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A Collective Call Against Critical Bias

Much ado has been made of the fact that Paula Vogel and Lynn Nottage, two Pulitzer Prize–winning dramatists, finally cracked the glass ceiling this season. These theatre veterans made their long-awaited Broadway debuts, with Indecent and Sweat, which both garnered Tony Award nominations for Best Play. Surprisingly little attention was paid, however, to the announcement that these productions—the only new works by women on the Great White Way this year—would close early, in large part because they were doomed by the male critical establishment.

Both productions were slated for early termination on 25 June, but Indecent received a daring last-minute reprieve by producer Daryl Roth, who, inspired by an upsurge in ticket sales, will keep the show open through 6 August (for a total of just sixteen weeks). In the wake of their closing notices, Vogel and Nottage took to social media to confront the critics. Vogel fired the first shot on Twitter, singling out Ben Brantley and Jesse Green of the New York Times for helping usher women off stage while ensuring the longevity of straight white men, namely Lucas Hnath (A Doll’s House, Part 2) and J. T. Rogers, whose Oslo won the Tony, along with almost every other prize this year.


Nottage retweeted Vogel’s post with the heading “The patriarchy flexing their muscles to prove their power” to underscore the profound gender disparity among the critical establishment, which is most noticeable among first-string critics at major outlets.


Subsequent tweets by Vogel make it clear that she welcomes criticism, and even appreciates “well written pans” of her work. What she objects to is a market manipulation that dismisses women and POC (people of color). The complaint is not personal. In other words, it is structural. Individual critics are “not the enemy,” Vogel notes; there needs to be more dialogue: “We need a better way.”




A better way involves a consideration of resource allocation, or what Vogel calls “Basic math.” Let’s compare the annual budget of the Off-Broadway theatres where this season’s Tony-nominated plays were developed. The Vineyard Theatre (Indecent) operates on a shoestring budget of a mere $3 million per year. Then, the Public Theater (Sweat) has more than ten times this amount ($40 million), though it funds many more projects on multiple stages, including the free Shakespeare in the Park program. Lincoln Center (Oslo) commands a staggering coffer of $70 million, catering to a much more affluent audience. A Doll’s House, Part 2, bankrolled by producer Scott Rudin’s seemingly bottomless war chest, went straight to Broadway. While bigger budgets often result in higher production values and star-studded casts, they don’t guarantee better plays. We need a more expansive and informed notion of how critics come to decide what is “good,” and a more honest conversation about why “good” is often associated with plays by and about white men.



As female artists and academics…we have dedicated our careers…to dismantling discriminatory structures and practices in theater, and the criticism this year is so blatantly prejudicial that we felt compelled to collectively author an editorial that both documents the problem and puts it in an historical context.

An Old Problem Made Urgent

As female artists and academics, we know that the tension between minority playwrights and critics is not a new problem. It’s a very old problem, one made newly urgent by biased reviews of productions by women and playmakers of color this season. We have dedicated our careers, in large part, to dismantling discriminatory structures and practices in theatre, and the criticism this year is so blatantly prejudicial that we felt compelled to collectively author an editorial that both documents the problem and puts it in a historical context.

Take, for example, a full-page feature on Vogel and Nottage in the New York Times titled, “Two Female Playwrights Arrive on Broadway. What Took So Long?” The profile surveys a number of “theories about why their earlier plays never reached Broadway, from basic sexism to content, scale, or timing,” yet ignores the single most obvious factor: the paper’s own unbalanced evaluations of women’s work.

Despite the shower of accolades for both Sweat and Indecent, reception by the New York Times and the East Coast male critical establishment has been tepid at best. These plays, which tackle profound social, political, and ethical questions about racism and immigration, have been repeatedly and resoundingly lambasted for being too ambitious and too serious—accusations never leveled at work by men.


Three actors on stage
Johanna Day, Alison Wright, and Michelle Wilson in Lynn Nottage's Sweat, winner of the 2017
Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Photo by Joan Marcus.


