Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: She Submits to Conquer

Marissa Skudlarek, making the literary references.

In the endless 21st-century conversation about “how can we get more gender parity in the theater,” one talking point that comes up repeatedly is that, maybe, male playwrights just submit more than female playwrights do. The stereotypes are true, people say: women are over-thinking perfectionists who underestimate their talents, and men are loudmouths who overestimate theirs. The latest iteration of this theory comes from Kelli Agodon, who wrote an article for Medium about how women writers need to “submit like men” to “become more successful.”

I do feel myself implicated in this, and I agonize about how my perfectionism is holding me back. While I have written some of these Theater Pub columns hastily, without letting perfectionism get in the way, there’s a piece I’ve been working on for another website for three months that I still haven’t sent in, because I don’t know if it’s as perfect as it could be. (Mentioning it here is a form of public self-flagellation that will, hopefully, spur me to just finish and submit the darn thing.)

In the meantime, I’m also sorting through Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Plays submissions and putting the show together. So it is with great pride that I report that, of 41 Pint-Sized Play submissions, 26 were by women and 15 were by men. Moreover, several female writers sent multiple submissions, but no male writers did.

I’m putting this out here because data, numbers, are important. Anecdotal evidence states that submissions from men always outnumber submissions from women, so I think it’s worthwhile to highlight moments when the stereotypes don’t pan out.

As for why Theater Pub succeeded in getting more female submissions than male ones, when so many other theaters don’t? I can’t be sure, but I do have a couple of theories. First of all, some women say, “If I see that a theater company rarely produces/rewards female writers, I may not even bother submitting, because I figure they don’t want my stuff.” This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy – how can these theaters ever improve if women refuse to submit to them?—but it also reveals a legitimate frustration. Theater Pub, meanwhile, presents itself as a female-friendly organization (if not an explicitly feminist or woman-oriented one). Our co-artistic-directors are both women, and a look at our production history will show that we have presented many projects written and/or directed by women.

Second, our Pint-Sized submissions call noted that “we especially like plays that can be cast flexibly, and plays with good roles for women,” and “we especially dislike plays that promote stereotypes or clichés.” I made sure that this language was in the submissions call because, as producer, I didn’t want to have to slog through a lot of plays that feature elements that frustrate and annoy me. A few years ago, when I was reading script submissions for another theater, I felt like every other play I read was about a beleaguered guy and his shrewish, nagging wife. I really didn’t want to repeat that disheartening experience with the 2015 Pint-Sized submissions. It was my hope that writers of all genders would take this as encouragement to write and submit plays that went beyond stereotype, that said something new and fresh. And also, I hoped that female playwrights might read between the lines and be encouraged to send us their work.

Honestly, I think more theater companies should write specific submissions calls, listing the kind of work they are seeking and the kind of work they’re definitely sick of. I hate to end this column on such a clichéd note (oh no, Marissa, don’t say that, that’s your perfectionism talking…) but I think we should be the change we want to see in the world.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and producer. For more, visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or @MarissaSkud on Twitter.

Everything Is Already Something Week 49: When Women Aren’t Even Writing For Women

This morning I went through the numbers at the company for which I am one of two Creative Directors. Not finances – it’s a major LOL if you think I have anything to do with that. But the breakdown of who we work with. (We’ll come back around to why I was looking at this in a minute.)

17 Women, 9 Men

19 Women, 11 Men

Some of these people do double duty, so figuring that in we have:
31 Women, 18 Men

We have one director who isn’t from either of those groups:
1 Man

And two stage managers:
1 Man, 1 Woman

For an actual total of:
32 Women, 20 Men

That’s pretty great, if you’re looking at it from a “BUT ARE THERE AS MANY WOMEN AS MEN?!” perspective. Though we weren’t out in search of having a female dominated sketch comedy company. That’s just what happened. Those are just the people who passed through our doors, whom we liked a lot and thought were funny and fun to work with and displayed the varied set of skills which make someone good at this crap. In the five years I’ve been with this crazy group of humans, there have always been really amazingly talented women – both performers and writers. But sadly, that doesn’t always equal the varied types of roles for women that you might think it would. It does SOMETIMES. We’re not that shitty. But it seems as though it gets away from us. I say us because I am just as guilty of immediately writing a role for a man as my cohorts (regardless of their gender).

Be the Lisa Loopner you wish to see in the world.

Be the Lisa Loopner you wish to see in the world.

Right now, I’m directing our set for SF Sketchfest – admittedly one of my favorite shows of the year, every year. And as I was putting together the sketches to use for that show, a sad-pants theme started to arise: almost all of the crazy, kooky, wacky character parts were for men. I’ve been doing some cross gender casting out of necessity, which is fine. I’m happy to do that. But my real wish is that we would write more over the top characters who are PURPOSELY women – as opposed to having a woman play a part written for a man (regardless of whether they choose to play the part as a woman or as a man). We tend to have six person casts – three men and three women, but sometimes having enough juicy stuff for the women to dig into without cross gender casting can be next to impossible.

Yes, women can be Vice Presidents too.

Yes, women can be Vice Presidents too.

In some sort of strategy to combat something or other – I started writing some characters with no gender at all. Actually, I wrote a whole sketch with only non-gendered characters in it, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever written. I doubt that means anything, but it is interesting. (They ended up being played by 3 men and 3 women, I think.) And the idea of casting someone purely out of their fit for the role, and not due to their male or female identity is a good one, to me. It leaves a bunch of things open for interpretation, and I like that.

