By “the kind of things I do,” I mean: writing plays, producing plays, helping develop other peoples’ plays, attending plays, curating a reading series, keeping up an online bulletin board with opportunities for playwrights, editing an annual fiction anthology, and by day, editing books that make your domestic and international trips more interesting and easier. (Not to mention supporting six guinea pigs, four turtles and a dragon.)
But this weekend’s Internet storm about the Wendy Wasserstein Prize (or more specifically, the choice NOT to give a Wasserstein Prize this year) reminded me that sometimes I blog.
From Michael Lew’s eloquent letter about the lack of a winner this year, to the pollination of the post across the rest of the ‘net, the start of a petition to TDF (which administers the award), to arts bloggers and journalists checking in, I’d bet the majority of the folks who work in the American theater (particularly the playwrights) know about this issue.
“Huh…that’s dumb,” was my initial thought about the committee’s decision (because I am an eloquent writer person).
And as I am also an editor, I queried the writer as to why she thought it was dumb, and who the decision would affect, how my playwright colleagues might react and if it would make any difference at all in the way business is done with this particular award.
I knew the award was out there, but didn’t pay much attention to it. When I’m looking for productions or applying for awards, I categorize opportunities as “open” and “closed.” The Wasserstein is closed: you can’t apply for it. You have to hope someone you know nominates you (if you are a woman playwright under 32, which is long past for me, so yeah, this one disappeared in my rear view mirror ages ago). It’s like the Whiting and Kesselring awards: it’s a nice chunk o’change and some good publicity if you get it, but those who do move in circles that don’t often overlap with mine in the Venn diagram of the theater, so I try not to be bitter and move along.
(I said “try,” I didn’t say “succeed.”)
So, should I care about this, since it involves a class within the American theater of which I’m not a member (the “Usual Suspects” in my not-bitter shorthand)? Should I care about this on more than a theoretical basis, because I have plays to write and sometimes produce myself? Should I just worry about that rather than what’s going on up on Mt. Olympus? Maybe sacrifice a sheep or two? (I like lamb).
OF COURSE I should, and do, care! Can’t even try NOT to. What a fucking bullshit shoot-yourself-in-the-foot decision. And in the name of Wendy Wasserstein, no less…I grew up in the theater loving her work, reading her plays over and over. Once, a friend played me a long answering machine message to her from Wendy, who sent love, sang a song, and told a story about her mother, just like “Isn’t It Romantic!” From every account, Wendy was someone who represented the best of reaching out and encouraging others to make and love the theater. She gave of her time, money, and opened doors for people, made connections, gave a leg up.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some people who did that for me (Tina Howe! Doric Wilson! Sabra Jones! among many others), and most importantly, they taught me it’s my obligation to do the same. In fact, when I’m yelling “CHARGE!” in the face of sexism, racism, homophobia, saying “send your work to so-and-so,” or pulling someone aside and saying “you ought to know this person…” it’s much easier not to be bitter. (And better for the soul.)
So if I could address the committee, sitting like a dragon (not my kind of dragon…the MEAN kind of dragon) on its gold/award, I’d say something like: “Way to go, ya morons (well, maybe I wouldn’t call them morons). Way to keep the perception that WOMEN AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH PLAYWRIGHTS going! Way to reinforce the belief that if women were just GOOD ENOUGH there’d be parity in the number of plays produced by women. Way not to HELP the people you’ve been charged to support by someone who spent her life doing just that.” (Sound of playwright spinning in her grave).
This is a fight that must still be fought (and won). Damn straight I take it personally, because it is personal. I recently ended a friendship with someone who expressed the opinion that there really doesn’t NEED to be gay theater, because if the writers are good enough, their work will get produced; that gay theater was kind of a ghetto for the not-good-enough. The Wasserstein Prize decision implies the same thing about women playwrights.
I have no doubt that the Women’s Kick-Ass Committee (as I call the members of the Dramatists Guild Council who spring into action at times like these) will take up the challenge, as will the 50/50 in 2020 group, and other people who speak up for women in theater, and there will be some kind of positive change. They’ve got my back, and I’ve got theirs. I’ll show up. I’ll celebrate women playwrights. I’ll write good plays.
I have no doubt their actions will change the way the Wasserstein Award is given. In the mean time, I have plays to write and read, helpful and specific critique to give, some Drunken! Careening! Writers! to curate (Thursday, Nov. 18, 7pm, KGB Bar! This month’s readers: three women playwrights), and during the day, I must speak French to restaurants and hotels. (And there are those guinea pigs to be kept in timothy hay).
I want the women playwrights who were not recognized to keep the faith in their own work, and will encourage them any way I can.
I believe that my colleagues and I, who sweat blood onto our computer screens each day, will continue to find and make our own opportunities to keep making a difference.
And I’ll really try to blog more.