This is the third entry in a continuing series of guest posts. Our contributor is Heather Morrow, a Canadian playwright I’ve become acquainted with via Twitter. Heather has some fierce personal insights about gender and opportunity that I’m very happy to share. You can follow her on Twitter @theatrejunkiehm.
I’m a playwright, but I have a couple of story lines in my head that want to be movies. One idea is about a novice (female) director who accidentally becomes famous for another reason and acquires an agent (who’s a woman, too). The heroine wants to parlay her new-found fame into directing work, and her agent bluntly tells her: “Is your name Kathryn Bigelow? No? Then you’re never going to direct a film, honey. There can only be one woman director working at a time. Unless you’re Sofia Coppola, and you know who her dad is.”
My brain came up with that. As soon as I wrote it down, I was horrified by myself. Did I really think that? Frankly, though, it seems to be true, as suggested by this recent Business Week article: Why Women in Hollywood Can’t Get Film Financing. A female investor who doesn’t trust female filmmakers? WHAT? Then there were this year’s MTV Movie Awards, during which the funniest joke of the night (for me) came when hostess Rebel Wilson said the producers were very surprised when they met her. “They thought I was Adele,” she quipped.
Because there can only possibly be one woman larger than a size two who sings pop music, of course.
Back during the dark period in which a new Twilight movie was coming out every year, I watched a panel discussion of women writers here in Edmonton. One of the panelists was an award-winning news columnist who said that Twilight was an example of a critical problem: too many women make heroines out of characters who don’t do anything. Who sit around and react to the men who sweep them off their feet. A passive protagonist: the kind who makes girls want to grow up into women who don’t trust themselves to accomplish things. And who don’t trust each other, either. Who nobody trusts, really, with any task requiring decision-making and action.
I’m a writer of theater, and a similar thing seems to happen here, too. I’ve had the great fortune to work with a few very, very good female directors. All are acknowledged by their peers to be extremely talented. Yet none of the directors I’ve worked with have landed a gig at a regional theater with an actual budget. They all have to self-produce as well as direct.
So… what to do about this? How can we break the Twilight curse and start trusting female directors to get things done? And not just one woman, but lots of us. Here are my ideas:
Bet on a Winner
All artists start out small, doing small shows with small budgets, often at festivals. Out of those festivals comes outstanding stuff. And because the female directors I know—and, I imagine, many more—have to produce their own shows, they often do so at festivals.
A terrific, easily transportable show, inexpensively produced: isn’t that exactly what many theaters need? Shows made by artists who have the innovation and creativity to do a lot with a little? So let me ask artistic directors: why not stick your necks out and program shows that have already proven they can kill it? Why not take a show from a festival, one that was directed by a woman, and program it as-is?
Oh, and once that inexpensive show has made your theater money? Trust that female director with another of your plays.
See Plays Directed by Women
All you women in the audience out there. Yes. You.
Seek out plays directed by women and pay your money to see them. Before you say you’re not going to some terrible show you have no interest in just because a woman directed it, I guarantee you will find a great play, which you will love, which a woman happened to direct, if you look.
Don’t believe Twilight. Believe that a fellow woman can do it. You’ve got no business telling your daughter, your niece, or your BFF that she can do anything she wants if you don’t actually believe women can do anything, too!
(Oh, and men? You should do the same thing, too.)
Stop Supporting Sexist Garbage on Stage
If the show you want to do or see is taking the mickey out of misogyny, or depicts women taking on the big bad world, brilliant. But anything purposely showing female characters being marginalized and treated like crap? Don’t perpetuate it. Don’t go see it.
If you pay to see a show that you expected to be good, and instead it does anything misogynist, and it bothers you (which I would hope it does), say something. The reason such work continues to exist is because theaters still program it and audiences go to see it. You can take that away.
Not only does such crap continue to make us believe women can’t direct—or do anything else—it also prevents women from directing. No good female director will touch work making her look bad, and theater needs all the good directors it can get.
But hey… maybe this all seems like too much for you. After all, what’s the worst that could happen if more isn’t done to get more women directing?
Well… I’m a female playwright who once had a terrifying year in which I got so discouraged I simply gave up. I stopped writing, I stopped reading plays… and I also didn’t go to any shows. So what happens if every woman trying to make theater just gives up? What if we all stop going to shows? What if we abandon the theater entirely? By many measures, we buy a large majority of the theater tickets. Doesn’t the theater need us to keep coming?