SWAN Day 2019 is Coming!

 
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As part of our ongoing efforts to increase the visibility of women artists, StateraArts puts the spotlight on women artists every March and April through Support Women Artists Now Day.

Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day is an annual international celebration of women’s creativity and gender parity activism.

In June 2018, WomenArts announced that StateraArts would be the new organizers for SWAN Day 2019! StateraArts is passionately dedicated to intersectional gender parity in the Arts and is thrilled to usher in a new era of SWAN Day. 

 Left: Martha Richards, Executive Director WomenArts. Right: Melinda Pfundstein, Executive Director StateraArts

Left: Martha Richards, Executive Director WomenArts. Right: Melinda Pfundstein, Executive Director StateraArts

Martha Richards, Executive Director WomenArts and Melinda Pfundstein, Executive Director StateraArts met in October at Statera's National Conference in Milwaukee, WI to convene with SWAN Day organizers from all over the world for this historic SWAN Day transition!

When announcing the transition, Richards said, “I have been looking for someone to take over SWAN Day for the past three years and I pitched StateraArts because they are based in various locations, they are committed to the same values I am. We treat each other with respect, they are a great team and they are well connected with artists all over the world. The important thing is they will carry the spirit of SWAN Day forward.” 

You can read more about this gathering in Nikoleta Morales’ article for FF2 Media HERE.


Are you ready to host your own SWAN Day Event?

Below you'll find everything you need to plan and manage your 2019 SWAN Day Event. Please join StateraArts and countless women* artists from all over the world for SWAN Day 2019!

Looking for SWAN Day ideas? There are lots of ways, large and small, to make an impact on SWAN Day!

  • Organize Arts Events for SWAN Day – There have been over 1,900 SWAN Day events in 36 countries in the past 11 years. Join the fun by organizing an event in your community! Remember to add your event to the SWAN Calendar!

  • Host a SWAN Day Party – Gather friends at your house to talk about ways that you might help the women artists in your community. Invite local artists to speak at the party. Screen films written and directed by women to show at your party. Ask everyone to contribute some amount of money and then make a group decision about which artist/s you want to support.

  • Introduce Students to Women Artists in the US & Elsewhere – If you are a teacher introduce your students to women artists. Don't know any women artists? Contact us! Perhaps we can organize an international pen-pal or exchange program!

  • Donate to Your Favorite Women Artists – If you love seeing the work of a particular woman artist, send her a check on SWAN Day to help her make more art.

  • Host a play reading with plays by women and non-binary artists! The Kilroys List or the New Play Exchange are great places to find new plays by women!

  • Post on your social media feed about your favorite woman artists and encourage others to do the same (#SWANDay2019)

  • Write letters to your local arts organizations asking that they feature more women playwrights, poets, painters, choreographers, directors, etc. Artistic Directors need to hear from the public!

  • In fact, you can start a letter writing campaign on behalf of women artists. Send them to Artistic Directors, State Representatives, Galleries, etc. Create a template letter and share it with your friends. Let’s raise our collective voices on behalf of women artists everywhere!

  • Share your own ideas in the comments section of this post!

If you have questions about how to participate, or you’d like to speak directly to the StateraArts SWAN Day coordinator, please contact us at swanday@stateraarts.org.


*Women: Statera recognizes the limiting nature of the binary use of woman. We serve and welcome anyone on the gender spectrum who identifies either always or some of the time as a woman. We also serve and welcome those who identify as nonbinary. 

The Magic Stands Alone: The Importance of Solo Performance for Women in Theatre

On October 7, 2018, Torie Wiggins presented a breakout session called “The Magic Stands Alone: The Importance of Solo Performance for Women in Theatre” at Statera’s National Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. StateraArts is proud to publish a text version of her session below.

 Torrie Wiggins Presenting at StateraConIII in Milwaukee. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

Torrie Wiggins Presenting at StateraConIII in Milwaukee. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

The Magic Stands Alone: The Importance of Solo Performance for Women in Theatre

BY TORIE WIGGINS

One of the main reasons solo performance exists in theatre is to highlight and focus the story of one. One that has many faces and perspectives, but one body, one mind, and one soul. As of late, women have been forced to the forefront of the advocacy of our existence – why we matter, why our stories are important, and how we aim to take the lead in changing the world. When women and theatre come together, an inevitable magic happens. Through the magic of solo performance, women in theatre can use it to bring about awareness of critical issues and social change.

A solo performance, sometimes referred to as a one-person show, features a single person telling a story for an audience, typically for the purpose of entertainment. This type of performance comes in many varieties, including autobiographical creations, comedy acts, novel adaptations, vaudeville, poetry, music and dance.

Women were first permitted to perform on the English stage in the early 1600’s, after the Restoration of King Charles II. It is said that Emma Hamilton was the first known female solo performer, and she started in 1787. She re-imagined the concept of tableau-vivant, and her style became known as “the attitudes.” Her performance style inspired other women to perform in this way through the 1800’s. Solo performance historically has lived in many forms – “linked” monologues, monologue-dramas, mime art, avant garde, and performance art, just to name a few. Some notable women in solo performance include Ruth Draper, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Whoopi Goldberg, Beatrice Herford, Anna Deveare Smith, Holly Hughes, Peggy Shaw, Charlayne Woodard, and many, many more. What they all have in common is reinforcing the power of the woman’s voice in theatre.

Women have always been the keepers of stories, problem solving, and empathy. And yet today, we still have a need to be seen. We have always taken responsibility for being the voice of the unheard, and not just in theatre. By becoming the voice of the unheard, and resisting being rendered invisible, we transform performatively into the complete opposite: being openly vulnerable, exposed, and seen.

One commonality found in women’s solo performance is relatability of characters. Statistically, theatre audiences are mostly female – women make up 70% of theatre ticket sales, and 60-70% of theatre audiences. They know their audiences.

Another is political and sociological commentary. Women performers tend to acknowledge historical triumphs and catastrophes from an emotional perspective, or how it felt.

Another commonality is comedy. Comedy is steeped in vulnerability – the ability to be laughed at requires a level of vulnerability.

And the final commonality is the stories are often autobiographical. Its women sharing their personal stories.

It’s easy to think that solo performance requires one to be self-absorbed, seeking accolades and all the attention. But solo performance requires an actor to purposefully fill space. They must see the audience as their scene partners, sharing and connecting with them. The solo performance is about a specific narrative, and the actor must decide who gets to tell whose story, and lean into the ownership of said stories and all relationships involved.

 Torrie Wiggins Presenting at StateraConIII in Milwaukee. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

Torrie Wiggins Presenting at StateraConIII in Milwaukee. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

Below are some tips and questions to ask before getting started on your solo performance piece:

  • What’s the narrative? Do you have the authority or permission to tell it?

  • In what way should this story be told? Qualify your authority over this narrative – how does it relate to you specifically? What will it consist of – vignettes? Multi-media? Puppets? Music? Poetry? Characters?

  • How does this performance bring truth to power? Power being what the audience will leave with – you have this responsibility now!

  • Spend a significant amount of time alone with the piece. Work it the same way you would a scripted play. Analyze your work and get it on its feet.

  • Put eyes on it. Get a director or a trusted partner to objectively view your piece.

  • Share it. Break that 4th wall and invite us all in.

Molly Peacock wrote a piece on solo performance for Oprah.com, and she says, “Every woman I know has a one-woman show in her, a part of her life she would love to have onstage. It could be the romantic part or the most painful part - it doesn’t matter. What matters is the impulse in each of us to lean forward and say, “Whew, could I tell you a story.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Torie Wiggins has been performing and teaching professionally for over 15 years. She is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with a BFA in Dramatic Performance. She has co-adapted and performed a one woman show, Your Negro Tour Guide, at various venues in Cincinnati and toured with it across the country. She has appeared on All My Children, and her voice can be heard on numerous national television and radio commercials for H&M, Home Depot, and Burger King, just to name a few. She has appeared on All My Children, and landed a principal role in A Christmas Melody on the Hallmark Channel, starring and directed by Mariah Carey, as well as a role in The Old Man and the Gun with Robert Redford and Danny Glover, The Public, directed by Emilio Estevez, and Extremely Wicked, Evil and Vile starring Zac Efron. Cincinnati credits include Collapse, Afghan Women Writer’s Project, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Pluto, Harry and the Thief, and Dragon Play (Know Theatre of Cincinnati) The Mountaintop, Cinderella, and Violet (Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati) and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 by Anna Deveare Smith (Diogenes Theatre Co) which she also performed at Miami University. She appeared in To Kill a Mockingbird with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Black Pearl Sings! at ETC, which both garnered nominations for a League of Cincinnati Theatres  Award. At the Human Race Theatre in Dayton , OH she played as Vera Charles in Mame, Cassandra in Vonya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Mabel in Crowns. She reprised her role as Calpurnia in To Kill a Mockingbird at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. She also wrote and performed a solo piece entitled The Breath of Africana for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and has performed it in various venues.

The StateraArts Resource Directory is Here!

Last February when StateraArts met for our team retreat, we dreamed up a new way to serve our community. We wanted to build a resource directory -  a one-stop-resource-shop for women* in the arts. And more importantly, we wanted our resource directory to be FREE. Total accessibility. 

We're so excited to announce the StateraArts Resource Directory, now available on our website! 

Advocacy & Activism

Allied Orgs & Festivals

Artist & Play Directories

Associations & Guilds

Education & Training

Grants & Grant Writing

Research & Reports

Retreats for Artists & Writers

Sexual Misconduct & Abuse


StateraArts is committed to updating and maintaining this directory for your use. Please share it with your friends, colleagues, students, and organizations. We promise to keep it FREE TO ALL. 

This directory is a work in progress, so if you would like to suggest resources to add to this list, please contact us at info@stateraarts.org. Thank you so much! 


*A NOTE ON INCLUSION AT STATERA

Women: Statera recognizes the limiting nature of the binary use of woman. We serve and welcome anyone on the gender spectrum who identifies either always or some of the time as a woman. We also serve and welcome those who identify as nonbinary. 

Intersectionality: StateraArts works through an intersectional lens for gender parity. We understand and acknowledge that systems of oppression and discrimination are interdependent and span all social categorizations such as race, class, gender, ability, and sexual orientation as they apply to a given individual or group. Addressing one spoke of systematic discrimination or disadvantage means holistically addressing them all. 

Bring Your Baby: a #GivingTuesday Story

StateraArts stands with and trusts women*. We believe in their creative power, their agency in the world, and their own understanding of their needs in the Arts. Statera is actively creating pathways to achievement and leadership for women in the Arts and we create resilient spaces where women can bring their whole selves to the work. And while they’re at it, they can also bring their baby.

Alexana Stavros attended Statera's 2016 National Conference on gender parity in the Arts in Denver, CO. As a mother of a nursing baby, she was unsure about how a four-day conference would be possible with her daughter. In this video, Alexana shares her personal Statera story.

TWO WAYS TO DONATE!

StateraArts relies on individual donations from supporters like you!

  • DONATE ONLINE:  Click HERE to Contribute

  • SEND A CHECK: Send a check payable to StateraArts, 755 S Main Street. Ste 4, #281, Cedar City, UT 84720

THANK YOU!


*Women: StateraArts recognizes the limiting nature of the binary use of woman. We serve and welcome anyone on the gender spectrum who identifies either always or some of the time as a woman. We also serve and welcome those who identify as nonbinary.

Asking the Other Question: New Frontiers for Leadership and Organizational Culture

On October 6, 2018, Elena Chang and Hannah Fenlon (joined by Nataki Garrett, Adriana Gaviria, and Karena Fiorenza) presented a breakout session called “Asking the Other Question: New Frontiers for Leadership and Organizational Culture” at Statera’s National Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. StateraArts is proud to publish a text version of their session below.

 Elena Chang and Hannah Fenlon (Photo by Jenny Graham)

Elena Chang and Hannah Fenlon (Photo by Jenny Graham)

Asking the Other Question: New Frontiers for Leadership and Organizational Culture

BY ELENA CHANG & HANNAH FENLON

In the 1990s, critical race theorist Mari Matsuda challenged activists and those aiming to work with an equity-informed lens to "ask the other question" - essentially a call to recognize when interlocking form of oppression are occurring, and not to just focus on the form that is most glaring. For instance, Matsuda writes, "When I see something that looks racist, I ask ‘Where is the patriarchy in this?’  When I see something that looks sexist, I ask ‘Where is the heterosexism in this?’” In our approach to truly equitable theatre leadership, this practice is essential. How are we reinscribing harmful systems of oppression, even when we think we’re making change? Are we recreating the old familiar hierarchical power structures that were present in our early career or academic experiences? 

When we talk about advancing women+ leadership, Matsuda’s line of questioning is particularly helpful. If you’re someone who likes specificity, like we are, you might appreciate these examples: 

  • So often, we are told as women leaders to “lean in.” And while we admire Sheryl Sandberg for her tenacity, this approach simply does not work for everyone. It does not recognize successful leadership as anything other than masculine, loud, competitive, and focused on ascending a hierarchy. Instead of freeing women from patriarchal structures, it embeds us farther into them.

  • As we congratulate the women named to top posts in regional theatres across the country this year, it’s fair to celebrate the fact that we are moving in the direction of gender equity in the field when it comes to leadership, as well as to commit to supporting these leaders in managing the sexism and gender discrimination that will inevitably be at play in their experiences. However, we must also recognize the racism embedded in these decisions - this group of leaders is overwhelmingly white-identified. To our knowledge, none of these women identify as having a disability, nor as queer, nor as trans/non-binary. This is where we can begin to make demands and shifts as leaders, from a space of recognizing where oppression is at play, even if it is not impacting us.  

  • Another example comes from the Black Lives Matter Movement, a “leader-ful” network founded and led by women of color. The Harriet Tubman Collective, a group of black activists with disabilities, beautifully called out BLM for including nothing in its original platform about its approach to disability justice - particularly considering, as they wrote in their statement, that 60-80% of those murdered by the police are “Disabled and/or Deaf people.” The disabled community experienced an invisibilizing of its efforts and effectively asked BLM to "ask the other question" in its values and initiatives.

  • Finally, an apparent need to “ask the other question” lies in the treatment of the two brave women who shared their stories of sexual harassment and assault at the hands of Supreme Court Justice nominees, Christine Blasey Ford and Anita Hill, one of whom was held up as a model witness, and the other as an “angry black woman”. There is patriarchy here, but what about white supremacy? 

 Elena Chang facilitating discussion during “Asking the Other Question” at StateraConIII in Milwaukee. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

Elena Chang facilitating discussion during “Asking the Other Question” at StateraConIII in Milwaukee. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

So, what might it take to transcend this single-oppression thinking, creating new leadership and organizational models that embrace our field's full spectrum of humanity? Drawing from the wisdom of a group of 75 women at October’s StateraCon in Milwaukee, in addition to our own lived experience, here are some suggested places to start - small offerings that might begin to spark a great shift.

