countries, women are treated as less than equal—covered up, beat up, shut up. I was fortunate to share ten weeks with a group of women that shared their thoughts and experiences with each other as we studied the history of women in Western theatre from the Restoration forward. We had good laughs, good cries, as each of us began to understand where we stand and that maybe it's not where we thought we were, that it has every effect on our lives.

I'm not saying there aren't other soapboxes to stand on, but I like this one. It has given me a sense of identity as well as a group to identify with. It has given me a plethora of playwrights, many of whom have been tossed aside in history. It has given me an outlet. I can volunteer at women's shelters or donate or do whatever good samaritan deed seems right for the day, and maybe I will. But what is so fantastic and timeless about theatre is that it doesn't take money and it can go anywhere. It delivers a message and connects people on the same topic. Theatre can be used as your soapbox of choice.

A couple nights ago, I finished Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security-Obsessed World by Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues, founder of V-Day, and a huge inspiration to me. In Insecure, she wrote:
Theater insists that we inhabit the present tense—not the virtual tense or the politically correct tense. Theater demands that we truly be where we are. By being there together, we are able to confront the seemingly impossible, we are able to feel that which we fear might destroy us—and we are educated and transformed by that act.

Theater is sacred because it allows us, it encourages us, as a community of strangers, to go someplace together and face the issues and realities we simply cannot face alone. Alone, we are powerless, translating our suffering and struggle into our own private narcissistic injuries. When we become a group, these issues become social or political concerns, responsibilities, a reason for being here together.

James Cromwell spoke with us at the Savannah Film Festival and expressed his thoughts on the broken state of our industry and our country. “Everything's broken,” he said. “We have to start over, build from scratch.” He spoke on creating theatre in a community to tell its story. That there is no competition in your hometown and “what is most important is what you have to say.”

I'm biased, but I consider our art to be the most powerful. Theatre has caused people to be outwardly angry, started riots. In the case of Eve Ensler, it has also raised $50 million for grassroots organizations around the world. It is the megaphone of the arts. What we do with it should be selective, personal, and benevolent for the sake of ourselves, our art, and the soapbox of our choice. For myself, I think it should also make a little noise.

Ensler, Eve. Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security-obsessed World. New York: Villard, 2006. Print.

Want to know more about Ensler's V-Day Foundation? Check it out at http://www.vday.org/home.


  1. On Boxing Day, I watched a film on the BBC called "When Harvey Met Bob" about the fantastically insane Bob Geldof attempting to create Live Aid on the backside of the success of "Do They Know It's Christmas." It re-solidified two thoughts in my brain: 1) I'm really meant to be a professional musician, and 2) I really want to help people. I agree that theatre has a palette that is unparalleled in the arts, and it should be used as such. I think like that- but music is beautiful to me, because it takes massive concepts and concentrates (dilutes ?) them into little bits that can be sung, drunken at times, at full volume, lungs burning, "feed the world," Simon Le Bon's hair looking like a fish's gills.
    The world's questions will be posed by you, but popularized by musicians so that you can hum them at home until you get the idea. It's not better, it's not worse. Frankly, you have the harder job.
    But I'm going to try to do mine the best I can

  2. I'm biased too, but yes, theatre is definitely the most powerful art medium. In no other art can a greater degree of catharsis be achieved. Unfortunately, I find that aggravating people to the point that they climb onto a soapbox I've filled with gunpowder and then lighting it on fire is much more satisfying. As I write this I also happen to be in the home of one of the most powerful media figures in Western Europe, a woman.
    Everyone is oppressed to some degree. Dividing humanity in two by gender results in one stronger and one weaker. Of course women are oppressed and always will be. Somebody has to be. It sucks that men are so brutishly aggressive and that women suffer at the hands of it, but I think they are far stronger for it.

    I think that is the reason I am intimidated by women. Oppression leads to progression. We have fun on our thrones, but that's all we'll ever have.