Our company is about to have possibly the craziest year we’ve ever had, with a brand new production happening every month. And, as my preamble for the kickoff meeting for our inaugural show in that schedule (actually called SEX BATTLE…so that’s pretty funny) states: This is a year of risk-taking for us. For all of us. Not just in the quantity of our content, but in the quality, style, and variety of our content. I’m challenging myself to be better at these things this year, and I’m going to pose that challenge to the rest of my cohorts as well.

Cookie Fleck knows what's up.

Cookie Fleck knows what’s up.

We have all these magnificently talented, energetic, creative women going to bat for us, and if we don’t give them the material they deserve, it’s no one’s fault but our own. We haven’t been total failures at it, but we’re not where we should be. And thankfully, with all these shows happening, we have 12 chances to try to get it right.

SEX BATTLE actually cannot have this problem – we’re dividing up writers and actors into two teams (chicks and dudes) and each team will create the same amount of sketches on the same topics (Politics, Love, an Impressions Speed Round and many others) so the only way they can fail at parity in my eyes is if somehow the ladies only write sketches where the other ladies have to play men. But I don’t think that’ll happen.

I anticipate at least one Hillary Clinton impression.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/creative director at Killing My Lobster. You can catch the Sketchfest show she’s directing January 27th at the Eureka Theater.

Theater Around The Bay: Gender Parity Discussion Starter #1

Gender parity in the theater world, particularly in regards to the gender of our most frequently produced playwrights and the number and quality of roles for women, has been a very hot topic recently, and it’s a conversation happening on many fronts and from many different angles. A few months back, Stuart Bousel posted on his Facebook page a challenge to come up with 100 male playwrights who have created excellent roles for women. Anyone was welcome to contribute a name or two (or ten), and all names were accepted since the point was that “excellent” is really going to be a matter of taste, and could be broadly interpreted (for instance, is a role excellent because it has a lot of lines, or because of the complexity with which it’s drawn, or for how it functions in the action of the story, or for all of these reasons?). Dozens of people responded and Charles Lewis III was kind enough to compile the final list, which we now re-publish here as a way for you to start your own conversation about gender parity in theater. Who on this list do you agree with? Who do you contest? Who do you think is missing?

1. William Shakespeare
2. John Patrick Shanley
3. John Guare
4. Henrik Ibsen
5. David Mamet
6. Arthur Laurents
7. Stephen Sondheim
8. Jean-Baptiste Racine
9. Nat Cassidy
10. Arthur Miller
11. Clive Barker
12. JB Shaw
13. Oscar Wilde
14. Sean O’Casey
15. JM Synge
16. John Webster
17. Tom Stoppard
18. Tennessee Williams
19. Bertolt Brecht
20. Lee Blessing
21. Charles Mee
22. Mac Wellman
23. Jean Anouilh
24. Christopher Fry
25. Anton Chekov
26. Jose Rivera
27. Garcia Lorca
28. Adam Bock
29. John Kander
30. Fred Ebb
31. James Lapine
32. Hugh Wheeler
33. Athol Fugard
34. Euripedes
35. Lanford Wilson
36. Aristophanes
37. John Peilmeier
38. Christopher Durang
39. Tracy Letts
40. Aeschylus
41. David Auburn
42. Edward Albee
43. Sophocles
44. Anthony Clarvoe
45. Aristophanes
46. Don Delillo
47. Daniel Heath
48. Neil LaBute
49. Craig Lucas
50. Adam Guettel
51. Michael John LaChiusa
52. Thornton Wilder
53. Ed Graczyk
54. Brian Friel
55. Charles Busch
56. John Waters
57. Dawson Moore
58. Carl Thelin
59. Molière
60. Friedrich Durrenmatt
61. Jean Genet
62. Enrique Urueta
63. Steve Yockey
64. Christopher Chen
65. Joshua Conkel
66. Gary Graves
67. Prince Gomolvilas
68. Jon Tracy
69. Peter Nachtrieb
70. Pierre Cornielle
71. Paul Zindel
72. Horton Foote
73. George C. Wolfe
74. William Inge
75. Christopher Hampton
76. Stuart Bousel
77. Eugene O’Neill
78. Martin McDonagh
79. Kirk Shimano
80. Morgan Ludlow
81. Lee Blessing
82. Donald Marguiles
83. Marcus Gardley
84. Robert David MacDonald
85. Harold Pinter
86. Steve Lyons
87. Richard Kalnoski
88. Richard Greenberg
89. David Ives
90. David Lindsay Abaire
91. James Goldman
92. William Finn
93. Pedro Caldeón de la Barca
94. Paul Zindel
95. Mark Dunn
96. Leonard Melfi
97. David Henry Hwang
98. John Ford Noonan
99. Henry Krieger
100. Tom Eyen
101. Jonathan Larson
102. Joseph Kesserling
103. Langston Hughes
104. August Wilson
105. Rajiv Joseph
106. August Strindberg

NOTE: Originally compiled Tuesday – 12 March 2013 (names first submitted Saturday – 9 March 2013).

NOTE: List shortened to 106 names, following the removal of John Patrick Shanley from #91 (he’d already been listed at #2).