The Playgoer: Women Directors WHERE?

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Women Directors WHERE?

What to make of Sunday Arts & Leisure's "roundtable" on the plight of female directors on Broadway. Advocacy journalism? Or the business-as-usual myopic commercial focus posing as progressivism?

First, why the format. Is the Times afraid to have someone actually take a stand on this in a proper article? Or by just opening the microphone to four successful women and two status-quo men (how can their comments be expected to be anything other than defensive?) this just a pro-forma gesture to alleviate the flack for their condescending profile on playwright Sarah Schulman a few weeks back?

The editor's note makes this funny admission:

When Arts & Leisure asked half a dozen producers and directors why, a number of the respondents noted by e-mail that women have been responsible for some of the most successful shows on Broadway. As the producer Robyn Goodman said, "Maybe the question should be 'Why aren't more men directing the top grossing shows on Broadway?' Of the five top earners, three of them are directed by women: 'The Lion King' (Julie Taymor), 'Mamma Mia!' (Phyllida Lloyd) and 'The Producers' (Susan Stroman)."
Indeed. Why proceed with this piece, then!

For me, of course, the real issue is--yet again: why just Broadway? Look at the lead-in to the piece:

OF the 39 plays and musicals that opened on Broadway this year, 3 were directed by women (a husband-and-wife team directed a fourth, the short-lived "Blonde in the Thunderbird"). Of the 34 new shows in 2004, women directed 2. These are not particularly encouraging figures for those looking for the new female directorial voices. Many women can be found directing shows off Broadway and running regional theaters, but the best-known and biggest-budget venue has not been all that welcoming. (emphasis mine)

In other words... if it ain't on Broadway it don't count. Hey, how about those women running regional theatres? Hey, what about that far off land of Off-Broadway where one hears of women--nay, even black, brown and yellow folk--directing and producing their own work? How about an article (or roundtable, or conversation, or whatever) on that!

This reminds me a bit of debates about "the canon" in academia. Once you define visual art by its medium or genre you end up circumscribing, liming the profile/demographic of who the "artist" is. For instance, once you define visual art as "oils on canvas," or film as narrative Hollywood production... guess what: your artists end up being mostly white men of a certain class and cultural range. Notice how the diversity of theatre practitioners becomes clear when you diversify your definition of theatre practice. (That is, beyond Phantom and Rent.) Obviously--there's nothing genetically or even culturally stopping someone non-male, non-white, non-western from excelling in the forms dominated by the "dead white males." But if you're stumped about where all the women directors are... maybe you don't want to limit yourself to the old boys club of Broadway.

The constant justification privileging Broadway as simply American theatre's "best known venue" is revealed here for what it is: a self-fulfilling prophecy. Gee, how do Broadway shows--and their directors--get to be so "well known"? Could it be because people read about it more in the papers...?

Memo to NYT: considering that one of the 39 productions on Broadway in 2005 was "The Blonde in the Thunderbird" may want to reconsider your theatre coverage in general.
By the way, if you add In My Life, Good Vibrations, and Lennon, that accounts for 10% of the season right there!

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