***

First of all, take care of yourself and your spirit. Identify and consistently check in with your own core values. Literally, write them down. And then, ensure that they align with your daily behavior and where you are interested in going in your career. 

Recognize the power and value of quiet confidence and leading by example, in yourself and in your colleagues. Take care to notice everything that is happening around you, not just those that are shouting the loudest.  

To that end, feel free to own being an empath and an emotional creature, if that is how you move through the world. These feelings are critical to our work as artists, and as our field has been professionalized, we have deemed emotional reactions “inappropriate” in the workplace. Advocate for that change by modeling it, especially if you have power. 

Share your stories and challenges with other women and folks who are underrepresented in our field. Sharing our stories increases our ability to coalition-build, and removes feelings of isolation cultivated by hierarchy.

Find an affinity space. Isolation is a tool of oppressive systems. If you can work from a place of solidarity (with other women, trans and non-binary folks, queer folks, etc.), you can increase your capacity for leadership. Ask how that affinity space, perhaps exciting in its feminist intention, is maintaining a culture of racism and/or ableism in its impact.

 

Then, take some action (thoughtfully). If you are white or otherwise a member of a distinctly privileged group, examine, process, and ultimately work (every. single. day.) to transcend inevitable feelings of white fragility and racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, and so on. Also, do your homework (this is just one of many fabulous compilations created by smart people).

If you are politically engaged, find space within your work where you can speak unfiltered about our political moment, unburdening yourself of the notion that your experience of our greater culture doesn’t follow you to work (is “LOL” an appropriate aside, here?). If you are feeling deeply, you can rest assured that others are as well.  

 If you are in a position wherein you convene other people, look at your events, gatherings, or productions through a kaleidoscopic lens. For example: how would I enter this space if I had a physical disability? If I were non-neurotypical? If I were a trans woman of color? Would I be comfortable in this space, period? 

If you are in a position of leadership, at an organization that is entirely homogeneous (particularly racially), consider what it would mean for you to move away from that position, or otherwise cede power to someone whose voice is not currently present in your leadership structure.

If you are not in a leadership position, support the newly appointed women leaders across the country. Call them, remind them that you can be a resource, celebrate their victories. Upend the idea that women need to be competitive with one another to succeed (read this article for inspiration). And continue to ask for more diversity in leadership at every opportunity.

Strive to be accountable to communities other than your own. But, know that you are responsible for your communy(ies), even the parts of them that you’d just as soon turn away from (see anything you’ve ever read on Twitter about #notallwhitewomen voting for Trump). While our communities are not, and should not be seen as, monolithic, it’s imperative that we  work with them first, urging them toward justice and change.

 Nataki Garrett facilitating discussion during “Asking the Other Question” at StateraConIII in Milwaukee. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

Nataki Garrett facilitating discussion during “Asking the Other Question” at StateraConIII in Milwaukee. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

In the process of doing all that, remember that probably 9 times out of 10, no matter how “diverse” an audience or a workplace or a creative project might be, there is no Native and/or Indigenous voice in the room. A land acknowledgment from a non-Native person is positive, but doesn’t replace the role that a Native artist and/or community member could play as a contributor to the space. The same can be said of those with disabilities, trans and nonbinary folks, and others who have been historically pushed to the margins. Be careful with claims of diversity.

And then finally, let it all go. Acknowledge (and remind yourself, especially when things get tough), that the end goal isn’t to solve these entrenched social issues in our time, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t commit to it.

(Oh, and while you’re doing all of this, if you need to get angry, get angry.) The way the anger of oppressed communities is policed is highly problematic, especially because our anger is so useful to helping us get things done. So get angry, demand change, and always ask who else you can be angry for, and who should be allowed to get angry alongside you.

***

We, and many of the leaders in our theatre community, are dedicated to the process of building the world we want to see. In that process, things are bound to get fuzzy, messy, and sometimes even hostile. Know that this tension is positive, and that pushing back against ingrained structures of leadership is essential to creating space for true inclusion. A feminist perspective, in our opinion, is one that is iterative, reflective, and empathetic. It flourishes by using healthy tension (and yes, even anger) to gain a deeper understanding of the world. You don’t need to be a cisgender woman, or a even woman at all, to embrace and enact a feminist politic in your leadership - you simply have to be open to asking the questions that matter.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

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Elena Chang is the Associate Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I) at TCG. There she supports TCG’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Initiative including work with Theatres of Color, facilitating conversations within the ED&I national Institute, and co-organizing screenings around the Legacy Leaders of Color Video Project. Previously, Chang served as program director of the Asian American Arts Alliance, where she was responsible for the development, design/communications, and management of all artist-focused programs. Elena is a dedicated arts administrator and arts activist having spearheaded multiple film, theatre, and visual arts projects advocating for social change by exploring the intersections between art, culture, and activism. She was honored for her arts and LGBTQ advocacy work with Asian Pride Project by the White House Asian American and Pacific Islander Champions of Change Initiative. She received a BFA in Theatre from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts.

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Hannah Fenlon is Associate Director of Conferences and Fieldwide Learning at Theatre Communications Group, and Communications and Alumni Manager for artEquity. She has worked as a freelance producer and casting director in Chicago (where she co-founded Two Birds Casting, a casting facilitation service for theatre) as well as with Goodman Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre, the Ojai Playwrights Conference, A Red Orchid Theatre, Creative Capital, The Juilliard School, and as an Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Chicago. She received a BA in Drama from Kenyon College and an MA in Arts Administration from Columbia University. She loves the Midwest, podcasts, and character-driven fiction.

Gender-Flipping Shakespeare: Joys, Challenges, and the Bottom Line

On October 6, 2018, Hadley Kamminga-Peck and Wendy Franz presented a breakout session called “Gender-Flipping Shakespeare” at Statera’s National Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. StateraArts is proud to publish a text version of their session below.

  Hamlet:  Lenne Klingaman as Hamlet, Mare Trevathan as Gertrude, Rodney Lizcano as Polonius. (Photo credit Jennifer Koskinen)

Hamlet: Lenne Klingaman as Hamlet, Mare Trevathan as Gertrude, Rodney Lizcano as Polonius. (Photo credit Jennifer Koskinen)

Gender-flipping Shakespeare: Joys, Challenges, and the Bottom Line

by Hadley Kamminga-Peck, Ph.D. and Wendy Franz

 

From 2015 – 2017, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival engaged in an increasingly audacious interrogation of gender-flipping Shakespeare.  What started with small roles and minor edits turned into the decision to cast Hamlet as a woman.  Following is an account of what worked, challenges encountered, and the bottom line.  By sharing the how, what, and why, we hope to demonstrate that gender parity on stage can be improved without sacrificing financial success.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is a small professional theatre company associated with the University of Colorado Boulder.  We have 5.5 year-round employees, and expand to over 200 for our summer season.  We produce four plays and one Original Practices production per season, as well as an outreach tour each school year.  Our aim is to serve the story, engage our audiences, and create productions that answer the question “why is it essential to tell this story here and now?”  CSF holds great respect for understanding the text while finding new ways to express it.

For us, gender-flipping specifically refers to the practice of changing the gender of the character to match that presented by the actor, not just casting a female-identifying actor in a traditionally male role.  CSF has engaged in both practices, but here we are focusing on the former, as it has resulted in many revelations in the rehearsal room and in performance, allowing us to reinvestigate old texts with more clarity and contemporary social awareness.  Of course, there are many ways to increase the female presence on stage—Lisa Wolpe does wonderful cross-gender work in Shakespeare, for example.  We are also seeing more and more non-binary actors in auditions and callbacks, and look forward to exploring the potential of non-binary characters in our concepts in the future.  This case study is focused on past productions that created more opportunities for female-identifying actors, one way of approaching gender parity on the Shakespearean stage.  We have no delusions of this approach being a panacea, but we want to share our experiences in order to encourage solution-oriented conversation.

 Vanessa Morosco as Westmoreland in  Henry V . (Photo credit Jennifer Koskinen)

Vanessa Morosco as Westmoreland in Henry V. (Photo credit Jennifer Koskinen)

Why gender-flip Shakespeare?  The answer is manifold: men’s parts in the canon number in the double digits while there are at most four lead females in any given play. And then there’s the quality of the roles – a Hamlet compared to a Rosalind, and the number of Hamlets compared to the number of Rosalinds.  Shakespeare was writing for an all-male cast, so he wrote women as the exception to the rule.  But as Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin point out in Engendering a Nation, “Political systems affect who is or is not empowered as a citizen or subject and policies on matters as diverse as how reproduction is regulated and how access to law courts and education is determined.  Cultural productions, such as plays, circulate and naturalize contesting ideologies of gender” (40).  Just because Shakespeare reflected the empowerment of the male actors in a male-dominated world does not mean we need to perpetuate the myth of woman as only witch, virgin, or whore.  We want to offer equal representation and encourage the portrayal of complex humans.

We must acknowledge the privilege and limitations inherent in where we are and what we are.  We recognize that being located in Boulder, CO means we operate in a predominantly liberal bubble.  While we have pockets of traditional patrons who get miffed when we deviate from what they consider “traditional Shakespeare,” on the whole, our audiences are pretty game. On the other hand, by virtue of being a repertory company, we are limited by the need to ensure casting works across the whole season, not just for one show. It is particularly difficult for us to attempt all-female or all-male plays. 

 

Our Goals

  1. To debunk the myth about strong women and ticket sales. A 2009 article by Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post noted multiple instances of studio execs opining that female leads don’t sell and “women don’t go to the movies.”  Cara Buckley eloquently called out “The Five Lies Hollywood Tells Itself” in a May 2017 article in the New York Times,  “Myth #2: Female-driven movies have a weaker box-office haul,” and “Myth #5: Female-driven comedies are risky bets.”  These misconceptions transfer to theatre, particularly classical theatre which has been traditionally performed by a predominantly male cast. 

  2. To interrogate the constraints of the Elizabethan stage. We all know that Shakespeare was writing for an all-male cast.  But when we have adapted so much of Shakespeare’s staging constraints, why shouldn’t the casting evolve as well? Changing the gender of a character allows us to approach an old text with fresh eyes, and also allows us to avoid gendered stereotypes in order to find the complex human.

  3. To inspire others to attempt similar endeavors.  We have nearly twice as many women as men audition for us each year, so why not create more opportunities to utilize that talent?? It is possible to increase gender parity in Shakespearean productions and succeed financially! 

Overall Challenges

We hope to share the challenges we encountered and solutions we discovered, to demonstrate how gender-flipping can work.  In a repertory company, it creates a ripple effect—one show’s casting affects the other and must work for both concepts.  There’s also what we call the experience conundrum.  Our productions require high skill levels in stage combat, clowning, classical text work, and modern acting.  As we have cast more women in gender-flipped leading roles, we have found that a large number of very talented female-identifying actors have little experience or training in specialty areas simply because they have not had opportunities to do this work.  Our response has been to offer a fair amount of in-rehearsal training, which allows us to increase our gender parity and continue to develop our talent pool.  There will always be the naysayers. We find it’s best to accept that some people are just determined to hate the idea of gender-flipped roles and are uncomfortable with confronting their biases.

By far, the most frequent question we are asked when it comes to gender-flipping is “What do you do with the text?  Change all the ‘hes’ to ‘shes’?”  In a word, yes.  When gender-flipping a character, as in life, it is important to use the correct pronouns.  Sometimes we decide to keep titles the same (like “General” or “Prince”), sometimes we change “my lord” to “my lady.”  We attempt to keep the same scansion, so often “son” will change to “child” rather than “daughter.”  But changing the text to reflect the new gender is quite a small endeavor compared to the rest of the work we do on the script, cutting lines, dissolving whole characters, etc.  This work happens on most professional Shakespearean productions and changing a few pronouns is minor in comparison.

  Othello : Peter Macon as Othello, Anne Sandoe as the Duchess of Venice. (Photo credit Jennifer Koskinen)

Othello: Peter Macon as Othello, Anne Sandoe as the Duchess of Venice. (Photo credit Jennifer Koskinen)

 

2015 – Testing the Waters

In the summer of 2015, CSF produced Othello directed by Lisa Wolpe, Much Ado About Nothing directed by Jim Helsinger, and Henry V directed by Carolyn Howarth. The presence of prominent female roles in Much Ado… created a casting challenge with the rep for Othello and Henry V. As a result, Othello cast Anne Sandoe as the Duchess (previously Duke) of Milan, and Henry V had a female Westmoreland (Vanessa Morosco) and Governor of Harfleur (Laura Baranik).

Othello director Lisa Wolpe focused in rehearsals on empowering all of the female characters within the play, looking for subtle ways to subvert assumptions about men, women, and power.  By casting Anne Sandoe as the Duchess, the image of a powerful woman giving the orders, conferring the honors, and calling the shots in the opening scene represented a palpable change in the gender dynamics of the story while not distracting from the primary plot. With the play set in the Elizabethan era, it was easy for audiences to accept a strong female leader in the mold of Elizabeth I. 

In Henry V, Vanessa Morosco’s Westmoreland was still a warrior, but now she was a female warrior inhabiting a traditionally male space.  Her presence on the battlefield was no more or less remarkable than anything else that happened in the play.  Director Carolyn Howarth’s decision to gender-flip the Governor of Harfleur ended up reinforcing the play’s concept, focusing on the domestic toll of war.  Harfleur’s surrender was no longer enacted by a distanced statesman.  Lines such as “Therefore, dread king,/We yield our town and lives to thy soft mercy./Enter our gates; dispose of us and ours;/For we no longer are defensible” became much more poignant, demonstrating the powerlessness that those considered “collateral damage” in war experience.

The 2015 season gender-flipping created almost no challenges, and in fact solved some of the repertory casting.  Henry V typically only has three small female roles. By casting a female Westmoreland and Governor in Henry V, we created prominent roles for some of the female leads from other shows. 

In the end, there was no negative impact on Othello, either conceptually or financially.  Henry V became our best-selling show in the indoor space at the time, selling out some performances.  And in both productions, gender-flipped characters enhanced the storytelling in subtle ways while presenting more visible gender parity on stage.

 

2016 - Committing

After the minor successes of 2015, CSF decided to commit to gender-flipping in 2016.  With The Comedy of Errors, director Geoffrey Kent and Producing Artistic Director Timothy Orr ultimately decided to make both sets of twins female. Antipholus became Antiphola, and Dromio, Dromia.  By changing the men to women, the women were then changed to men in order to maintain the same relationships on stage, so we had Adriano, Luciano, and Neil.

