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.
ACT: Who are you? Can you give me some background on how you came to be an advocate for gender parity in theater?
I have studied, performed, taught, and directed improvisational theater for over 15 years. I founded my SF based theater company, Leela, 10 yrs ago with my husband, Christopher, after studying improv in New York and Chicago. I also produce for The San Francisco Improv Festival. Females have been a historically underrepresented and marginalized community in the national improvisation industry/scene. Although there have been great successes, with the rise and media attention of inspiring improv artists, such as Tina Fey, Amy Pohler, and Stephnie Weir, there is still much advocacy needed for women in this community. I am also a psychotherapist, social worker, and play therapist, and have been increasingly interested in the micro-agressions and power plays which frequently occur in improvised theater/comedy. I am passionate about creating a safe and supportive space for people of all walks of life to play. Sadly, many women end up leaving the art form very early in their education, given the hostile environment and unequal power dynamics.
ACT: What do you think are the most urgent or significant challenges women theater artists face right now?
In the improv community, there is often little space created for dialogue around free associated play. Given this art form is considered sacred creativity, built on the cornerstones of “yes and,” “support your partner,” and”there are no mistakes,” it is incredibly challenging to engage in dialogue around micro-agressions, sexual harassment, and unequal power dynamics in play. Many women are told to “buck up,” and play stronger, and that it is futile to change the system of oppression. Similar to rape culture, the victim is taught to assume a defensive mode (ignore, silence, carry on), rather than the perpetrator to discontinue/apologize for the abuse. Women’s offensive reactions to abuse are often not encouraged given the sacredness of this free associative art form.
ACT: What tactics have you used (or seen used) to advocate for gender parity in theater?
I have purposely cast ensembles with gender parity. I also direct an all-female improv ensemble, in order to create a safe space for women to learn and grow and talk with one another about challenges in mixed-gender improvised play. I continue to advocate for panel discussions around the issue of gender parity and women in improvisation. I also continue to advocate for more female headliners and female local performers to perform at our annual Fest. We are 50% of the population, and we should be reflecting this on our improv stages. I write a blog which addresses feminism in improv called femprovisor.com
ACT: What tactics have been most effective or least effective? Why do you think those tactics worked or did not work?
Most effective: Casting improv ensembles with gender parity and all-female improv ensembles. My blog, femprovisor.com. These are all actions I can control, and serve as a role model to others. I can be the change I wish to see in the world.
Least effective: Advocating to get the national improv community at large to change, and point out their inadequacies in gender parity. This often gets negative reactions, and thus little movement.
ACT: How do you measure the effectiveness of your advocacy actions?
Number of women at my drop-in classes. When people speak up in class, and feel safe to bring up the topic of gender/power dynamics in their play and class discussions.
ACT: What is one action someone could take today that would make a difference?
If you are a man and have said something to a woman on stage in an improvisation that potentially crossed the line, teetered on micro-agression, sexual harassment or was demeaning: acknowledge it, apologize, and learn from it. If you witnessed this happening: call it out, and help create space for conversation. It will be uncomfortable, but it is necessary in order to keep the woman’s voice alive and thriving in improvisational theater.
Amy 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.