Dismantling Patriarchal Structures in Design and Production

"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 Kristi Good and Molly McCarter, who will be presenting a breakout session at Statera’s upcoming National Conference called "Dismantling Patriarchal Structures in Design & Production".

Kristi Good (left) & Molly McCarter (right) pictured above in what they like to call “our official partner head shot”.)

Kristi Good (left) & Molly McCarter (right) pictured above in what they like to call “our official partner head shot”.)

By Kristi Good & Molly McCarter

What do a Theatre History PhD and an Equity Stage Manager have in common? It sounds like the beginning of a bad (misogynist?) joke, but for Kristi and Molly, it was a shared office space in a university drama department and a commitment to feminist and queer advocacy. This commitment extended beyond our daily lives as queer women and into our pedagogical practices as professors. Though our students and subjects rarely overlapped, we regularly consulted each other on assignments and class activities, gaining insight from each other on which methodology would best engage the students. This collaborative approach and its expression in the classroom were in direct opposition to the structures that normally exist within the framework of academia.

Higher education is primarily centered on the classroom. The structure of the academy is essentially patriarchal in that it is predominantly created and run by male leadership, and the framework exists as a hierarchy, prioritizing one “expert” above someone with less experience. Learning comes from professorial “experts” who, themselves, report to administrative “experts,” and so on. A patriarchal classroom or mentorship experience becomes a system where information is delivered from one powerful person to a supposedly “lesser” individual, rather than experienced through mutual exploration. A feminist or queer perspective acknowledges that structures such as these actually create barriers between the student and the learning experience. We instead seek to decenter power and disrupt patriarchal, heteronormative content and structures.

One of the truths at the heart of our shared belief in the efficacy of feminist and queer pedagogies is that theatre, by nature, is a collaborative art. Patriarchal classrooms are at odds with the experiential spaces that are necessary for the successful creation of a performance. Regardless of gender, theatre practitioners must invest in and actively practice feminist and queer pedagogies to facilitate the creative process; a patriarchal hierarchy not only fails to serve what we do as artists, but is counterintuitive to our ability to successfully create. The  historical devaluation of women in the professional theatre world is a continuation from the learning institutions that actively exclude our collaborative tendencies from a process where it is the most useful.

Positions in theatre design and production are notoriously gendered. Technical and design positions (excluding costumes) are generally designated as “male” professions, and the pay gap reflects this. Production positions are no different; Actor’s Equity Association reported that most stage management positions are held by women+, but on average, their male counterparts receive $98 a week more for the same work. [1]

American Theatre magazine reported on lighting designer Porsche McGovern, a woman of color and a mother, who saw a marked decrease in contracts after the birth of her child in 2012. She has since been documenting hiring practices at LORT companies across the country. In her own discipline, specifically, women* receive less than 20% of LORT contracts. Her research also shows that women are less likely to be hired if the artistic director and director at the theatre are male. And, of course, these statistics are even worse for designers of color. [2]

who designs LORT theatre.png

Infographic by Porsche McGovern https://howlround.com/infographic-0 [3]

 

The goal of our breakout session at StateraCon IV is two-fold:

  1.  To dismantle the patriarchal structure of the traditional “conference session” through collaboration, decentering of leadership, and prioritizing/legitimizing personal experience. We acknowledge that generation after generation of women have taught each other “making” as a necessary skill. The manufacture of clothing, household goods, medicine, food, and other necessities are skills that have been passed down with no definitive mark of an expert, simply experience that can be shared and learned.

    These crafts have been learned around kitchen fires, in fields, in quilting circles; all rooted in a tradition of matriarchal training. Likewise, our breakout session will center on the participants and their sharing of personal experience to create material for our second goal.

  2. To arm session participants with a plethora of best practices to model for young women while creating spaces for them to inhabit and thrive in traditionally male-dominated fields. We acknowledge that the issues of gender parity in the professional theatre stem from those same issues in educational training. The act of sharing our stories and experiences to create personal and community change in a non-hierarchical way is at the core of matriarchal and feminine knowledge production. The act itself is a way of dismantling patriarchal structures in our own learning, teaching, and mentoring of the next generation of women+ in design & production. 

Endnotes

[1] https://members.actorsequity.org/equitynews/news/HiringBiases/, last accessed October 8, 2019.

[2] Smith, Kelundra, “How to Solve Design’s Diversity Problem,” American Theatre, July 3, 2019, https://www.americantheatre.org/2019/07/03/how-to-solve-designs-diversity-problem/, last accessed October 8, 2019.

[3] This infographic is a general overview. To see more specific breakdowns (including those which explore data concerning non-binary practitioners), see McGovern’s series at https://howlround.com/series/who-designs-and-directs-lort-theatres-gender, last accessed October 8, 2019.

 

About Kristi & Molly

Kristi Good (she/her) is a freelance dramaturg and part-time faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama. She earned a Master’s in Dramaturgy at Villanova Theatre and a PhD in Theatre & Performance Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Her scholarship and interests lean toward theatre of trauma and uncovering suppressed narratives, particularly in regards to new play development. Kristi is also a member of Moderate Woo, a feminist theatre collective.

Molly McCarter (she/her) is an educator and manager of artists and art.  Her work as a stage and production manager is grounded in servant leadership and the cultivation of brave spaces that foster creativity.  She holds a BFA from Salem State University and an MFA from Yale School of Drama. Most recently Molly joined the faculty at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama where she teaches Stage & Production Management and chairs the school Equity, DIversity and Inclusion initiatives. In her time she has commissioned and executed a school wide climates study on ED&I and instituted a Community Conversation series that strives to bring faculty and students together in conversation around difficult topics.  In her time at CMU she was named a Wimmer Faculty Fellow and was recently Nominated for the Eberly Teaching Innovation award for her research and coursework in Leadership Studies. Molly is also a member of Moderate Woo, a feminist theatre collective.


*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 are non-binary. 

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, religion, parental status, size, age, 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.