The decision to gender-flip Comedy led to female warriors in Troilus and Cressida.  In this production, set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic landscape, the presence of female warriors helped to desexualize war.  When Cressida arrives in the Greek camp and is accosted by a group of opposition warriors comprised of women and men, the focus is on the cruelties of war instead of yet another instance of the gendered subjugation of a woman by male warriors.  It created a better way into the play.

The main joy of the 2016 season was seeing women be hilarious and fierce in such widely differing shows.  We don’t see women portrayed as clowns or warriors often enough in classical theatre and mainstream media.  By setting Comedy in 1930s Paris, a time when women were developing more independence, the production flipped the clichés of the stay-at-home wife and the sexually aggressive man.  It was enlightening to watch the female Antiphola of Syracuse seduce the male Luciano and find the scene funny again, not uncomfortably domineering.  Antiphola of Ephesus fights, chases, and brawls with Dr. Pinch’s minions, which few women get to do on stage.  For Troilus and Cressida, we relished the representation of women in war – they were determined, focused, and incredibly powerful. The casting of women allowed the play to refocus on humanity, not just toxic masculinity.  We were also reminded of the importance of representation onstage: after seeing this production, all of the girls in our teenage Camp Shakespeare wanted to audition to play the women in charge, Agamemnon and Ulysses; no one was interested in playing the damsel, Cressida.

Both Comedy and T&C presented unique challenges when women led the casts.  We had to ask ourselves how to use violence responsibly to tell the stories without glorifying it or imposing the male gaze. We had to think very deliberately about each image created as we navigated the beatings in Comedy and the moments of intimidation in T&C.  When it came to clowning, many of these women had never played clown roles.  Actor Lindsay Kyler said, “I’m paid to cry and fall in love.” But ultimately, these female actors presented a whole new style of whimsy, which proved it isn’t that women can’t be funny, but that they hadn’t had as many opportunities to explore physical humor, to find their inner clowns.

While body-shaming should never be a source for humor, the section in which Dromio describes Nell as “spherical, like a globe” is well-known to Shakespeare audiences.  We found that by changing the character from female Nell to male Neil, the humor was refocused on the wordplay and physical comedy from Dromia and Antiphola, not on Neil’s physical body.

The main challenge we encountered on Troilus and Cressida was the iconic nature of Greek mythic characters like Agamemnon and Ulysses.  Few people know this play, but many have strong ideas about the Greek heroes.  Interestingly, Shakespeare doesn’t write them as heroes; he subverts their mythic qualities to suit the intrigues of the Elizabethan world, paving the way for future companies to continue to adapt the characters for contemporary audiences. 

The 2016 season was one of CSF’s highest-selling seasons to date in both tickets sold as well as dollar total.  This occurred after our record-breaking 2014 season, which included juggernaut titles and was wildly successful.  To outsell that season with off-brand titles like Troilus and Cressida was extraordinary.  And while the changes we made were significant, the plays remained largely the same.  The casting deepened our understanding of the text, widened the available talent pool of brilliant actors, and created critically and financially successful productions.

  Troilus and Cressida:  Mare Trevathan as Ulysses, Kelsey Didion as Agamemnon. (Photo credit Jennifer Koskinen)

Troilus and Cressida: Mare Trevathan as Ulysses, Kelsey Didion as Agamemnon. (Photo credit Jennifer Koskinen)

 

2017 – Betting the Farm

The 2017 season stood to be the biggest risk yet with the casting of a female Hamlet.  Hamlet ran in repertory with Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in the indoor University Theatre.  Respective directors Carolyn Howarth and Timothy Orr agreed that they were desperate to see something different from the typical angst-ridden, mopey young man as Hamlet. Inspired by watching everyone lose their minds about the potential of women in power during the 2016 election year, as well as watching women fencing in the summer Olympics, Howarth asked, “why not a woman?”  What would it stir up for the audience?  How might it refresh the jokes and revive a well-worn play?

 Hadley Kamminga-Peck presenting at StateraConIII. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

Hadley Kamminga-Peck presenting at StateraConIII. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

Howarth and Orr decided to keep their minds open throughout auditions, looking for the best possible person to play Hamlet, regardless of gender and at the end of extensive auditions and callbacks, Lenne Klingaman was the top choice.  Seeking to preserve Hamlet’s three parallel father-child relationships (Old Hamlet and Hamlet, Polonius and Laertes, and Old Fortinbras and Young Fortinbras), both Laertes and Fortinbras were also gender-flipped, played by Ava Kostia and Elise Collins, respectively. We also sought to avoid making additional commentary on gender, suggesting that Hamlet isn’t fit to rule Denmark because she was a woman. Making Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras all women allowed the gender-flipping to be a concept, a fully-developed conversation, not just tokenism or a publicity stunt.  It also meant that women had a near-equal presence onstage: they were ambassadors, ladies-in-waiting, queens, princes, fighters, soldiers, tragedians – everything the men were.

There is actually a long history of women playing Hamlet, starting in Ireland in 1741, carrying through the 19th century with actors like Charlotte Cushman, Sarah Siddons, and Sarah Bernhardt, who actually said “I cannot see Hamlet as a man.  The things he says, his impulses, his actions entirely indicate to me that he is a woman” (qtd. “Why Not a Woman as Hamlet” Bennets, NY Times).  It is only in the last century that productions have gone so far as to gender-flip the character, starting with a 1921 silent film starring Asta Nielsen that supposed Hamlet was actually a princess raised as a prince for reasons of political succession.  For us, casting a woman to play Hamlet was a breath of fresh air, keeping us (who have to live with it for a year) engaged and enthusiastic.  People said that this production was a revelation, this is what they wanted to be doing as actors, directors.  Klingaman as Hamlet was ferocious, with a take-no-prisoners intensity.  There was no draping oneself over things, nothing languid or lugubrious.  She was a woman on a mission, and she was either going to win or burn it down.

What interested us most about Hamlet as a woman was seeing the effect it had on the world of the play.  Much of the play’s misogyny was cut before rehearsals started, and lines such as “Man delights not me, nor woman neither” (II.ii.274-275) held more meaning and became much funnier. We also found a new explanation for Horatio’s devotion to Hamlet, and Claudius found it easier to dismiss his step-child as ridiculous, “going through a phase.”  Ophelia remained a woman. For some, the lesbian relationship was hard to swallow, but the text indicates the relationship is forbidden and doomed because Hamlet will have to marry for political alliance.  It was a brief conversation, and merely added to the list of things Hamlet could not have.

 Wendy Franz presenting at StateraConIII. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

Wendy Franz presenting at StateraConIII. (Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill)

Some of our audience members had trouble letting go of their preconceived notions regarding the Prince of Denmark.  Juliet Wittman of Westword wrote an article titled “Seriously, Should a Woman Play Hamlet?” one month before we opened.  A.H. Goldstein of the Daily Camera found it challenging that Polonius would treat his children differently, “Here, the gap between Polonius’ treatment of Laertes and Ophelia loses that [historical] context, and feels somewhat arbitrary….” These critiques seemed to have more to do with the writers’ gender biases and less to do with the production.  At one performance, an audience member stormed out of the theatre 20 minutes into the show, angrily stating “Hamlet has a penis!” to the staff before leaving.  For some, it is difficult to picture what could be instead of what has been.

The same was somewhat true for Klingaman.  She shared with us that she can usually visualize herself in every role she plays.  Before rehearsals even begin, she can see herself playing the role.  With Hamlet, there was no path to follow, no visualization to be had.  We had to figure it out in rehearsal as a team.  Howarth said, “Watching her step into the shoes of this human who expresses rage and grief and revenge and sadness and love and who can be funny and sassy and still likable – that range may be completely elusive for a female to get to play,” (qtd. Itzkoff “Summer is for Stretching”).  The company could not get enough of seeing Klingaman perform this role as a woman.  To be in the room as she grunted, sweat, cried, raged, fought, problem-solved, and gave it all was thrilling, empowering, and deeply satisfying.  Having a female Hamlet and Laertes also led to an explosive, beautiful sword fight, choreographed by fight director Christopher Duval.  In this situation, both women were experienced and skilled in the martial arts and/or stage combat.  DuVal was able to build a complex, challenging fight and put the naysayers to shame.  We were vindicated in our choices when Nicole Serratore of American Theatre Magazine reviewed the production, saying “These are all welcome changes.  Howarth and Klingaman managed to crack open the play in a new way for me by putting Shakespeare’s words, written for historically male characters, into the mouths of women and giving them a chance to speak.”

The decision proved lucrative as well.  CSF sold 90% of the ticket inventory to Hamlet before opening, and after opening weekend, before a single review had been published, the rest of the run sold out.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern nearly sold out its entire run as well, which was also a first. One highlight was hearing a woman before a Hamlet performance adamantly stating she had bought a ticket to opening night specifically so she could walk out in protest – but by intermission, she was raving about how much she loved it.

Conclusion

Marjorie Garber, in Shakespeare After All, says,

“Female identity on the stage had become [in the Elizabethan era] – like kingliness, madness, and exoticism – an aesthetically produced effect.  The actors were not themselves kings, madmen, Moors, or shepherds, but they were able to portray those archetypes convincingly.  This was not a matter of identity but of performance.  The advent of actresses, some of them celebrated for their powerful performances of Shakespearean roles, changed forever how female parts – and female dramatic characters – were interpreted and understood.  (Garber 7)

We are offering and investigating a performance of a character, of which gender is one facet.Shakespeare was not writing for a stage that allowed the presence of women. When we have altered so much else about his plays, it is absurd to limit ourselves to the originally-assigned gender of the characters.Alison Findlay, in A Feminist Perspective on Renaissance Drama, also reminds us that “While women found it very difficult, if not impossible, to thrust themselves into ‘official’ histories, plays on the Renaissance stage could represent history in ways which problematized the relationship between gender and authority and opened doors to worlds elsewhere” (197).

By casting female-presenting actors in historically male roles, we are addressing this historical imbalance and reinvestigating the relationship between gender, authority, and representation on the stage.It is also simply a sound business practice to hire with equity in mind.Creating more opportunities, hiring more women in Shakespeare’s plays is a worthy, moral, right thing to do.We hope that sharing some of our experiences helps others envision possibilities for change-making while staying solvent.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

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Hadley Kamminga-Peck completed her PhD in theatre history and criticism at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2015. She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Theatre History and head of the MFA in Directing at Western Illinois University. She received her BA in drama and Italian from Colorado College and her master's degree in acting from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. She comes from the Twin Cities, Minnesota, where she worked for the Guthrie Theater. At CSF, she has served as dramaturg, assistant director, interim education manager, Shakespeare's Sprites counselor and onstage prompter for the original practices productions.

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Wendy Franz has produced and directed numerous theatrical productions in the Rocky Mountain region and currently serves as Managing Director of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Producing credits include the Ubuntu African Dance Festival for the Dept. of Theatre & Dance at CU Boulder and over 20 productions for Denver's critically acclaimed Paragon Theatre. Directing credits include Richard III and Equivocation (Colorado Shakespeare Festival), Gidion's Knot (square product theatre and Goddess Here Productions), the 2010 Denver Post Ovation Award-winning production of The Real Thing, the regional premiere of Jez Butterworth's The Night Heron, the world premiere of Ellen K. Graham's How We May Know Him, the regional premieres of Sailor's Song and Buicks, as well as Look Back in Anger, and No Exit (Paragon Theatre). Wendy trained at the Santa Fe Opera, Little Theatre of the Rockies, and Curious Theatre and earned her degree in Directing and Design Technology from the University of Northern Colorado. 

Statera Seven: Katherine Owens

Statera Seven is a series about women in leadership and the path to promotion. Statera poses seven questions to past and current Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and other women in leadership roles in the American Theatre. Statera is sharing their stories and insights in hopes of finding new ways to shift the leadership gender imbalance of America's nonprofit regional theater companies.

Today we're interviewing Katherine Owens, Founder and Artistic Director of Undermain Theatre, a theatre in Dallas, Texas celebrating its 35th season.


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StateraArts: The research on Women's Leadership in Resident Theaters presented by The Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 2016 found that there was a glass ceiling and "pipeline issue" facing women in theatre leadership. How have you improved professional development for those seeking leadership positions in the arts, particularly women and people of color?

Katherine Owens: For many years, Undermain has been focused on finding leadership positions for women and people of color. Historically there have always been women in the artistic leadership of the theater and there are now people of color and women in all levels of management. This is an ongoing process and one that we plan to expand on and improve. The Undermain artistic company is now 50 percent people of color and 50 percent women.

S: What is the most important single decision you have made in your journey?

 Katherine Owens (Photo by Stephen Webster)

Katherine Owens (Photo by Stephen Webster)

KO: I came to the realization that I was an artist and decided that I would abide by the principals that I believed made up an artistic life.  Working out what is meant by leading an artistic life has been a long project. When I was about 10 years old I knew that I wanted to be an artist.  To me this meant to embark on a course of study which I would design, to study the lives of the artists, to allow myself to think freely, and to begin to acquire discipline.  At the time, I thought I would be a painter and this ambition was greatly abetted by having a number of books about art in our house.

I wore out the spine of two of the volumes in my Father’s Time Warner Art series—the books about Leonardo da Vinci and Marcel Duchamp.  But a short time later, when I saw my first play, I decided that the theater was the place I wanted to be.


S: Statistics suggest that women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet only 40%. Has this been true for you, and how do you advocate for your experience and qualifications when they are not explicitly spelled out in a job posting?

KO: I think that just knowing this statistic is useful. Since I read it on your website I have cited it in many conversations with women who were considering applying for various positions. I have applied for very few jobs in my life. Most of the jobs I had were self-created or opportunities that I was offered. In the era and place that I grew up, it seemed clear that, as a woman, if you wanted to do anything in the arts you had to create your own opportunities.  

S: What roadblocks did you encounter on your path to this position and how did you navigate?

KO: When I was growing up in Odessa, Texas, I worked as an intern at the Globe of the Great Southwest, --a replica of Shakespeare’s globe rising out of the desert and producing classics year round with a semi-professional company. Because they were always in need of help, I worked as an assistant director and did all sorts of odd jobs and small roles.

Even with all this experience, when I registered with a directing major in college I was told that women were seriously discouraged from going into directing by the then head of the program.

The first real help I got on the road to being a director came my first year out of college. I was recruited to be an artist in residence at a fledging Shakespeare theater in Oklahoma, run by the director Molly Risso. She had a wonderful theatrical mind and was a very good director. She allowed me to direct, let me assist for her, and taught me the principals of staging on a chessboard in the costume shop.

Later when we started the Undermain, I had the support of some wonderfully supportive collaborators, most notably my husband Bruce DuBose, who is an actor and producer.


S: If you had $10 million dollars of unrestricted funds, how would you spend it to improve the American Theatre?

