Since 2001 Guerrilla Girls On Tour! have staged an annual protest around the time of the Tony Awards to highlight sexism in theatre. We chose the Tony Awards because we wanted people to think about the fact that women aren’t nominated for Tony’s because they aren’t hired on Broadway, the highest paid part of the theatre. Yes, there’s a tragedy on Broadway and it isn’t Electra.
The Tony Award is named after Antoinette Perry, for goddess sake, so you’d think that more women would be up for a Tonys. But even during seasons where there are 4 plays by women produced on Broadway (2011/12) not one of them was nominated for Best Play.
While our Tony protests have been a smorgasbord of marches and sticker campaigns; angry ads and funny fax blitzes. This year we decided to do something on a grander guerilla scale. And so on September 24th we came out of the jungle and went into the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City for one night only to host WE ARE THEATRE, a SPEAKOUT for gender parity in theatre.
The SPEAKOUT didn’t happen overnight. For almost one year a small band of likeminded guerrilla theatre activists met month after month. Munching on fair trade bananas we planned an evening of kick ass plays by women by sending emails to women playwrights we knew and women playwrights we didn’t know, asking them to write us a reflective, constructive, personal, experimental or angry monologue/short play about sexism in theatre. And then we waited.
And finally the plays began to trickle in. Now I admit the initial silence scared me. I thought that perhaps we’d been too late, that women playwrights had become extinct. But soon Theresa Rebeck, Kate Bornstein, Lauran Ferebee, Brooke Berman and Shay Youngblood, among others, answered the call with funny, sad, angry works about alienation, extinction, isolation, backlash, absurdity and inclusion. We heard from quota queens, lesbians, futuristic feministas, transgender activists and grandmothers who gave voice to being less than, mistaken and forgotten.
The morning of September 24th I snuck out of my cage at the Bronx Zoo and made my way down to the Cherry Lane where lights were being focused, microphones were being set up and a bevy of volunteers were folding programs and thought, are we really going to pull this off? For just one night in New York City will discrimination in theatre end? Productions of plays by women will rise way above 17 percent, the usual percentage of plays by women produced across the U.S. because of our SPEAKOUT. But maybe we’re really hosting just another bitch fest.
My thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of my new IPhone 5. Isadora Duncan is on the other line calling me with news. Did I know that the Roundabout Theatre has announced its 2012/13 season? “No” I tell her. “The Roundabout has decided to produce ZERO plays by women and hire NO female directors on their main stage” she grunts. Grrrrrrrrrr!
The performers begin to arrive for a walk through. I get on my social media sites and send out a call to action to blitz the Roundabout. Sticker their bathroom toilet stalls with our downloadable “In this theatre the taking of photographs, the use of a recording device and the production of plays by women is strictly prohibited” sticker. And just in case Artistic Director Todd Haimes doesn’t know any female playwrights I invite him to the SPEAKOUT.
When the lights dim that evening I sneak into the packed house and weep, laugh and applaud with the rest of the crowd for WE ARE THEATRE. The plays are so different and yet they drive home these two facts.
1) All over the world theatres continue to produce mainstage seasons made up entirely of plays by white men.
2) Without the vision of women and artists of color the theatre is like play without a second act.
Let the second act begin.