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.
co-founder Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative
Along with co-founder Laura Shamas, Jennie Webb has spearheaded grassroots advocacy efforts to promote female theater artists in LA and beyond. What would it take to start a movement in your city?
ACT: Who are you? Can you give me some background on how you came to be an advocate for gender parity in theater?
I’m a playwright, and one of those (many) people who are much better at supporting others than supporting myself. I think part of that is I like to have a reason to connect that’s not “me me me.” I’ve always been interested in women’s stories and women’s voices; I come from a long line of unassuming feminists, I’ve only recently realized. So when my friend and colleague Laura Shamas sidled up to me in December 2009 post Emily Sands Study/noise from the gender parity discussion in NY, and said “No one’s on this in LA. What shall we do?”… I said, “Well, something! Let’s scheme.” And we came up with a grassroots organization that’s all about supporting women playwrights, and connecting them, and providing a springboard for new ideas. To be honest, my own awareness of female playwrights in LA and beyond – our underrepresentation, how we’re perceived, the obstacles we face as well as the amazing work – has expanded over the past three years.
ACT: What do you think are the most urgent or significant challenges women theater artists face right now?
Honestly, I think it’s the perception of “us vs. them.” That there’s only so many pieces of the pie and if “we” get too many of them, “they” will get less. Well, that’s sort of true if things stay how they are, with the same models. So I think we need to really rally our forces and ourselves to create more opportunities, for women and for men. To support one another and make bigger and better and different pies. More pies. Allow audiences to develop a taste for something they may not be used to. And that’s kind of a huge new way of thinking.
ACT: What tactics have you used (or seen used) to advocate for gender parity in theater?
- Compiling statistics – numbers count. People like numbers.
- Making theaters accountable for their decisions – looking at seasons: how many plays by women? Getting that info out there (whether positive or negative, ala Girlcott list).
- Drawing attention to the number of plays by women and women writers out there, in addition to focusing on the disparity of what gets produced.
- Establishing an ongoing, consistent hub or platform which encourages women artists to support each other and collaborate with one another – keeping it going through our organization, website and social media.
What tactics have been most effective or least effective? Why do you think those tactics worked or did not work?
Most effective: combining online activities with face-to-face meetings. I think this makes for stronger, lasting relationships with women who really feel they’re “part” of what we’re doing, as opposed to checking in to see how it can serve them, personally.
Making “members” feel invested in in our goals and actions, and making use of their talents in the right way.
My line is “energy conservation and sustainability” – conserving our own energy so we can sustain what we’re doing. So many projects, ideas, and organizations start up in a flame of extreme, fabulous energy and then crash and burn, or eventually fizzle out. I don’t want that to happen here.
Least effective: Getting women together to actually see one another’s plays. We tried to arrange “FPI Meets” to see plays by women which were initiated by individual members, but without someone taking the lead and organizing, it just didn’t happen. Butts in seats. One thing we NEED to try but need someone to spearhead, is connecting with other (non-theater) women’s organizations to try to get groups happening.
ACT: How do you measure the effectiveness of your advocacy actions?
By people’s reactions to the LA FPI, and what we’re doing. People do seem more open and supportive of it now. When we started it was “You’re doing what? What’s the ulterior motive?”. I’ve started to describe ourselves as a “service organization” and use the term “all volunteer” to drive it in people’s brains that this is about something bigger than “me me me,” and it’s not going away. It’s going to get bigger.
ACT: What is one action someone could take today that would make a difference?
CONNECT with other women artists. Stay connected. Commit to the connection.
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.
Stay tuned for her roundup of the Howlround Twitter conversation.
Jennie Webb writes funny, disturbing, fascinating plays and I will also testify that yes, she is better at supporting other people than promoting herself. She is one of the most generous, helpful colleagues imaginable. I hope this interview brings deserved attention not just to LAFPI but to Jennie Webb and her impressive body of work.
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