KO: Theater needs more of a presence in smaller communities. Anecdotally, I have noticed that in Texas at least, if a town square has a preforming arts facility of any size, it is surrounded by healthy businesses and serves as a kind of center for the community. Many squares have renovated their old movie houses to provide homes for a community theater.  And having grown up in a small town I know how important these places can be for people.


S: Professional mentorship is a core part of our mission at Statera. In that spirit, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received, and from whom?

KO: My father was an officer in WWII. He would describe the principals of leadership that he had studied in his training.  He also taught me things he had learned in the Corps at Texas A&M and these took the form of maxims or aphorisms. He would say: “leadership is not making people do what you want them to do but making them want to do what you want them to do.” He told me that a leader has a duty to his people and that this duty required a wholehearted commitment, and that a leader should deliberate and then act decisively.

He said once that a leader is someone who, when the battle starts, gets out in front of the troops and says, “Follow me”.  I think I internalized these ideas very early in my life. As far as I could tell, leadership was not discussed with young women at that time and I felt grateful for this instruction.

The duties of a leader and the activities of an artistic life often seem opposed to one another and I have struggled with this. An artistic life requires a certain amount of interiority and freedom and often questions the nature of duty and responsibility.

My friend, the filmmaker Julia Dyer, gave me some advice that was given to her. She said that when you are directing you come in the first day and declare in a loud and definite voice, “the camera goes here, and the lights go here and the actor goes here and so on”. This tells the crew that you are in charge and know what you are doing and can be relied on as a leader.


S: In what ways are you thriving in your leadership role?

KO: I tend to want to make decisions through consensus but I have learned that this is not always the best approach in all cases. Through the years, I have become comfortable with authority.

Organizations produce a huge number of decisions, large and small, and the job of making those decisions, or finalizing them is in the hands of the leader.  

Mentorship is an ongoing process. There is a saying: “When the student is ready the guru appears”.

I have been fortunate to have found new mentors as the theater has grown, most notably our new general manager Patricia Hackler, who brought a profound understanding of organizational leadership to the theater during its expansion and the designer John Arnone who has had a incalculable influence on my life as a director. Together with Bruce DuBose, the theater’s producer,  we all  look for ways to keep make the Undermain a place of growth for artists and engagement for the community.


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ABOUT KATHERINE

Katherine is known for bringing new and visionary theater to Dallas audiences. She has received the AAUW Texas Woman of Distinction Award as well as the 2013 Dallas Historical Society Award for Excellence in the Creative Arts, was chosen as one of The Dallas 40 by DMagazine, was named one of Dallas’ 100 Creatives by the Dallas Observer, and was nominated for the 2013 “Texan of the Year” by the Dallas Morning News. She has been a fellow of the Sundance Institute since 2015 when she and Len Jenkin were selected to participate in The Sundance Institute’s Theater Lab to workshop the script of Jonah, which had its world premiere at Undermain in 2016. Other world premieres directed by Katherine Owens at Undermain include work by Matthew Paul Olmos (so go the ghosts of méxico, part two), Len Jenkin (Abraham Zobell’s Home Movie…, Time in Kafka, and Port Twilight), David Rabe (The Black Monk), Lynne Alvarez (The Snow Queen), Mac Wellman (Two September, A Murder of Crows, and The Hyacinth Macaw) as well as Sylvan Oswald (Profanity). Katherine directed Neil Young’s Greendale and John O’Keffe’s Glamour at the Ohio Theatre, Jeffrey M. Jones’ A Man’s Best Friend at WalkerSpace, and Lenora Champagne’s Coaticook at the SoHo Think Tank’s Ice Factory Festival. She has designed the videos for Erik Ehn’s Gold Into Mud (HERE American Living Room Festival in New York) and Swedish Tales of Woe (the Ohio Theatre). In 1995, Katherine traveled with Undermain Theatre to Macedonia, where she appeared in Goran Stafanovski’s Sarajevo, a threnody to the victims of the siege. She has directed numerous other productions in Dallas, New York, and Europe including the world premiere of Gordon Dahlquist’s Tomorrow Come Today, which went on to win the James Tait Black Award for Drama in 2015 and Judges 19: Black Lung Exhaling, which she directed as part of the international Belegrade Summer Festival in 2000. Katherine has served as a juror for the Asian Film Festival of Dallas, has been a panelist for the Alpert Awards and Texas Commission on the Arts, and is a member of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts Artistic Council. Her familiar voice can be heard narrating a number of programs for PBS and KERA 90.1 as well as several documentaries including Mark Birnbaum’s Las Mujeres de Valle and Judy Kelly’s Frozen Music, which won an Emmy and a Matrix Award. Katherine is a native of Odessa, TX and a graduate of the University of Texas.

Statera Joins Change-Makers at Culture/Shift Conference

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StateraArts leaders took some time last weekend to commune with other organizations, artists, and advocates at CULTURE/SHIFT 2018 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hosted by the U.S. Department of Arts & Culture.

StateraArts Creative Director Sarah Greenman and Advisory Board Member Martha Richards attended the 3-day conference of participatory workshops, performances, talks, interactive art-making and dialogue. More than forty-five workshops and sessions touched on timely and resonant regional and national themes: immigration, indigenous cultural rights, climate justice, public memory, cultural resilience, ethics of community-based arts, community development/displacement, and more.

Here are some of the themes and questions that StateraArts and others were exploring via CULTURE/SHIFT: What are the leverage points for shifting from a consumer culture rooted in isolation and inequality to a creator culture rooted in community and equity? How can Citizen Artists sustain presence, well-being, and hope in challenging times? How can we organize in our own communities and across the country to bolster support for cultural activity that cultivates empathy, equity, and social imagination?

You’ll find photos of our weekend below. Some were taken by Sarah Greenman and others were provided by the USDAC via their website. For more information about this convening and the USDAC, please visit www.usdac.us.

 Dr. Charon Hribar leads call and response song at Friday Plenary.

Dr. Charon Hribar leads call and response song at Friday Plenary.

 Creating "windows to the future".

Creating "windows to the future".

 Sarah Greenman during opening ceremonies.

Sarah Greenman during opening ceremonies.

 Lynnette Haozous on "What Represents Us" in public art.

Lynnette Haozous on "What Represents Us" in public art.

 Ella Mendoza leads a session on abolishing ICE and white supremacy.

Ella Mendoza leads a session on abolishing ICE and white supremacy.

 Makani Themba leading a plenary about the collective radical imagination.

Makani Themba leading a plenary about the collective radical imagination.

 Sarah Greenman talks with Martha Richards and Jovelyn Richards.

Sarah Greenman talks with Martha Richards and Jovelyn Richards.

 Performance by Ria Thundercloud from Sandia Pueblo.

Performance by Ria Thundercloud from Sandia Pueblo.

 Circo Radical at closing procession.

Circo Radical at closing procession.

 Closing night procession through the streets of Albuquerque.

Closing night procession through the streets of Albuquerque.

We are now StateraArts!

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Statera announced an organizational name change at their national conference last month. If you’ve been watching Statera’s social media accounts you may have already seen signs of the new name and logo. Below, you’ll find a personal letter from Statera’s Executive Director Melinda Pfundstein with news of the name change. You can still find Statera across all social media platforms at the links blow:

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

INSTAGRAM

 Melinda Pfundstein announcing the StateraArts name change at Statera’s National Conference in Milwaukee.

Melinda Pfundstein announcing the StateraArts name change at Statera’s National Conference in Milwaukee.

A letter from Statera's Executive Director, Melinda Pfundstein:

Hello Friends!

It is an exciting time at Statera, and we are thrilled to announce that due to expansion and refinement of the mission, vision, and scope of the organization, Statera Foundation is transitioning to StateraArts.

This expansion means broadening our reach from a national to international scope. This means expanding from Theatre as our foundation, to UPLIFT, AMPLIFY, and ADVANCE women* toward gender balance in all the Arts. It also means better serving the holistic woman artist in their quest for balance and rewriting the narrative for women artists from one of scarcity and limitation to one of expansion and opportunity.

This expansion means Statera sees you. Statera hears you. Statera knows that achieving gender parity in the arts requires that we all step in to make more space, think outside of the box, and practice radical listening and learning. StateraArts is making lasting change -- and all through a solid lens of great compassion and care. 

The rapid growth of Statera is due in large part to our generous donors, to the past three years of tireless work from an all-volunteer team, and finally to the generosity, vision, and mentorship of Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts, whose challenge gift of $25,000 was successfully matched. We are deeply grateful to Martha, and to all of you, who have said yes to Statera by so generously giving your time, expertise, and financial support.

Statera’s expansion includes the launch and growth of exciting programs, some years in the making and some new additions:


Statera is actively forging pathways for women artists and creating tangible resources to achieve gender parity in the arts. The real power in this work exists in the women doing it and gender allies using their power to forge or hold open doors. It is in YOU. It is your experience, your expertise, your knowledge, your artistry, your courage, your time, your authenticity. Your power. You are Statera. We are Statera. StateraArts is here to serve you. 

Yours in Statera (balance), 

Melinda Pfundstein
Executive Director
(she/her/hers)



* We use an inclusive definition of women. "Women" includes anyone on the gender spectrum who identifies (either always or some of the time) as a woman. This includes TGNC / transgender and gender non-conforming people.

Statera Establishes the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award

 Left to right: Sarah Greenman, Martha Richards, Melinda Pfundstein, and Shelly Gaza

Left to right: Sarah Greenman, Martha Richards, Melinda Pfundstein, and Shelly Gaza

This past month, artists, arts leaders, community organizers, theatre-makers, and change-agents from all over the world met in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for Statera Foundation’s National Conference on gender parity in the Arts. During the opening address on October 5th, Statera’s Executive Director, Melinda Pfundstein announced the creation of the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award.

This award, established in Martha Richards’ name, will be given annually to a visionary woman* who uplifts, amplifies, and advances women in the Arts. The award was established to lift up and support the work of extraordinary women and TGNC (Trans / Gender Non-Conforming) arts leaders who are creating pathways for other women leaders.

Pfundstein said during her opening speech, “Future recipients recognize and develop the potential of emerging women leaders in the arts and they actively create pathways to leadership for women artists.”

After receiving the inaugural award, Martha Richards, spoke to a crowd of 200 conference attendees. She thanked StateraArts for the honor and impressed upon those gathered that coalition-building is the only way forward for the gender parity movement.

 Martha Richards and Statera’s Deputy Director, Shelly Gaza, make their way to the podium.

Martha Richards and Statera’s Deputy Director, Shelly Gaza, make their way to the podium.

TRANSCRIPT from Melinda Pfundstein’s Announcement:

I want to tell you about a very important woman in my life. Everyone needs a mentor and for the past three years, Martha Richards has been mine.

Martha has spent a 40-year career centering on the voices of women and under-represented artists. This year marks twenty-three years as Executive Director of WomenArts, a non-profit Martha founded dedicated to increasing visibility and opportunities for women artists in all genres. Prior to WomanArts, Martha served as Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College and as Managing Director of StageWest. She has received many honors including a 2006 nomination for the prestigious international Montblanc Due La Culture Award for outstanding service to the arts, induction into the BayPath College 21st Century Women Business Leaders Hall of Fame for her work in philanthropy, and recognition as one of three "founding mothers" of the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts. 

Martha came into my life in early 2015, just before Statera’s inaugural conference. Martha saw my potential as a leader and had the courage to develop that potential. And since our very first meeting, I have been all ears. I never go to a meeting with Martha when I don’t have a pen and paper in hand. Her ability to fuse Big Vision with practical solutions is magic.

 Martha Richards

Martha Richards

Martha knows that the key to gender parity is tangible resources for women. Not only has she taught me to recognize and develop Statera’s resources, but also how to extract the most value from those resources to make the biggest impact in the gender parity movement. Martha Richards and her work is writ all over Statera. 

Martha has given me more that I can express here in this moment, but the thing that has most impacted my leadership for Statera is this: Attention to detail and organizational excellence can live side by side with absolute joy in the work. 

Martha’s mentorship has expanded in the past year to include other members on our executive team, which is why Statera has grown so quickly and taken action with such efficacy. Martha has magnified and maximized our efforts, which is why Statera is now in a position to magnify her work.

One of Martha’s greatest and most wide-reaching accomplishments was the creation of SWAN / Support Women Artists Now Day, an international holiday celebrating the power and diversity of women’s creativity. Over its 11-year history, SWAN Day has reached 36 countries with over 1900 events.

Martha Richards has changed the landscape for women artists. I cannot overestimate her global impact. This is why it is my great honor to establish the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award.

This award, established in her name, will be given annually to a visionary woman who uplifts, amplifies, and advances women in the arts.

Future recipients of the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award recognize and develop the potential of emerging women leaders in the arts and she actively creates pathways to leadership for those women artists.

StateraArts will be announcing nomination guidelines and a submission timeline for the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award in January 0f 2019.


*Women
We use an inclusive definition of women. "Women" includes anyone on the gender spectrum who identifies (either always or some of the time) as a woman. This includes TGNC / transgender and gender non-conforming people. 

Statera Mentorship: Meet the Chicago Regional Coordinators

Congratulations to Statera’s Chicago Mentorship Program, which launched its 3rd class today. The new mentor/mentee pairs are meeting tonight for a mixer hosted by Antje Kastner Studio. Then the pairs will enter a 6-month mentorship cycle. So exciting!

Since our national launch on October 1st, Statera has had an overwhelming response. We’ve heard from folks all over the country, eager to bring Statera Mentorship to their region. So stay tuned because we’ll be announcing new chapters in the months ahead! But today, Statera is thrilled to introduce you to our Chicago Regional Coordinators: Lanise Antoine Shelley, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Susaan Jamshidi, and Dana Black.

 Left to right: Lanise Antoine Shelley, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Susaan Jamshidi, and Dana Black.

Left to right: Lanise Antoine Shelley, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Susaan Jamshidi, and Dana Black.

STATERA: Tell us about your work in the theatre.

Susaan: I'm an actor based in Chicago and have had the privilege to work extensively in both the rich storefronts as well as larger institutions. I've worked regionally in Berkely, DC (THE ARABIAN NIGHTS) and St. Louis (FACELESS) while touring shows that started in Chicago and recently toured to London, Toronto, and Vancouver with the solo show, OH MY SWEET LAND, with Silk Road Rising. Last year I had the great privilege to bring the character of Yasmina in YASMINA'S NECKLACE to the Goodman (after a premier at 16th Street Theatre). I worked closely with playwright, Rohina Malik, for 9 years while she developed the play and character. I also love the chances I've had to work with Erasing The Distance, a theatre company that spreads mental health awareness through theatre. Additionally I'm honored to be taking part in a Local EDI task force.

Lanise: I am an actor and director. I’ve had the pleasure of working and studying all over the world.

