We asked women in leadership positions in the BTD about their experiences as a woman in the theater industry and what we can do to support gender parity. Here are their responses.
What do you think of the discussions regarding representation of women in theater at all levels and how has your personal experience matched or bucked the status quo?
Elizabeth Ellis, Marketing Assistant, Athenaeum Theatre Chicago: I think that my experience validates the status quo. We’re not taken seriously at every level: maybe not by every man, but we women all go into professional theatrical situations believing that we won’t be taken seriously nor valued for our ideas and contributions. When the opposite happens, we feel grateful, and it shouldn’t be that way.
Jill Chukerman Test, President, Board of Directors, Saint Sebastian Players: We must remember and reinforce that women who bring their talents, skills and perspectives to any seat at the theatrical table provide as much value as men. My personal experience has been very positive in that I believe our company members listen to and respect each other regardless of gender or gender identity.
Margaret McCloskey, Executive Director, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company: It’s a white male dominated industry. As a female Executive Director with a male counterpart as Artistic Director, I see that people expect him to lead. They bypass me to hear what he has to say. The reasons why are complicated, but gender issues are at play.
Megan Carney, Artistic Director, About Face Theatre: Statistics and stories have been revealing gaps in representation of women for a long time. As a result, I’ve made choices throughout my career to develop and direct new plays with companies that prioritize queer and femme voices.
What does the industry need to do to move the needle on gender parity and create actual systemic change?
Margaret McCloskey: Better self awareness. We need to self-examine—and hold ourselves accountable. Boards and leadership do not want to admit when they are complicit, but they need to.
Megan Carney: The BIPOC Demands for White American Theatre #WeSeeYou document provides a blueprint for systemic change. If everyone with any agency in the industry studied that document and committed to even a fraction of the actions listed, the industry could begin to transform.
What can our colleagues and allies do to support gender parity?
Elizabeth Ellis: Put women on boards of directors. Mentor women artists not just for a few months, but create long-term programs that help keep women active and supported as they progress through their careers. Change the fundamental goals of theatre from examination of the bottom line to building relationships. LISTEN to women when we say something isn’t working and maybe there’s a better way to accomplish goals.
Jill Chukerman Test: View the work and recommend it widely
Margaret McCloskey: Help us hold others accountable.
How have you used your leadership position to promote positive change for women in theater?
MM: I try to advocate, mentor, and actively provide support.
MC: All women are different in particular ways with intersecting identities that shape what we want to achieve or what frameworks we’re bringing to the work. I try to listen well and then do my best to create the conditions where individual and different kinds of women can thrive, experiment, and bring their visions to life.
What can other women do from their own positions in the industry?
MM: The same! Our networks of support matter. Invite people to join.
EE: Advocate, SERIOUSLY, for other women. Stop looking at the crumbs that men in positions of power dole out as more than enough. Stop believing that a woman in a leadership position has too much baggage, or makes too many decisions based on emotions.
What is your hope for women and the future of theater?
MM: That we survive the pandemic.
JCT: To be recognized for their artistry, leadership and talent regardless of gender/gender identity so that no distinction is necessary, and there is no need to say they are “women playwrights, women directors,” etc.
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