Brantley calls Nottage’s play a “bracingly topical portrait” of a vibrant multiethnic, working-class community fractured by industrial layoffs, which he faults for being “an old fashioned…socially conscious” drama that is “too conscientiously assembled.” Jesse Green, tapped by the Times to replace Charles Isherwood (who raved about the Off-Broadway runs of Sweat and Indecent), begins his Vulture review with an apology. While Sweat “is a lot of great things,” he decrees, “…[w]hat it isn’t, I’m sorry to say, is a great play.” His reason: Nottage does too much research, attenuating the story’s “power in the very process of forcing the facts into drama.” Green dubs Sweat “gripping but disappointing.”

He also damns with faint praise Vogel’s Indecent, a metatheatrical exploration of Sholem Asch’s scandalous 1906 Yiddish drama, God of Vengeance, which featured the first lesbian kiss on Broadway. Green calls Vogel’s sweeping epic “the most ambitious” history play of the season, “and in all ways the least convincing.” Once again, Green apologizes for his critique. “I say that with sorrow and surprise—and yet not too much surprise,” he adds, noting that the transition to Broadway simply amplified the faults he found with the Off-Broadway production. The not-so-subtle subtext of Green’s reviews: Keep it simple, ladies. Leave the big themes to the men.

Two actors on stage
Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk in Paula Vogel’s Indecent. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Female Voices, Rare and Beleaguered

Attempts to circumscribe women playwrights are not restricted to the Times. Edward Rothstein, writing for the Wall Street Journal, accuses Vogel of distorting “Asch, Yiddish theatre, and history,” when in actuality he is the one who distorts all of those things in his review, which is astonishingly indifferent to the actual events on stage. Rothstein writes as if Asch’s God of Vengeance was not, in fact, a schematic melodrama, or that Yiddish theatre did not critique hypocritical piety, and that immigrants did not return from the United States to Europe, when history proves thousands upon thousands did so. Most of all, Rothstein objects to a playwright—a female playwright—using her imagination and dramatic skills to create a play based on the past, telling a compelling history that speaks to the present moment. With Linda Winer’s resignation from Newsday, there are very few first-string female critics in the country. When a rare female critic’s voice is heard, she is prone to be attacked more frequently than her male peers. Jack Viertel, artistic director of New York City Center Encores!, issued a scathing rejoinder to Laura Collins-Hughes for raising questions about racial representation in the revival of Big River (the Tony Award–winning musical adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huck Finn), in what was an essentially positive review. Viertel said nothing about Jesse Green’s critique, which made a similar point as Collins-Hughes. We can hardly imagine a situation in which Viertel would publicly humiliate a male critic, but we can point to a number of situations in which women and people of color are accused of harboring “myopic notions about…the place of racial and gender diversity” in the arts.

Notably, both productions of Sweat and Indecent are helmed by female directors. Kate Whoriskey made her Broadway debut in 2010 with The Miracle Worker. Rebecca Taichman, Vogel’s co-creator, took home the Tony Award for Indecent. The fact that Taichman was so visibly shaken when the award was announced is no wonder. It was her first Broadway show, and she is only the seventh woman in the history of the award to take home the prize (fourteen women since 2000 have been nominated in the directing category, compared to sixty-two men). An even rarer breed of artists, female directors have not fared well with the critical establishment, especially this year. Consider Hilton Als’ attack on Leigh Silverman’s production of Sweet Charity. Als is often the most open-minded and culturally astute of the gatekeepers, but he, too, has slapped female artists’ hands for the sin, in his view, of trying to reach too high. In his condemnation of Silverman, he writes that her “problem is that she’s too serious about theatre” because “she wants her shows to count—to have a moral purpose.” Like Brantley, Green, and Rothstein, he doesn’t object to female artists’ failure to live up to high ideals (fair game for a critic), but to their very ambition.

Women and people of color have about the same chance of seeing their plays produced today as they did before they had the right to vote.

 Rebecca Taichman winning a tony
Indecent's Rebecca Taichman is only the seventh woman in history to
win the Tony for Best Director of a Play. Photo by David Gordon.

Fits and Starts Toward Gender and Racial Equity

Critical endorsements directly impact ticket sales and the length of a show’s run, in addition to making or breaking a playwright’s opportunity for future work. Women and people of color have about the same chance of seeing their plays produced today as they did before they had the right to vote. Racial and gender disparity is a chronic problem in the American theatre, from play selection and development to casting and production. Approximately 75 percent of the plays produced in this country have white male authors, and the numbers are even higher for Broadway, which is not everyone’s aspiration but it is where the greatest critical attention is focused and where the prestige, power, and money reside.