Dana: I am mainly an actor in Chicago, and although I have started doing more TV, voice over and film work, I really do love live theater. It is my true love in terms of performance. I also really love new work and the process of putting up a new play. I also love wigs...in shows. Multiple wigs is really the dream for me and one show here, a new work, I got to wear 7 wigs in one show. Living the dream. Aside from wigs and live theater :), I also worked at the Goodman Theatre here in Chicago for over 5 years and that helped me learn so much about the American theater and not-for-profit arts administration.

Christine: My theatre experience both runs the gamut and is very stereotypically Chicago-- I've done straight plays and tons of workshops and readings for new plays by local artists. I've understudied at some of the bigger houses, done experimental storefront, festivals, classics in bars, commercials, TV, films.

STATERA: Can you share about your journey to the Chicago theatre scene?

Lanise: I was lured to Chicago after a stint as a resident acting company member with Milwaukee Repertory Theater. I’ve been here off and on for about 9 years. I love Chicago! It’s the only city you can forge a fulfilling career and also maintain a high quality of life.

Susaan: I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh and graduate from Allegheny College. After graduation I spent a couple years in Pittsburgh figuring out how I could progress my desired acting career. I didn't have any mentors I felt I could turn to, but during that time I worked occasionally as an assistant stage manager at Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater. There I met my good friend, Kelly McMahon, who was assistant directing. We quickly became each other's champions and sounding boards. One day we were discussing my graduate school search and the director we were working with said "Don't leave DePaul off that list. It's the best." I quickly looked into it, found myself auditioning in NYC, and was accepted into The Theater School at DePaul. It was exactly what I needed and I ate everything up while I was a graduate student there. I like Chicago and stayed because I was getting work and loved the people and the vibe.

Dana: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and went to school at a small liberal arts college in New York. I graduated about 4 months before 9/11 and had thoughts of going to grad school in NYC or moving there after school...but as we all know, that day changed everything. My father also ran a large global travel company (he actually had some clients on one of the flights that day) so his business and career was drastically affected by 9/11. This sort of felt like a calling to come home and live with them in Illinois, re-charge, and figure out my next steps.

Luckily, I was able to get some part time jobs downtown and eventually move out of my parent's home within a year and live in Chicago, Boystown specifically. I didn't start auditioning right away but eventually started attending generals and smaller storefront auditions around town. I had auditioned for the School at Steppenwolf my last year of college and wasn't accepted, but like many others who don't get in their first year, was encouraged to apply again. And so I did, and got accepted and that sort of kick started my acting life here, as I was asked to understudy at Steppenwolf right out of the program...which was such an exciting time.

Christine: If I'm being honest, it was a quarter life crisis that led me to Chicago. I was living in Portland, OR, working in advertising and feeling like "this can't be it, right"? So, I did some soul searching (i.e. therapy) and realized there was a reason I took an acting class every time I moved to a new city. So, being the diligent Type A personality I am, I called up everyone I knew who was an actor or acting-adjacent and asked them a LOT of questions. Chicago kept coming up as a great place to train and cut your teeth as an actor. So, I moved here to give it a shot. That was seven years ago (almost to the day).

STATERA: What is your own most memorable mentorship experience?

Dana: I feel like my most memorable mentorship experience came when I applied to work at the Goodman Theatre as the Executive Assistant to the Executive Director in 2011. Up to that point, I had mainly been an actor here in Chicago and was questioning about whether applying to work full time inside a large theatrical institution would be a smart move for me. I called two specific women in my life who were not only familiar with Chicago theater but also helped me understand the man and theater I might be working for. We talked about the pros and cons of taking a 9 to 5 job, which would take me out of daytime auditions, and how being an assistant might change how I am seen an as actor in the community. But they also reminded me of how much knowledge I would gain from the inside and that the job didn't have to be forever. I was so grateful that they took the time to talk with me, listen and even help me craft a good cover letter! I loved working at the Goodman and wouldn't trade that time for the world.

Susaan: About 8 years ago I was asked to be part of an accountability group. We met every couple weeks to discuss what we were currently working on, shows/auditions/mailings/websites/ect., and what we wanted/hoped to be working on. It lasted about four years with the last two being only the same three or four people. We became very close and to this day they are great friends and we still consistently support each other.

Lanise: Years ago I was doing GEM OF THE OCEAN at Milwaukee Rep, all of the actors bonded from day one, and the older more experienced actors took me under their wing. I definitely seized the opportunity, asking them as many career based questions I could muster. They gave me acting tips that I use to this day, and also let me crash on their couch when I visited NYC. Even now I could call upon them and receive the same munificence they gifted me 13 years ago.

Christine: Something we hear a lot from potential mentors is "I don't think I have what it takes to be a mentor". It's so easy to look at your body of work and only see the gaps, the ways it doesn't measure up to your aspirations or the careers of people you admire. But, at our spring mixer, the room was packed with women--some just out of college, some who had been in the industry for 20 years--who were connecting with each other, supporting each other and dreaming big together. It was a much needed reminder that we ALL have something to bring to the table. You're never "too experienced" to learn something new, or "too inexperienced" to impart wisdom.

STATERA: How did you become connected to the Statera Mentorship Program?

Susaan: Minita Gandhi, who started the Chicago chapter with Erika Haaland, is one of my dearest friends. We met when we were both starting out in Chicago (at our first Chicago audition!) and our sisterhood was solidified when we worked on a show that toured for a few months. She's been discussing Statera with me from the start.

Dana: Minita Gandhi reached out to me to be a mentor during the inaugural class, but I had heard Erika's name for over 2 years off and on and it just felt like fate. Years ago, I used to host a lot of ladies nights at my home, where people would come and drink and eat and chat, and many of the attendees were artists. Some of those guests told other people about these gatherings and word got around that yes, I like wine, but also that I like bring people together who might not know each other but will hopefully become fast friends.

STATERA: What do you see as the greatest need and/or the most common need for mentorship relationships?

Christine: I think it varies so much depending on who you are and where you're at in your career, but the thing that keeps circling back around for me is the need for a sounding board. It's easy to feel isolated in such a competitive field, but I've realized that theatre artists, myself included, are hungry to share their experiences and dole out advice and support. This sense of community has enriched my experience as an actor.

Lanise: Strategizing, discipline and goal setting. I like to discuss aspirations, then see if their daily habits move them towards that goal or away from it. There are numerous small things that can be overlooked, its implementing smart habits each day (or week) to inch you along your artistic trajectory. Simply having a de-stressing routine, eating healthy high performance food, and scouting out the places that you want to work are small things people don't consider, but can prepare you for the opportunity that can change your life.

Susaan: I think the world at large is often overwhelming and the more connections we can feel comfortable confiding in or bouncing ideas off of regarding hopes, dreams, challenges, and successes, the more we can individually accomplish. We don't have to build Rome in a day, but sometimes it feels like we're behind if we don't. I think mentorship can ease the pressure from the "how" anxiety into the accomplishable step by step (and who says you can't take two or three steps at at time...not me). Mentorship is reciprocally beneficial. No one has all the answers all the time, but we are all human and want to connect and grow.

Dana: I think the greatest need for them, and this program specifically, is the structure. Some of us might have people we feel we can text, or email or FB with a question or two, but a whole program/class that is set up for a 6 month period where there are guidelines, expectations and resources to help you build your mentee/mentor relationship...is so valuable. It gives both the mentee and the mentor accountability and room to breathe. It isn't like you have to get all your questions answered in an hour over coffee, you have time to go deeper into a meaningful relationship together. That's why I think this program is so valuable. I also think putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, whether or not those shoes are similar to yours or not, is helpful. To help someone else, besides yourself, move thru this business. That’s what I loved about being a mentor. Getting out of my own head and in the process, learning so much from my mentees.

STATERA: Talk to us about your leadership style and why you're called to work in this capacity for your community.

Lanise: I’ve been fortunate to have incredible guides in my life and I love seeing people win. If I can help them win, I will. I thrive on collaboration, earnest engagement, discipline, tenacity, audacity, resilience, and compassion.

Christine: I'm a talker; it's the best way for me to process my experience. I'm also an organizer and a doer. My favorite thing to do it gather people I admire and trust in a room to generate ideas, talk about goals and figure out strategies to accomplish them. Having come to acting without a BFA under my belt, I initially felt like I was at a great disadvantage, but I've come to learn that the key to success is hard work, integrity and compassion. These characteristics are accessible to EVERYONE. By spreading that message, I think we can build a stronger, more inclusive community.

Susaan: I'm definitely a connector. My natural state of being is wanting to make connections between people I meet. I'm very enthusiastic about that. I'm also a listener. A term that I personally connect with is "heritage" in the sense of shared experience. I love tapping into shared "heritage" to bring people together.

Dana: For me, I feel like one of my greatest strengths is my ability to make people feel comfortable or at ease, to make them feel seen and to make them feel welcome. I was specifically drawn to this program so that I can help get people together in the same room, talking and laughing, connecting and learning or doing a group activity...so I am excited about planning events for the mentorship program. People are yearning to share safe spaces with each other, connecting in real time and not on their phones, and I think we can help do that. I also like using my connections to help pair mentees and mentors, and it's been really fun thinking about all the amazing artists in Chicago that want to be a part of this program.

STATERA: Okay, now its time to AMPLIFY. What recent personal projects or upcoming projects are you excited about? Any links or PR you want to share with us?

Christine: I'm currently filming an improvised, avant-garde feature with a longtime collaborator and friend about a YouTube lifestyle blogger. No links yet, but I'll definitely be flooding the internet with them soon. And a short film I produced this summer, Eat You Heart Out (https://eatyourheartoutfilm.com/) is in post-production.

Dana: I am headed to Arkansas to Theatre Squared to do a Lauren Gunderson play in Nov-Dec 2018 with Chicago's very own Keira Fromm directing. I am trying to do more regional work so this is an exciting opportunity and hey, it's in the Ozark Mountains! Come down and see me: Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.

Lanise: I am over the moon to be acting in FAMILIAR at Steppenwolf this winter and directing BEHOLD THE DREAMERS at Book-It Repertory Theatre next spring. www.laniseantoineshelley.com

Susaan: I'm looking forward to spreading Christmas Cheer this season in A Christmas Carol at Drury Lane and I just shot an episode of Chicago Med. I still haven't gotten my website up, so someone please mentor me!


Are you interested in starting a Statera Mentorship Chapter in your city or region? Please visit www.stateraarts.org/start-a-chapter. You can also reach out directly to the Statera National Mentorship Coordinators at mentorship@stateraarts.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

We Are The Sea Change: Nataki Garrett at StateraCon

On October 6, 2018 Nataki Garrett, joined by Hana Sharif, addressed a room full of nearly 200 theatre-makers and arts leaders at Statera’s National Conference in Milwaukee, WI. StateraArts is proud to publish Garrett’s address here in its entirety.

Nataki Garrett at StateraCon 2018.jpg

We are the Sea Change!

BY NATAKI GARRETT

Delivered at the Statera National Conference in Milwaukee October 6, 2018

   

Who are WE…and how did WE get here?  

Earlier this year I listened to my friend and colleague Mica Cole in a speech delivered to a room of Artistic Leaders her view of artistic leadership in the 21st century. You should read it, it’s brilliant! In it she reflects on the negatives of our country and the world, by beginning almost every phrase with the word “WE”.  She reflects on who “WE” are as if as if “WE” were one body of leaders that had already begun doing what was necessary to change those ills. It was devastating and empowering. Like, if we could reflect on what’s necessary and see ourselves doing it then “WE” might start doing it for real.  Then again, I have to wonder if “WE” truly desire change and without enough desire to spark action, can “WE” make change happen.

Who are WE...and How did WE get here?

The other week I read an article by playwright, Quiara Hudes which is a transcript of a speech she entitled: The High Tide of Heartbreak. It is an honest account of her time in this field but it reads like Dear John letter. I read it thinking, Wow, if we lose Hudes, if her heart break breaks her tie to this art because it can be more cruel than giving, then who are WE? I have to say “I feel you, Hudes.”

In the last year, I have been privileged to visit several theaters across the country. I have learned a lot from my visits. I have heard from so many boards about their priorities and dreams for their theaters. BOARD MEMBERS who are deeply invested and committed to their organizations. They feel responsible for the longevity of their organizations and understandably, they want success over risk. Most see success as profit or recognition from the commercial market of their value. Almost everybody wants a Regional Tony except those who already have it and understand the downside of what they sacrificed to get it. Many of these benevolent boards don’t or can’t hear their own rhetoric reflecting a desire to “Make the Theater Great Again”. This would be easy to do since the primary patrons of American theater both -- nonprofit and commercial -- are mostly the same older white people who seem to have a similar agenda. They overwhelmingly support stories and styles of storytelling that reflects a nostalgia for a time when only a few people benefitted from the structure of the status quo while the rest were asked to eat the crumbs of the ideal American Dream. A crumbling façade both cruel and exclusive.

Who are WE? How did WE get here? 

Since February of 2017 there have been 39-40 new Artistic Director appointments give or take. Seventeen of those are women; of those, five are women of color. Although the regional theater movement was started by a woman, almost all of the women moving in power are going to organizations that have only been run by men or have been run by men for the past 12-15 years, whose boards and stakeholders have no idea what female leadership looks like or feels like. They are moving into leadership in a socio-political climate that is growing in its division and polarization. The theater has been and mostly remains an elitist, entitled, fortress reserved for those who reside at the top of the status quo. My friends and colleagues have shared their horror stories about patrons who want to police voices that  do not fit into their white, western, patriarchal vision for so called “good theater”.

 Nataki Garrett speaking at StateraCon.

Nataki Garrett speaking at StateraCon.

Earlier this year in Chicago a battle erupted when a highly revered Chicago Tribune reviewer, Heady Weiss wrote a patronizing review of Antionette Nwandu’s acclaimed play Pass Over, which revealed her bias and practice of colonizing the voice of a black woman to fit into her narrowly prescribed, generationally tied, world view.  In Denver, there was a letter to editor of the Denver Post complaining that Hamilton was racist stating: “I would love to see the reaction of our black communities if theater or film producers produced the life story of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Frederick Douglass and mounted an all-white cast.” The funny part is this man probably stood in line for hours to get one of the hottest tickets in town and possibly the hottest ticket in our lifetime and he didn’t know that the show featured a cast of all people of color?  In our theaters, I hear women and people of color express trauma from having to work or make art in all white or all male rooms in which there is no acknowledgement of how disconcerting it can be. Earlier this year while working on a project, I experienced bigotry so devastating that I had to look up the word bigot so that I could understand why nothing I said would ever engaged their empathy. I had to accept that I would never help them see what they were doing and how terrible they were behaving nor how many people they were hurting.

