TACTICS: Interview with Valerie Weak

Welcome to the TACTICS (Theater Artists’ Collected Thoughts Insights Challenges & Strategies for Gender Parity Advocacy) interview series curated by Amy Clare Tasker

Women are underrepresented on and off stage. The problem is clear. The causes are thorny, complex, and controversial; the solutions equally so. Many women and men have worked toward change for decades, and more are now asking, “What can we do?” The TACTICS interview series investigates what our community is already doing, what we’ve tried, and what we can do next to advocate for equal and better representation of women in theater.

 ValerieWeakheadshotwebsite-1

VALERIE WEAK

San Francisco based Equity actor, teaching artist, and creator of the Counting Actors Project

ACT: Who are you? Can you give me some background on how you came to be an advocate for gender parity in theater?

First, I was an advocate for myself.  I would go to auditions for classics and bring in a man’s monologue or ask to read for male roles.  Some people didn’t get it.  Some changed the gender of the role to female and had me play it, and others had me play the role as a male character.  I’m tall and I have short hair, so this helped.

Then, I started wondering if what I was feeling and noticing was accurate – were there fewer roles for women than men or did it just feel that way because I wasn’t working?  To answer this question, I started the Counting Actors project (which also looks at gender of playwright and gender of director).

ACT: What do you think are the most urgent or significant challenges women theater artists are facing right now?

A big challenge I’m wrestling with right now is inclusion/diversity as it relates to race – where is the intersection of advocating for gender and advocating for racial diversity?  I don’t have the answers, but I’m listening listening listening hard on this one right now.

ACT: What tactics have you used (or seen used) to advocate for gender parity in theater?

The big tactic with Counting Actors is to let the numbers speak.  When I do my monthly blog post, I don’t say anything about how the numbers make me feel, about what’s bad or what’s good.  I just say here are the numbers, please talk about them.  I have a big fear around being perceived as a crazy lady, which is why I keep the emotions out.

Another tactic I’m starting to use is the one on one coffee date – mostly these have been with men, but some women too, and we talk about what they’re noticing in the theater world in terms of opportunities for men and women, and I ask them a lot about how they think when they’re creating.  It’s been interesting.

ACT: What tactics have been most effective or least effective and why?

I think the counting has been effective in this format.  It’s different than the calling out the numbers when a season is announced that I’m seeing happen a lot – I’m of two minds about that stuff – I think it can have a lot of cut-through (and therefore get lots of social media chatter), like we saw with the Guthrie last year, but I’m realizing more and more that advocacy is a long term game.  And that the calling out the numbers and pointing at one company thing doesn’t do as much as I’d like, long term.

ACT: How do you measure the effectiveness of your advocacy actions?

Not very scientifically, that’s for sure.  It seems like more people are doing more talking about gender parity than there used to be.  We’re starting to clump more too, like the snow is finally sticking.

ACT: What is one action someone could take today that would make a difference?

I initially decided to count writers and directors on a whim – since I was doing the other stuff, I’d count those folks too.  And writers seem to have the toughest numbers to stomach – it hangs out around 20-30%, even when you take out plays written before the year 2000!  So one action to take today is to educate yourself on female playwrights.  I’ve made a personal commitment that whenever I’m asked to do two audition pieces, I’ll have at least one written by a female playwright.  Keep the women visible.

Amy Clare Tasker author iconAmy Clare Tasker is a San Francisco theater director and a member of “Yeah, I Said Feminist: a theater salon.” She is online at www.amyclaretasker.com and @AmyClareTasker. 

Tune into our national Howlround conversation on advocacy best practices, moderated by Marisela Treviño Orta and Amy Clare Tasker. Thursday, May 2 at 11AM PDT/2PM EDT on Twitter at #newplay.

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3 responses to “TACTICS: Interview with Valerie Weak

  1. Pingback: What Can We Do About It? | Works by Women San Francisco·

  2. Pingback: TACTICS: recap and relaunch | Works by Women San Francisco·

  3. Pingback: LA FPI » The Numbers Problem and Why It Matters·

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