Panel discusses women’s role in theatre
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 21:10
On Oct. 19, the stage at the Royall Tyler Theatre was occupied by a row of American women for the UVM panel Women in Theatre: Transcending Barriers.
The women occupied a variety of theater production roles: lighting, direction and playwriting.
Keynote speaker Paula Vogel, playwright of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning play and current UVM production, “How I Learned to Drive,” also joined the panel. Professor Lynn Greeley of the UVM theater department moderated the conversation.
Greeley introduced the afternoon’s topic by presenting nationally collected data suggesting that women are underrepresented in artistic endeavors.
The panel attempted to shed light on the roots of this bias, give advice to young female playwrights and discuss what change is required for equality in theater.
“I was raised in a household where I was told I could do anything,” said Melissa Lourie, the artistic director of Middlebury Actors Workshop. “But as the producing director at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, I was subordinated in my ability to share a vision [by the male director]. ”
Lourie was never asked back after her first production at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.
In more than 20 years, the theater company has produced only two plays directed by women.
Lourie suggested that the men in her Shakespeare play were uncomfortable being led by a woman.
Gregory Ramos, this season’s director of “How I Learned to Drive,” sees two reasons for the bias against women in theater.
“The first reason is that there exists a set of social constructs at work that value men in leadership over women,” Ramos said. “The second is that predominately artistic directors are men. They are selecting shows that are of interest and relevance to them.”
It was argued that if more women were playwrights and directors, the material and concepts chosen for production would be diverse and appeal more to the interests of young women.
“Theater flourishes when we are not Darwinian … when we collaborate,” Vogel said. “We should be asking ourselves, how do we make sure that every voice has expression in our field, that they don’t have to wait to be heard.”
All agreed that only so much change can be accomplished by a theater company.
The lack of funding and endowment of theater by government programs was also perceieved as detrimental.
Vogel encouraged those in the audience connected with local theater organizations to develop outreach programs to young women writers in high school.
“Success in theater is defined by commercial success ... there are no representations of artistic success,” Vogel said.
“At the end of the day it is dominated by commercial and financial enterprise, run by men,” Ramos said. “So I think that our job as teachers is to encourage the new generation of women to become those playwrights, those CEOS, those directors.”
UVM’s production of “How I Learned to Drive” will conclude after three performances this weekend. UVM students receive discounted tickets at $7 per ticket.