We live in a divisive time when at least one half of the country would love to go back to a time when women, poor people, LBGTQIA people, people with disabilities and people of color were second class citizens again. Hatred and fear of black people has caused white people to begin using 911 as a way to control us while doing ordinary things like having a cookout, swimming at a community pool and sleeping in a dorm room lounge or playing with our children in a public park, standing in a doorway to get out of the rain, moving into our apartments, selling water on a hot day or jogging. I travel for work, I have been asked a dozen times this year while sitting in a theater by some super sweet older white woman, “How did you get here?”. I usually reply, “in a car, how did you get here?” By the way, Flint still doesn’t have clean water; trans and native women are still being murdered at an alarming rate; and there are families still being separated at our border with Mexico. There are a lot of ills in this world. Seventeen women are rising into power in the American Theater in this America.

So…

Who are WE? how did WE get here?

There is no doubt that this rising force of Women will need our support and guidance to succeed in these tumultuous times. It’s not enough to say on social media that you are happy for them. WE, in this room must pledge active support for them. They will need it if they are going to shelter our beloved field through this crazy time when our President mocks a woman for telling her survival story on television and while I deliver this speech elected politicians are appointing a bully and another sex offender to the highest court in the land. And even if these women have difficulty succeeding in their first year, we must remind the field that 30-40 years ago men in their 20’s and 30’s were given the keys and resources to start theaters and allowed to learn the job on the job failing up to success. More, these women must succeed despite the fields lack of experience or tolerance for female leadership but also because some of their organizations are in serious trouble artistically, morally, fiscally.  And worse, there are some people who believe that at least half of those women will not last 2 years.

I was told this by a man who will remain nameless, who was introduced to me during one of those theater new play festivals some of us attend yearly. It was something he and his male colleagues had been talking about since last summer when it seemed like everyone was announcing that they were leaving their Artistic Director positions. You should know something about me.  People often tell me things they shouldn’t. Usually, its white men who are emboldened to share their secrets with me. I imagine them thinking “who is she again…” and “who of any importance would she be able to tell”. Worse they are probably not thinking at all – I’m often inconsequential to them unless I’m seen as scary or angry, which to some of them is most of the time. As always, I leaned in and listened closer while he concluded by saying “…by then the boards will have no choice but to replace them with men, like they did a decade ago when all those women got jobs at theaters and non-profits and most didn’t last a year. I’ll wait until the second wave to apply.” He said it without irony or remorse, as if it were a fait de accompli. First of all, “all those women” were maybe 4 women but he was right that only one kept her job. More, this cynical idea that people are banking on half of these warrior women to fail so that they can take over, really fucks with me and ignited a powerful urge to stop this so-called second wave from happening, which is why I’m telling you all of you. Lean in and listen closer.

I believe that some aspects of living and learning under the patriarchy have given us some benefits, but this is one of those times when I give myself permission to send up my double fisted middle fingers to the Patriarchy. I give myself permission to be angry and show my anger by sharing what I know with all of you so that we can keep this revolution of women leaders going. Most of us have spent decades under male leadership. Leadership that was sometimes toxic, often condescending and always patronizing even when it was inspiring and profound. As my generation came up, Male Leadership was viewed as supreme and solid and the few women in artistic leadership were all branded as bitches and witches or hacks. We were mentored in male dominated theaters which maintained the status quo and then UPHELD tenants of the patriarchy and white supremacy even when they weren’t aware of what they were doing.

We women have a responsibility to use our leadership opportunities to evolve this industry and to evolve the theater into what it was created for. One that is inclusive, tolerant, and equal. One where equity, diversity, and inclusion are not buzzwords we toss around to prove our level of wokeness but a commitment to our highest level of engagement to save our field, our communities, and the world. We must help these warrior women build theater that becomes a wave engulfing and clearing out the negative tides we are currently facing. And to do that we must become united in shielding the women who will be leading the sea change.

IMG_2985.jpg

WE MUST

1. Build a circle to strengthen our community by coming together to support each other.

I have several circles. One of my favorites is my circle of “bad asses” all women who all have been in the business longer than me who give me guidance, light the path and remind me of my strength and responsibility. They are better than mentors. They are assurance that one can stay in this field, build a powerhouse organization and make your life meaningful at the same time. I have a circle that is my net as I trapeze through this industry to remind me about self-care and self-love as I look for more ways to support my theater or work to save the world, whichever comes first.

Start by building a circle with other women, trans-women and non-binary leaders to talk about ways to support each other. It would be sad if the only time we come can together in solidarity or in support of each other is during one of these conferences. You see at times, I feel like we emulate patriarchal leadership which is isolated by design when it doesn’t have to be. I suggest that we break that design by encouraging women to do what we do best – we build community. So, build a circle specifically for your position in leadership. Reach out to other women who are in similar positions your experiences and look for ways to support each other. Look for opportunities to collaborate and lift each other up as often as possible. Break with the idea that you don’t want to be seen as aligning yourself with other women. That is a patriarchal idea that must be abolished. Build a circle for yourself then build a circle for one of the 17.  Call them! Reach out to at least one of these women and ask them what you can do to support them. Let them know you are here for them if they need you and even if they don’t need you, you are here. FOR THEM. If they still say “no thanks” then silently seek for ways to help them build their institutions. Find a way to help! look out for their blind spots and filling in where you can. And when you don’t support their visions remind them that they can do more but do it in a way that doesn’t undermine them – remember your mandate is to support – Give them a chance to risk and fail and risk and fail and risk into success - just Like the boys! 

2. Build a circle for the future Leaders

Otherwise known as mentoring. This can happen online or in person. But find a way to support the next generation of leaders. I would not be here or still be here if it weren’t for my mentors. And to be honest I would not be here if it weren’t for those I have mentored and supported over the years because my mentors paved the road but those I mentored reminded me of why I was on the road in the first place. They all continue to motivate me as I watch them rise towards their dreams.

3. Build a circle to change the current tide of divisiveness and intolerance.

Nurture your circles – one of the most cynical things about our current state of politics is remembering what it was like only 10 years ago when we had the audacity to hope and some of us had the hubris to believe the nation had crossed a threshold. I did not believe we had crossed a threshold because I was taught that good change is hard fought but even harder to keep. My parents were active in the civil rights movement and they remind me often that there were really only a few people who did the hard labor for social justice. The videos make you feel like it was a whole generation marching around and being hosed and arrested but in reality, it was only a small percentage who made the biggest changes in our country. While my generation was benefitting from those hard fought changes, there were other people who were working tirelessly to stop the tide of change and equality.

This is how we got here.

While WE were sleeping, THEY were working to solidify their investment in maintaining a status quo embedded in so called “white supremacy”. While we were celebrating one victory they were preparing for the next 100 years of their kind of victories. We cannot let their push to go backwards, succeed. We must be vigilant, stay woke, change our country and leave the world better than we found it for the next generation. This is why this leadership shift IN THE AMERICAN THEATER is so important. I am relying on these women to use their power to change the field, their communities and perhaps the world. I am relying of all of us to use our strength, power and will to HOLD THEM UP.

Who are WE?

Sea change originates from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

 

Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:

Ding-dong.

Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

 

It is defined in the dictionary as:

“A substantial change in perspective – especially one that effects a group or society at large”. 

Let’s make this sea change of Women Warriors leading the American Theater into the 21st century into something Rich and Strange!!!

Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell...


Who are WE?

WE are the sea change.


ABOUT NATAKI GARRETT (She/Her/Hers)

Nataki Garrett is a nationally recognized director and the former Associate Artistic Director of Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theater Company. She is credited with producing the most financially successful production ever in their renowned Space Theater in the 40 year history of the DCPA. Garrett also served as the Associate Artistic Director of CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP). Nataki is a Company Member at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company a recipient of the NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Directors and a member of SDC.

Nataki Garrett is co-Artistic Director of BLANK THE DOG PRODUCTIONS (BTD), an LA/NYC based ensemble Theater Company, which is celebrating its 10th year and is dedicated to developing and fostering new work by emerging, adventurous and experimental artists.

To read Nataki Garrett's full bio, please visit her WEBSITE.

 

Statera's National Conference Amplifies Gender Parity Movement

Statera hosted their third national conference this month in Milwaukee, WI. Nearly 200 participants gathered on the UW-Milwaukee campus. The venue was buzzing all weekend with strategy-based dialogue about creating greater parity and equity in the American Theatre and beyond. The conference was chaired by Suzan Fete and an amazing team of volunteers from Renaissance Theaterworks.

The three-day gathering, offered individual artists, arts administrators, academics, and students the opportunity to discuss both the accomplishments and challenges for women working in theater and other arts fields. As with their other conferences, Statera scheduled a fantastic line-up of speakers, multiple networking opportunities, panels, and performances to uplift, amplify, and advance women and TGNC folks as they work towards full and equal participation in the arts.

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Here are just a few of the highlights from StateraConIII:

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Usually a conference ends up being helpful for one of three things: 1) learning, 2) networking, 3) being heard. This is the first conference we’ve attended that was clearly curated with a values-commitment to all three. It created well-attended sessions, effective partnerships, dynamic dialogue, and interest for us in next year already. Thank you!! - Rachel Spencer Hewitt (She/Her/Hers) / PAAL

I will admit I didn’t take enough photos, but it was because I was busy absorbing as much as I could, getting catalyzed and inspired to action. Thank you so much Statera Foundation for a wonderful conference this weekend, for giving me the space to share TGNC perspectives. I am so excited for what’s next. - Kevin Kantor (They/Them/Their)

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  Jessica Renae  from Intimacy Directors International

Jessica Renae from Intimacy Directors International

Still reeling from the inspiration bomb that was #StateraConIII in Milwaukee this weekend. Thank you Melinda Pfundstein Vaughn and Shelly Gaza for your vision in creating StateraArts, and for all of the new friends and future collaborators I made this weekend. I have lots to process, and lots of work to do. - Marybeth Gorman Craig (She/Her/Hers)

 
I just spent three days in the company of the most inspiring, strong, rebellious, and loving artists and change makers I have ever met. My heart is bursting. My notebook is filled to the brim. We are the sea change. - Christine Hellman (She/Her/Hers)

  Christine Jugueta , “The Red Thread: Sacred theatre, Indigenous Wisdom, and the Goddess Movement as Tools for Shifting the Leadership Paradigm”

Christine Jugueta, “The Red Thread: Sacred theatre, Indigenous Wisdom, and the Goddess Movement as Tools for Shifting the Leadership Paradigm”

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  Shelly Gaza  ushers Martha Richards to the podium.

Shelly Gaza ushers Martha Richards to the podium.

 Statera Team with  Martha Richards .

Statera Team with Martha Richards.

 Lydiah Dola (SWAN Day Kenya)

Lydiah Dola (SWAN Day Kenya)

Today is not a working day, it's a day to wake up, smell the roses and give gratitude. I cannot thank Shelly Gaza enough for inviting me to speak at the Statera conference. Special thanks also to the incredible Statera team! You ladies ROCK!!! I also have to thank my sisters Hana Sharif and Nataki Garrett Myers. Yes, you may not know this, but I've adopted you both into the family. I'm still buzzing from your speeches. Thank you for your generosity, honesty and wisdom. It was an absolute honour to share the Touchstone platform with both of you. To everyone that I connected with at the Statera conference, I will be bold enough to say that I am confident that this is just the beginning to a beautiful and radical partnership! - Simeilia Hodge Dallaway (She/Her/Hers)

 

The overall feeling I got from the conference was excited hopefulness...the belief that together we can accomplish anything. Not only did I gain professional knowledge that I was able to bring back to Renaissance Theaterworks in order to improve our company, I made several important connections with like-minded women committed to improving gender parity in theater. - Suzan Fete (She/Her/Hers)

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 “Male Allyship in the Gender Parity Movement”

“Male Allyship in the Gender Parity Movement”

  Sage Martin  (left) and  Maggie Rogers  (right) “Fat Discrimination in the American Theatre”

Sage Martin (left) and Maggie Rogers (right) “Fat Discrimination in the American Theatre”

  Lindsey Gardner-Penner  (left),  Jane Vogel  (middle), and  Yasmin Ruvalcaba  from Advance Gender Equity in the Arts, "2020 Call To Action: What's On Your Calendar?"

Lindsey Gardner-Penner (left), Jane Vogel (middle), and Yasmin Ruvalcaba from Advance Gender Equity in the Arts, "2020 Call To Action: What's On Your Calendar?"

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SWAN Day Organizers Gather at Statera's National Conference

 Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts and Co-Founder of Support Women Artists Now / SWAN Day.

Martha Richards, Executive Director of WomenArts and Co-Founder of Support Women Artists Now / SWAN Day.

In June 2018, WomenArts announced Statera Foundation as the new organizers of  Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day 2019. As part of the transition of SWAN Day from WomenArts to Statera, WomenArts is sponsoring a gathering of key SWAN organizers on Thursday, October 4, 2018 in Milwaukee, WI as part of Statera Foundation’s Third National Conference on gender parity in the arts.

WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards will facilitate a discussion with leading SWAN organizers from New York, Connecticut, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Kenya, and the Czech Republic.

Although these organizers have often corresponded online over the past eleven years, this will be the first time that they have met each other face-to-face. The goals of this historic gathering will be to share best practices and to find ways to increase the impact of SWAN Day. Richards, in collaboration with Statera’s Creative Director Sarah Greenman, will also moderate a panel discussion about SWAN Day as part of StateraCon on Friday, October 5th.

In a statement, Statera’s Executive Director Melinda Pfundstein said, “At Statera we have been organizing conferences and building our mentorship program because we believe in the power of women artists supporting other women artists by sharing their skills and cheering each other on. Those are the core values of SWAN Day as well. We are so grateful for Martha Richards’ vision and for the support of WomenArts. We are thrilled to be the new organizers of SWAN Day.”

At this historic SWAN Convening, SWAN Day organizers will have a chance to be a part of the leadership transition and brainstorm with Statera Foundation about ways in which SWAN Day can make an even greater impact on the gender parity movement in years to come.

“As SWAN Day starts its second decade, it is wonderful to have this burst of new energy and ideas from the Statera women,” said Martha Richards. “I have been very impressed with their skills and commitment, and I am confident that they will find ways to make SWAN Day bigger and better than ever."

Below is a video with Martha Richards, published in June 2018, about the SWAN Day transition.

Donate to SWAN Day

BIG NEWS: Statera's National Mentorship Program Launches TODAY!

THE WAIT IS OVER!
Today, Statera is officially launching our
National Mentorship Program!


Mentorship is at the core of Statera's mission of taking positive action to bring women into full and equal participation in the arts. After 18 months of beta-testing and refining our regional mentorship program in Chicago, the Statera Team is ready for a national launch! 

