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.
JULIE FELISE DUBINER
Associate Director American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
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 Julie Felise Dubiner. I’ve been working in professional theater for over 20 years now – starting in Chicago in storefronts and freelancing with bigger places, then to Philly, Louisville, and now Oregon for institutional positions. Feminism has never been a bad word for me, and fighting for fairness is something I’ve always done. It has come into sharper focus for me in recent years. I became the mother of a son, and that clarified for me the importance that he see me as strong, so I will be strong. And I lost a job fairly brutally and amazingly got a great new one. The box-checking “Let’s do it in March” mentality made me bonkers at other theaters I worked at, but here at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where the leadership is heartfelt and completely committed to diversity and inclusion, I find myself looking outward at my colleagues around the nation, wondering if we can do it at a big old Shakespeare theater, how dare you say it’s a problem for you? My focus recently has been asking my friends in the dramaturg community to examine why the field is so powerless and also completely dominated by women, and to encourage my non-theater friends to reclaim partnership with their local theaters.
ACT: What do you think are the most urgent or significant challenges women theater artists face right now?
What’s scary to me is that what we are facing now is not the outright misogyny of the past, but instead institutionalized sexism. I don’t know too many people who hate women or women artists, but I do see people in leadership who are not introspective, who do not claim responsibility for the community of artists and audiences they are paid very well to serve. Call me an idealist, but I think art should advance us emotionally, politically, should bond us to each other, and I fear the majority of regional theater leaders see art as the thing they produce to thrill themselves or simply to maintain the institution. There is very little interaction with most ADs, except amongst each other, which again reinforces a status quo. Opportunities for true engagement are limited. This hurts everyone, has calcified the regional theater movement, and solidifies the second-rate status for women artists who are excluded. This also leaves us in a box-checking mentality instead of a true change in how we operate and program.
ACT: What tactics have you used (or seen used) to advocate for gender parity in theater?
At OSF, several of us just have “Remember the Ladies” on our tongues through season planning season, but – again – my leaders here are already allies, so I’m looking outward. My biggest tactic is using my big mouth. I’ve been trying to use my social media interactions to promote change in a small way – on Twitter, where I am friends with a number of theater makers, I will dare people to get in touch with artistic directors. On Facebook, where my non-theater maker friends are, I’ll put up a challenge to them to look at their local theater’s seasons and contact leaders there to congratulate or complain or at the very least open a line of communication. In my work with the early career dramaturg group of LMDA, I’m just trying to be a good mentor – which is something I never had. I am trying to get these starting artists to question the status quo, change it, instead of replicating what doesn’t really work anymore.
ACT: What tactics have been most effective or least effective? Why do you think those tactics worked or did not work?
I’ve been surprised by the positive response to the Twitter and Facebook posts. I find it encouraging that people are willing to rise to a challenge, and even more that they are seeking to connect. I’m a big fan of standing on chairs (I’m short) and yelling when I need to, and I do think that serves a purpose when you’re outraged.
I’ve only been here [at Oregon Shakespeare Festival] under Bill Rauch [who became Artistic Director in 2007], but when I listen to people who have been here for years and have been through many leadership changes, it does feel like he is an awesome and amazing part of a continuum. The theater was founded and grew up with the idea of supporting artists, and as early as the 70s and 80s it feels like OSF was ahead of the curve on gender, sexuality, and race issues and fairness. Libby Appel [OSF Artistic Director 1995 – 2007] was an incredible force for good, and many of the diversity and inclusion programs here were formalized during her tenure. As I understand it, Bill joined that, and has promoted the hell out of social justice his whole career (along with my director – Alison Carey).
Diversity and inclusion are core values at OSF, and all of us are more than staff – we are company members. Everyone who interviews for a job here, much less works here, comes to understand – and in my case, highly value – what that means. Having diversity and inclusion in our mission statement, our vision statement, our 5 year plans and bridge plans and really, everywhere – makes it a guiding force. It is the core, the center, and at the heart of how decision on all levels are made at OSF.
I can’t tell you what a relief that is to me. To not have to shout to be heard. To be treated with respect as an artist, a company member, a mother, a woman, a person without a constant struggle – a struggle I’m not sure I was able to fully articulate before coming here. You know how sometimes you don’t realize how tired you are until you sit down? I sat down, and now I stand back up – or stand on the chair.
ACT: How do you measure the effectiveness of your advocacy actions?
I was a history major in college, and I remember studying revolutions and realizing that all successful revolutions (defined as toppling the government and establishing a new one – not a right or wrong judgment there), all required three people – the person on the inside, the outsider, and the person with friends in both camps. I’ve often said, and truly believe, that the regional theaters must die so they can rise again. After being an outsider for the first half of my career, I now find myself an insider. Sadly, that is the person most often guillotined once the revolution takes place. I fervently hope that will not be the measure of my success. Honestly, I am curious what happens when more of my much maligned GenXers take leadership positions, and if the next generation responds to the powerful mentorship they’re being offered right now. Will we be able to respond to the changing landscape of economics and audience demographics and stop checking boxes and use our art well? I hope so. Most days I am profoundly optimistic.
ACT: What is one action someone could take today that would make a difference?
This is the posting I put on Facebook:
Over the next few months, your local theaters will be announcing their upcoming seasons. Every theater has a website – if you need help tracking down your local one, message me and I’ll help you out. These theaters belong to you, your family, and your community. Do they represent your community? Look at who the writers and directors are – how many men? How many women? How many white and non-white artists are working there this year? There is another section on all these websites which will have the mission of the theater written out – do those shows and artists represent the mission? There is so much good change happening in my world, but we are missing a voice in the arguments and discussion – the audience’s. Also on the website, you should be able to find e-mail addresses of the leadership of the theater. Write to those leaders. Challenge us. Dare us. Engage us. You can even congratulate us if you think we’re matching our work to our community and mission at the same time. If the leadership’s e-mail is unfindable, write to the general info e-mail address provided, and call them out for being hard to reach. Again – your local theater is yours.
And on Twitter, my double dog dares have been for the artists – challenge leadership if you’re on staff someplace, reach in if you’re outside. Call people out when they need that, but – really – remember to acknowledge and promote the good.
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.