TACTICS: Interview with Arlene Goldbard

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.



writer, speaker, consultant, activist

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

I’ve been an activist artist all my life, first in the visual arts and now as a writer and speaker. I often think of my task as speaking truth to power, which can translate into speaking for those who are not able or ready to speak up for themselves. I’m an advocate for inclusion and respect for all voices that aren’t given their due in our great debates: whose stories are getting told seems to me to a key question, always. In that context, equality in all art worlds is a no-brainer.

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

I think all artists face the challenge of making their work matter. How to disrupt the steady doombeat of the nightly news and the self-ratifying pronouncements of the powerful? Because women are up against prejudices that relegate us to second class, the challenge is even greater. I have a hunch it’s not pressuring for equality within existing institutions that will make the biggest difference, but devising new ways of sharing women artists’ skills and insights beyond institutions.

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

It feels like the available tactics fall into two categories. One is advocating for quotas or other measurable steps in existing institutions and fields. The other is more of a DIY strategy: starting your own ensemble or showcase, demonstrating by doing. Both are needed.

ACT: What tactics have been most effective or least effective? Why do you think those tactics worked or did not work?

I think this is a hundred-flowers issue, one that needs many types of activism simultaneously. I’m dubious that quotas will result in real progress, in that without some way to enforce them, they’re just good ideas. But it does embarrass the cultural powers-that-be (who tend to think of themselves as liberal) to point out how abysmal their records are in showcasing women playwrights and directors, for instance. And spreading knowledge of that record draws general attention to the gap between ideal parity and real inequality. But I think that in all types of activism, people respond best not to a depiction of the problem and the damage it does but to the prospect of a remedy they can help to actualize. So when women’s work is presented in a way that attracts and engages audiences, that helps show what’s possible. That helps enlist supporters in ensuring there are resources to underwrite more of what they have already seen as valuable.

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

People who track statistics (e.g., how many scripts by women are produced in regional theaters) are measuring the ultimate impact on opportunity. My personal advocacy is in writing and speaking about issues of equality, so all I can judge by is readers’ and viewers’ response. But I wouldn’t get too carried away with measurement. Cultural change aggregates over time. It’s often hard to see when the tipping-point is near. Rather than focus overmuch on measurable results, I would counsel involvement in a form of advocacy that feels satisfying and uses your gifts. Then you don’t get too discouraged if the short-term indicators aren’t spectacular, and you feed your spirit for the long haul.

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

I think the biggest difference comes through what they call prefiguration: living today as if the change you are advocating has already happened. Women in theater not only doing that (outside the institutional framework if institutions aren’t responding) but talking about it in all sorts of venues and forms—everyone can find a way to do that so that it fits and is sustainable. There is no single best action. There is no hierarchy of actions. There is just sustained living into change, and every one of us is capable of that.

Amy Clare Tasker author icon

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.  On May 2, she co-moderated a gender parity tactics Twitter Howl with Marisela Treviño Orta.

Check out their summary of links and resources from that discussion.

One response to “TACTICS: Interview with Arlene Goldbard

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

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