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Establishing the Statera Mentorship Program in your community is an incredibly rewarding and exciting endeavor! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Statera has created materials and resources that will equip you with the tools you will need to create a lasting and successful program. You’ll have access to organizational systems, email templates, the Mentorship Program Field Guide, and face-time with Statera’s National Co-Directors. 

Do you love connecting people? Are you an organized person who is a part of a community of artists? Do you know others in your community who are excited to partner with you to create a grassroots mentorship program? If this sounds like you, then Statera invites you to step into the center of your vision and join us

Your leadership is vitally important to the growth and development of this program. We know that there will be questions along the way and we want you to know that we are here for you. 

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The Statera Mentorship Program is fantastic - both because my mentor has been such a steady and inspirational person and because it was amazing to feel a sense community with so many artists who come from different backgrounds. We are all out there hustling, and knowing I'm not alone makes the every-day struggles so much easier to handle. - Alison Plott, Actor: CHICAGO

Having worked as a professional actress in Chicago for the past 30 years, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to give back and help women in the business, as there was nothing like this when I was starting out.  Not only has it been an intensely rewarding experience to help my mentee in all areas of Chicago theatre I discovered the wealth of knowledge I have attained over the years and the immense value of it.  - Lia Mortensen, Actor: CHICAGO

 Statera’s National Mentorship Co-Directors: Minita Gandhi (top) and Erika Haaland (bottom)

Statera’s National Mentorship Co-Directors: Minita Gandhi (top) and Erika Haaland (bottom)

History of the Statera Mentorship Program


The Statera Mentorship Program officially began in January of 2016 and has been at the core of Statera’s programming ever since. The Mentorship Program was designed for theatre practitioners who identify as women and are interested in moving beyond the very real obstacles that sometimes lie between our goals and our opportunities. Statera believes that the most effective way to grow, expand and manifest change is to work together. A flourishing mentor relationship helps both mentor and mentee organize their professional challenges, nurture their creative ideas and activate their personal gifts. 

Statera’s original executive team (Melinda Pfundstein,Shelly Gaza, andSarah Greenman) built the first incarnation of the program with the help ofJennifer Tuttle, who ran the national program until November 2016. While the program was very successful, Statera quickly realized they needed a larger dedicated team to run the program effectively. It was also clear that a scaled-back program with more structure would better suit the needs of the program participants.

In January of 2017, just a year after the launch of the initial program, Statera partnered with Chicago-based theatre artistsErika Haaland and Minita Gandhi (pictured above) to build and beta-test a Chicago regional mentorship program. The new model offers mentors and mentees a structured 6-month cycle that includes local mentorship gatherings for workshops, networking, panel discussions, keynotes, and more. The Chicago program is currently running its third class of mentor pairings and has served over 200 women to date. The innovations provided by the Chicago team now make up the template for our national program.

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Become a Mentor or Mentee


Statera's Mentorship Program is currently operating in two regions:Chicago and North Carolina. A third and fourth are slated for 2019 (details coming soon). This effort is being led by region-based theatre artists, equity advocates, and business-minded women. 

If you are a Chicago or North Carolina-based theatre artist interested in engaging as a mentor or mentee in this unique program, please sign up by clicking on a region below. The next Chicago mentorship class is enrolling today through October 8th, with an official start date of November 1st. If you're in North Carolina, sign up to be notified about our next mentorship phase. We will be opening it up to other regions very soon!


We'd love to hear from you! 


If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to our National Mentorship Co-Directors directly a tmentorship@staterafoundation.org. We look forward to talking with you!

Writing Women Back into History Through Plays

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the arts and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other.

Today's offering comes to us from songwriter, playwright, director, and actor Shellen Lubin. Shellen will present a breakout session at Statera’s upcoming National Conference called "365 Women a Year: a Playwriting Project".


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Writing Women Back into History Through Plays

BY SHELLEN LUBIN

The woman’s perspective onstage? Even when we think we’re getting a woman’s story--Antigone, Lysistrata, Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Hedda Gabler, Scarlett O’Hara-- we are too often getting a man’s perspective on what that woman’s perspective might have been. 

Even that is rare. Most often, women are considered the supporting figures in men’s stories--the mothers, muses, lovers, wives. The stories are rarely theirs. So trying to find the woman’s perspective in theatre--in plays, in theatrical history--whether based on true people or purely fiction--women’s thoughts and feelings about their own lives, about living life--is not an easy task.

Plays are stories. And just like most stories, looking at them through a different lens, from a different perspective, through a different character’s eyes, at a different moment in our own lives, we may draw different conclusions.

Many years ago, I wrote a play that was based on the bible story about Jacob contracting with Laban for his daughter Rachel’s hand in marriage only to be stuck with the older daughter, Leah. But in my play the leading character was Leah, and the story is told primarily through her eyes, looking at her life as the unappreciated daughter and sister become the unwanted bride.

However, in that play, I managed to leave out Zilpah and Bilhah, their two hand-maidens who also slept with Jacob and mothered the human race. Laban gave his two daughters hand-maidens, who they then gave to their husband for sex? That means Zilpah and Bilhah were slaves. Non-whites, non-Jews, non-believers, wives, children, all are supporting figures in our history and our literature, theatrical and otherwise. 

 Art by Sarah Greenman

Art by Sarah Greenman

Jesslyn Eisenberg Chamblee began 365 Women a Year: a Playwriting Project, Facebook group dedicated to adding to the stories and changing the known history. So many of us jumped on board to write plays that were not chronologies or historic documentation, but vital, dramatic moments or phases in these women’s lives. The group is entirely self-selected, and the plays are not all written by women, (but it is primarily). Equally exciting is the fact that the writers are not just from the major theatre cities, but across the country and around the world. 

The first festival of such plays that I produced as readings was at The Lambs. It was a random group of New York City playwrights, again by self-selection. Most of the plays were terrific, but not all, and I learned a powerful lesson: if I was going to put my time, energy, and passion into putting these plays before an audience, I was going to have to have a curation process.

Next go round, I did just that. For Edith O’Hara’s 100th Birthday in 2016, Susan Merson, then Artistic Director of the 13th Street Theatre (which O’Hara founded), worked with me to produce an entire weekend there of 365 Women a Year plays entitled In Her Name. The effect of the weekend on participants and audience alike was profound. Some of these women were unknown or barely known, but some were well-known women whose histories have been shared only in part. Seeing one play was illuminating, an individual aesthetic experience, but the effect of a whole day of such pieces was intense, a deeply felt collective awareness of how much we don’t know about our own history, how much has been hidden and deliberately left out--our stories, our perspectives, and, too, our voices as artists and as citizens.

This year, I produced another three-day festival of plays in March for SWAN Day and Women’s History Month, Untold Stories of Jewish Women at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: a Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Susan Merson and I put out a wider call for plays, and ending up working with 30 playwrights, as many directors, and over 100 actors. It was a challenge and a huge amount of work, but it was an incredible experience for both participants and audience, these stories of Jewish women from the bible right through to the transgender Martine Rothblatt.

We must learn to shift perspective or we as a society--as a culture--will forever be stuck in the throes of power, lust, and the wants and desires of privileged white men--as much as any Greek, Russian, or Shakespearean tragic figure. This country and most of the Western World was built on the unpaid, underpaid, and stolen labor--stolen stories--stolen lives--of too many people, families, and communities. The Northern cities were built by slaves. By the Civil War the North may have had no slavery, but all our cities were built by slaves. The cost of the day-to-day lives and the lives themselves in the building of our gentry, our upper classes, our corporate bigwigs, our elites (those whose lives our history and culture still most revere and support) is still barely known, recognized, told, or valued. These are the stories that must be heard now, these are the perspectives that must be honored, and these are the voices I want to participate in bringing to life and to audiences. 

Women have historically lived their own kind of slavery, having once been the property of fathers and husbands, the acclaim and remuneration for their most humble toilings, their greatest discoveries, and their most magnificent efforts all given to others, claimed by others, freely taken or stolen by others, and still now only slowly evolving from that reality.

As a a white Jewish woman from an upper middle class family? I have lived a life of privilege and indulgence, on the one hand, and deprivation and lack of recognition on the other. Sometimes my head spins from the confusing reality of it all.

But nothing can be changed until it is faced. It is only in our recognition of how we are both privileged and deprived that we can find empathy for all others who have suffered from much greater neglect, deprivation, and prohibition.

At this time of year, the beginning of the school year, the harvest, Rosh Hashonah, Yom Kippur, it is an especially good time to remember that the lessons come from everywhere, that our personal bible is every story which has held meaning and value for us as well as every one in which we play a role, whether a lead or a supporting character. So it is good to be attentive, as Rabbi Yisrael Salenter was the night he saw a shoemaker working late into the night and asked him why he worked so hard when it was so very late and the candle had burned so low. The reply? "As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to accomplish and to mend … shoes."

"As long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to accomplish and to mend ..."

The candle is still burning.


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ABOUT SHELLEN (She/Her/Hers)

Shellen Lubin works professionally as a Songwriter, Playwright, Director, and Actor/Singer. Her songs have been featured on radio and cable TV, in Milos Forman’s first American film, Taking Off, in numerous cabaret acts including her own, and in a one-hour special on WBAI-FM, Shellen Lubin - Songwriter/Singer. Her plays have been produced and workshopped at Manhattan Class Company, the Public Theatre, Pacific Resident Theatre, West Coast Ensemble, and more. Shellen has directed across the country, and is the resident director for the Bistro Awards. She also teaches and coaches actors, singers, and writers both privately and as a guest artist. As the Artistic Director of Untold Stories of Jewish Women, she helmed a three-day theatre festival at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in March 2018. She serves as the 1st Vice President of the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition and chair of the Women Playwrights Initiative for the National Theatre Conference. Her reflections on artistry and life have been featured in five cover pieces for Back Stage Publications (archived on her website) and are read weekly in her Monday Morning Quotes think-pieces (www.mondaymorningquotes.com). Proud member of DG, SDC, AEA, and the League of Professional Theatre Women. Full bio, resume’, pictures and more: www.shellenlubin.com 

StateraCon Speaker Line-Up Has Something for Everyone - What's on your list?

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There is something for everyone at Statera’s 3rd National Conference on gender balance in the theatre. This year, Statera is partnering with Renaissance Theaterworks and the University of Milwaukee, WI Peck School of the Arts to host the largest gathering in the organization’s history.

TOUCHSTONE SPEAKERS

Statera, which has always had a strong focus on women in leadership, has announced four incredible touchstone speakers: Hana S. Sharif, Gail Barringer, Nataki Garrett, and Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway. All four are highly accomplished leaders, blazing new paths to success and acheivement for women in the theatre and film industries.

  Hana S. Sharif , Associate Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage, and newly named Artistic Director of Repertory Theatre St. Louis

Hana S. Sharif, Associate Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage, and newly named Artistic Director of Repertory Theatre St. Louis

  Nataki Garrett , Director and Former Associate Artistic Director of DCPA

Nataki Garrett, Director and Former Associate Artistic Director of DCPA

  Gail Barringer , Producer of Episodic TV including Law & Order SVU, The Punisher, Person of Interest, and Luke Cage

Gail Barringer, Producer of Episodic TV including Law & Order SVU, The Punisher, Person of Interest, and Luke Cage

  Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway , Founder and CEO of Artistic Directors of the Future

Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway, Founder and CEO of Artistic Directors of the Future

Conference attendees will be able to choose from a mind-boggling variety of topics and speakers. Conference organizers have broken these into four and five block sessions so that conference goers can choose their own track based on their trajectory in the industry (ie. Directors, Administrators, Academics, Designers, Actors, Playwrights, Audience Engagement, Social Justice Action, etc.) Take a look at the array of breakout sessions below and plan your weekend!

BREAKOUT SESSIONS

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2018

 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2018

 

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2018

PERFORMANCES

Statera also has two performances scheduled for conference attendees. The first is a world premier of Christine Jugueta’s musical play, The Red Thread. The second is Charlayne Woodard’s masterpiece, NEAT, performed by Milwaukee’s own Marti Gobel.

THE RED THREAD

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4TH AT 7PM - UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MILWAUKEE

a play by Christine Jugueta

directed by Jacqueline Stone

NEAT

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6TH AT 7PM - UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MILWAUKEE

a play by Charlayne Woodard
directed by Suzan Fete
starring Marti Gobel

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There is still time to register for Statera’s National Conference. Late registration is $275 for the whole weekend and will be available until all slots are filled.

Motherhood Bias Affects All of Us + 3 Ways to Fight It

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the arts and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other.

Today's offering comes to us from Rachel Spencer Hewitt, founder of Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) for the Performing Arts, a collective of individuals and theatre organizations committed to family-friendly practices in the theatre. Rachel will join her colleague, Adriana Gaviria, to present a breakout session at Statera’s upcoming National Conference called "Motherhood and Leadership: Initiatives for Upward Mobility".


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Motherhood Bias Affects All of Us + 3 Ways to Fight It

BY RACHEL SPENCER HEWITT


Imagine a world where your needs weren’t an obstacle to production but an opportunity to improve the system. A culture of “yes” that made space for new solutions and functionality. A system of diverse individuals who thrive on interconnected responsibility and quality of productivity instead of isolated responsibility and quantity of hours.

When presented as theory, these ideals seem progressive, appealing, and for many - life changing. We can unite behind these ideals. When presented in reality, the fears of misidentification and limited resources divide us. We forget we’re asking for the same things in different forms.

We cannot forget.

As more essays and initiatives and dialogue break the silence on motherhood, I’ve been challenged as an advocate for mothers, even directly, that the “motherhood” conversation could be taking space from women who choose not to have children. Their voices begin to feel unheard.

I believe them.

Here’s why - a truth anyone reading this piece will likely already understand is that the space given to women is already too small and therefore easily over-occupied. It is this fear that threatens to divide us: we don’t want to lose what little space we have left. 

This obstacle illustrates the misunderstanding of why we fight for the “motherhood-in-theatre cause”. Like our term “feminism,” language itself threatens to limit the discussion and reduce the purpose. We cannot allow it. In the motherhood fight, like the fight for feminism, motherhood is the banner presented by a specific demographic fighting for ideals that benefit everyone. To see how, let’s first explore how the motherhood bias adversely affects everyone, especially non-caregivers and then identify ways to combat these adverse effects:

 

1.     Misogyny Feeds on the Domestication of Women
Whether a mother or not, current social constructs maintain that women belong in secondary positions, at best, positions of contained leadership, while a man belongs in the lead. On the path to professional leadership, the infamous “glass ceiling” illustrates that this social construct directly informs our professional structure. As a result, when a woman’s position remains secondary professionally, so do the woman’s needs. In the professional world, women are expected to lead in secondary positions because our society pushes the expectation further, expecting women to become mothers and classifies mothers as the secondary, domesticated role. We perpetuate this archaic hierarchy by viewing theatre professionals who are mothers as domesticated beings. The mother, then, seeking professional status, becomes an easy casualty of misogyny because the needs of domesticated beings are professionally irrelevant, and, therefore, the structures have no obligation to change accordingly.

Excluding the needs of mothers from the conversation about women’s needs in the workplace by labeling it a domestic issue diminishes the number of women calling for structural overhaul of the workplace. The number of women whose needs are then determined as professionally irrelevant directly impacts gender equity, promotion, and representation.

How we fight it: Consider the needs of mothers as professionally relevant and necessary in the fight for gender equity, promotion, and representation.

How this helps everyone: By considering a mother’s needs as professionally relevant, gender-specific calls for social and professional structural overhaul increase in number, representation, and diversity of impact.

2.     The Motherhood Expectation of “Divided Commitment” Inhibits All Women

If you are not a caregiver, have you ever been asked the question in any form, “Will you have kids?” “Don’t you want kids?” “Don’t you think you’ll regret not having kids?” or even had that expectation casually or silently present in an interview or professional environment? More common than not, these inappropriate and invasive questions and expectations still permeate our work culture and feel reductive, dismissive, and ominous in terms of professional promotion. They expect you to eventually divide your commitment.

 Art by Sarah Greenman.

Art by Sarah Greenman.

Professional culture still allows us to equate motherhood with divided commitment, therefore allowing us to project a divided commitment on all women because of their potential motherhood whether they become mothers or not. This expectation wouldn’t exist if motherhood itself weren’t seen as an inherently divided commitment in the first place. No one has the right to investigate your motherhood plans and motherhood should be allowed in conversations of accessibility without the discriminating expectation that the woman in question will eventually lack professional capability. The personal reality of motherhood does not prescriptively affect professional commitment. Expectations of divided commitment, however, can inhibit it, so we must eradicate the expectation.

How we fight it: Advocate for mothers to be seen as professional individuals capable of  complete agency and leaders of their own level of personal commitment and professional goals.

How this helps everyone: If the reality of motherhood is not allowed to discriminate against a woman’s personal commitment and professional capability, then the expectation of motherhood no longer has the power to discriminate against all women in these ways as well.

3.     Work-Life Balance Viewed as the Pursuit of Working Better - Not Less - Impacts Everyone
The bias against professionals seeking work-life balance claims that they simply can’t meet the standard or want to work less. While some professionals desire and have the right to directly reduce their hours, not all professionals - mothers included - seek the reduction of work when they ask for adjustment of work. Thanks to developments of technology, progress in studies of efficacy, and emphasis on quality over quantity of hours, work-life balance has emerged as a primary topic for workplace restructuring. In many fields, including the theatre, mothers refrain from asking for creative solutions that may make work more efficient and accessible out of fear. This fear is echoed by many groups seeking change necessary for inclusion. From creating access for differently abled employees to decreasing race discrimination in employee evaluations to accommodating motherhood, finding new and improved methods of work can improve access and productivity for everyone by designing a system that fits the people working within it.

The mother’s needs contribute positively to this discussion in that they often include adjusting to different levels of physical mobility, considering the impact of an institution on outside individuals, and flexibility of function and execution to better fit the individual fulfilling the role. Even simple work-culture recommendations that positively affect everyone, as well as mothers, include telecommuting options, early schedule release for productions and projects, and including brunch and daytime in-hours networking events (instead of exclusively evening).

How to fight bias: Support motherhood accommodations according to legal rights as well as individual needs of mothers working in the institution.

How this helps everyone: The systems of the institution are then built in consideration of access needs as opposed to being maintained in conflict with access needs. Access and accommodation must become inherent principles when creating work-related systems for everyone.

 

For theatre to sustain its social impact, relevancy, and progress, we must consider how we view, include, and promote mothers. Motherhood is a valid lifestyle with professional impact and is deserving of professional rights, dignity, and accommodation. When we fight for motherhood, we fight for the unification of all professionals with access needs. Prioritizing access affects everyone and increases our power to influence equity, diversity, and efficacy.


 Rachel Spencer Hewitt

Rachel Spencer Hewitt

ABOUT RACHEL SPENCER HEWITT (She/Her/Hers)

Rachel Spencer Hewitt is the founder of Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) for the Performing Arts, a collective of individuals and theatre organizations committed to family-friendly practices in the theatre. PAAL's mission is to empower and advocate for the parent-artist, both employee and freelance, in collaboration with theatre organizations in order to raise awareness of parent artist obstacles in the theatre and create work-life balance interventions, healthy work culture, stable protocols, and accessible pathways to employment.

Rachel received her BA in Drama from Trinity University and MFA in Acting from the Yale School of Drama. She earned her equity card understudying and performing at the Yale Repertory Theater. Her professional acting resume includes Broadway Debut in tony-nominated King Charles III at The Music Box theater, regional theater and off-Broadway productions, including the Paula Vogel/Tina Landau New York premiere of A Civil War Christmas. She recently moved to Chicago and has founded a national online community and resource initiative to highlight, identify, and create dialogue on motherhood in the theater arts on her blog AuditioningMom.com.

All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage

"Statera Voices" is an op-ed series featured on the Statera Blog dedicated to reclaiming dominant cultural narratives as a means towards intersectional gender balance in the arts and beyond. "Statera Voices" is where we tell our stories, expand our histories, and celebrate each other.

Today's offering comes to us from Maggie Rogers, Literary Manager and Dramaturg for Washington Ensemble Theatre in Seattle, WA. Maggie will be at Statera's National Conference this October leading a breakout session with her colleague Sage Martin entitled, "Fat Discrimination in the American Theatre". 

Note: “All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage” by Maggie Rogers, originally appeared in American Theatre online, 16 January 2018. It is used here with permission from Theatre Communications Group.”

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All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage

American theatre must embrace all body types, and stop shunning and shaming fat performers and their stories.

By Maggie Rogers

It is time to talk about the elephant in the room: me. I’m the elephant. I’m the fat girl playing the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet senior year of high school, because as a fat girl you only play grandmas or other “undesirable” characters. I am the fat girl who sits behind the rehearsal table as an assistant director trying to keep her mouth shut while wondering why all the characters of lower status and even lower intelligence levels in the show are fat. I am the five-year-old girl in the audience who searched for anyone onstage who looked like me in terms of size. And most importantly, I am the fat girl who was told the only way I could go to the college of my dreams was if I lost 50 pounds (in case you were wondering, reader, I didn’t). I knew, even at a young age, that what they were asking of me was absurd and hazardous for my mental health.

 Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers

Before we move forward: Yes, I use the word fat. This is my identifier. Some people don’t like this word, as it has been used as a weapon against us big folks for as long as we can remember (and yes, I have been called fat to my face by complete strangers in public more times than I can count). Don’t get me wrong—I still have my Arya Stark-esque list of people who called me fat in grade school that I recite to myself every night before I fall asleep. The only difference is that now my relationship with that word is coming from a place of love within myself as opposed to allowing it to hurt me. But this act of loving myself didn’t happen overnight and is not without trauma.

As a fat theatremaker, I dedicate an immense amount of my time focusing on developing a more body-positive theatre culture. Recently in Seattle, I directed a workshop of Amplitude (or Such a Pretty Face) by Sage Martin, a new play about navigating the world as a fat woman. During the workshop, a common shared experience kept coming up in the room. There are a few familiar phrases, often repeated by fat actors and directed toward them, no matter their age or race. They include but are not limited to: “I auditioned for that college and they told me I would be perfect if I was smaller”; “You are great but we don’t think you will be able to keep up with the physical workshops”; and (my favorite), “We can’t hire you because the stock costume for [insert name of yearly holiday show] will not be able to fit you.”

So just based on my size, you somehow know:

  1. That I am physically unfit for any type of movement.

  2. That altering a costume is too much to ask.

  3. That I will only be good at acting if I lose weight.

Imagine for a moment that you are constantly being told you are not good enough because of how you look—and this is not just in theatre but every day of your life. You see people pointing and laughing at you when you are feeling fly as hell in your cute crop top. You feel them violently shift in their seat next to you on an airplane because they got stuck sitting next to the fat person. This is pure hatred from people based on you solely existing as a person of size.

Now imagine you have all this social baggage and trauma, and then you go into the theatre, a space that prides itself on being inclusive, but you are met with the discriminatory condition, “If you lost X amount of weight, you would be great.” What is being said to me, in all these spheres, is that I do not belong here as I am. That I have nowhere to exist. What really hurts is the lack of acceptance in what is supposed to be a safe space.

“If it hurts this badly, why don’t you lose weight?” Good question, stranger in the comments section. Because that is not who I am. I am a large, loud, in-your-face woman—I will not alter myself to make you comfortable. This type of insidious thinking and language against anyone breeds eating disorders and image issues. It is detrimental to someone who is already in a vulnerable position by making theatre: by taking risks, accessing your emotions daily, and having the courage to leave a piece of yourself onstage.

The stigmatization that runs rampant in our country isn’t just in the arts, obviously. Many companies refuse to believe that fat people are able to do physical work, or think that patrons will get the wrong image of a business if a fat person is behind the counter (I was once fired from a retail chain because I wasn’t “the right image the store needed”). Telling someone they were not hired, cast, or accepted to a school because of their physical appearance is criminal. It’s discrimination.

Ultimately my question really is, in a space that strives to be progressive and equitable, why are we still adhering to poisonous social conformities? I know that I am attractive, funny, and talented. Why don’t you? I am genuinely asking heads of theatre programs, directors, teachers, casting directors, and even audience members across America: Why is weight an inhibitor to you? Size is not even something commonly found in character descriptions. There is no excuse.

To be clear, this is not just about accepting fat actors—it is about deepening storytelling to encompass the whole of the American experience. We live in such a diverse country filled with endless shapes and sizes. By only representing smaller bodies onstage, you are doing a disservice to audience members who are not a size 0 or who don’t have six-pack abs. Fatness crosses every race, creed, and culture, and you want to tell me the only people that are worth seeing onstage are thin? Please. You can get on board with helicopters landing onstage, witches flying through the air, and puppets, but not a size 22 playing a lead?

We need to normalize fatness onstage and not heroicize people for casting a fat person as a sort of token. It’s time to take us beyond the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet, Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, Helen in Fat Pig—i.e. shows where being fat is considered unattractive, or fatness is a plot point, or where loving a fat person is considered taboo.

American theatre, I challenge you: Call back fat actors for lead roles where their weight is never mentioned. Put a person of size in the sexiest role in the play. Dig deep within yourself and discover those uncomfortable feelings with size you may have and try to make sense of them.

Give us fat theatremakers a chance. They may crush your expectations (pun absolutely intended).


ABOUT MAGGIE ROGERS (She/Her/Hers)

Maggie Rogers is a Seattle based director, dramaturg, and fat activist who proudly hails from Louisville, Kentucky. She is the Literary Manager and Resident Dramaturg at Washington Ensemble Theatre, a company member with The Horse in Motion, and the Resident Dramaturg for Cherdonna Shinatra's compnay, Donna. Before moving to Seattle to complete the Literary Apprenticeship at Seattle Repertory Theatre, she obtained her degree in directing from Columbia College Chicago and graduated as the class Valedictorian of 2014.

Statera Mentorship & Kimberly Senior at The Goodman

Last month, the Chicago Chapter of the Statera Mentorship Program hosted a conversation with renowned director Kimberly Senior. As a fierce advocate of women and emerging artists, Kimberly shared her experiences and facilitated a dynamic discussion on the necessary role Mentorship plays in our lives. The gathering was co-hosted by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. 

Although mentorship can be seen as an act of kindness or generosity, I view it as a necessity, a responsibility. If we are to continue to make work, to tell stories, or even survive another 50, 100, 1000 years, we need to raise up this next generation. So how do we do this? We hold open doors.
— Kimberly Senior

ABOUT STATERA'S MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

Statera Foundation works to connect theatre women interested in moving beyond the very real obstacles that sometimes lie between our goals and our successes. The most effective way to grow, expand and manifest change is to work together. Statera Foundation is here for you. 



Here are some photos from the event:
 

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ABOUT KIMBERLY SENIOR

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Kimberly Senior is a freelance director and the director of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. Most recently Kimberly made her HBO debut with Chris Gethard: Career Suicide, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Kimberly was awarded the prestigious Alan Schneider Award at the 2016 TCG Conference. She is also a 2013 Finalist for the SDCF Joe A. Callaway Award. She is the recipient of the 2016 Special Non-Equity Jeff Award for her Chicago career achievements as a trail blazer, champion and role model for emerging artists.

 In Chicago, Kimberly is a Resident Director at Writers Theatre and an Associate Artist at TimeLine Theatre. Her work has received multiple Joseph Jefferson nominations. Kimberly founded Collaboraction Theatre Company in 1997, spent ten years as an associate artist at Strawdog Theater, eight years as an associate artist at Chicago Dramatists, and six years as an associate artist at the much beloved Next Theatre. In addition, Kimberly served as the first board president of The Hypocrites many years ago.

 As an educator, Kimberly spent ten years as both an administrator and Resident Artist with Steppenwolf for Young Adults. In addition, Kimberly either ran programs or taught for Court Theater, Northlight Theater, Redmoon Theater, Roadworks Productions, Victory Gardens, Metropolis, Act One Studios, and Acting Studio Chicago. She served as adjunct faculty at Columbia College where she teaches Chekhov, Dramaturgy and Text Analysis. Kimberly has also taught numerous classes at DePaul University and University of Chicago. She is the recipient of Columbia College's 2010 Excellence in Teaching Award. Kimberly has served as Program Director and as a dramaturg for Steppenwolf's First Look Repertory of New Work and continues to develop new plays with the Ojai Playwrights Conference.

 New York Credits: Disgraced (Broadway); Chris Gethard: Career Suicide (Judd Apatow presents); The Who and The What, and Disgraced (LCT3); Discord (Primary Stages); Engagements (Second Stage Uptown). Regional Credits: Sheltered (Alliance Theatre); Support Group for Men, Disgraced, and Rapture, Blister, Burn (Goodman Theatre); The Scene, Marjorie Prime, Diary of Anne Frank, Hedda Gabler, and The Letters (Writers Theatre); Other Than Honorable (Geva); Sex with Strangers (The Geffen Playhouse); Disgraced (Mark Taper Forum, Berkley Repertory Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre); The Who and The What (La Jolla Playhouse); Little Gem (City Theatre); Want and The North Plan (Steppenwolf); Discord, 4000 Miles, and The Whipping Man (Northlight Theatre); among others. Film/TV: Chris Gethard: Career Suicide (HBO); Upcoming: The Niceties (Huntington and McCarter); Buried Child (Writers Theatre); Support Group for Men(Goodman); Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Milwaukee Rep).

Kimberly is the incredibly proud mother of Noah and Delaney. She is a member of SDC.