According to “The Count,” a detailed and ongoing study of not-for-profit regional theatres that asks “Who is Being Produced in America,” female-authored productions hover at 22 percent, with women of color writing just over 3 percent of all staged plays. The International Centre for Women Playwrights (ICWP) reports that the global outlook is equally bleak: less than 25 percent of the plays produced across the world have female authors. The situation is so dire that the ICWP bestows a prize, the 50/50 Applause Award, for theatres that produce seasons in which half (or more) of the shows are written by women.

Progress toward gender and racial equity has not come in a steady arc, but rather in fits and starts. This year marked only the fourth time in history when two women were nominated for Tony Awards for Best Play (1956, 1960, 2002, and 2017). In fact, in the seven decades that this prize has been given, forty-six of those years have included only male dramatists. Nottage and Vogel are only the ninth and tenth women, since 2000, to be nominated for Best Play.


a group of people looking at the camera
Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel (center) made their long-awaited Broadway debuts this season and garnered Tony Award nominations for Best Play, along with Lucas Hnath and J.T. Rogers. Photo by Marc J. Franklin.

While there are a number of awards honoring female playmakers (e.g. the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award, the Wendy Wasserstein Prize, and the Lilly Awards), as well as ample archives of plays by women (including the Kilroys List), we cannot hope to achieve parity in the theatre without a greater variety of critical voices. The American Theatre Critics Association supports women critics nationally and oversees several awards including the Primus Prize focused exclusively on female playwrights. Organizations like the Drama Desk support women in its ranks and demonstrate parity in staffing their board, nominating, and other committees. Yet the desired outcome of supported female critical voices in print and online outlets is as much aspiration as reality. In the ever-shrinking world of arts journalism, we call on news outlets to hire critics who reflect the diversity of the world in which we live.


Gwendolyn Alker, New York University
Robin Bernstein, Harvard University
Meghan Brodie, Ursinus College
Jocelyn L. Buckner, Chapman University
Charlotte M. Canning, University of Texas at Austin
Soyica Colbert, Georgetown University
Jessica Del Vecchio, James Madison University
Jill Dolan, Princeton University
Miriam Felton-Dansky, Bard College
Lisa A. Freeman, University of Illinois at Chicago
Donatella Galella, University of California, Riverside
Holly Hughes, University of Michigan
Susan Jonas, 50/50 in 2020
Joan Lipkin, That Uppity Theatre Company
Lisa Merrill, Hofstra University
Jennifer-Scott Mobley, East Carolina University
Priscilla Page, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, University of Roehampton
Maya Roth, Georgetown University
Martha Wade Steketee, Freelance Dramaturg and Critic
Willa Taylor, Goodman Theatre
Lisa B. Thompson, University of Texas at Austin
Sara Warner, Cornell University
Stacy Wolf, Princeton University

Shortly after this article was published, several people have reached out to the authors in support of this call. There is now an online petition inspired by this article. To learn more about how you can support this call to action, click here.

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The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here

Newest First

Thank you to the authors (full disclosure: I know two of them personally, and even have reviewed a performance involving one of them) for articulating this issue, and to the commenters who have continued a spirited discussion. As a straight Caucasian male who since March of this year has been, well, privileged to review theater for a newspaper, I would like to articulate my own process.

My goal always is that my writing will empower artists, not diminish them. Of course, there are going to be times when the best way for me to do that is to tell them that they can make their work better, though the productions I have reviewed thus far have been consistently strong. (I have done my fair share of criticizing critics; in my first piece for HowlRound, I chided the NY critics for what I felt was an excessively condescending treatment of the recent "Gigi" revival). I would suggest that the strongest challenge to all reviewers is to maintain a consistent level of respect toward all artists who have courageously worked hard to present their ideas--and to be sure that they are reviewing the works and performances, not making random (often snide) comments that belong elsewhere (if anywhere).

In my reviews (which include McCarter's excellent production of Lynn Nottage's moving "Intimate Apparell"), I attempt to describe the work's history, the creators' intentions, and the show itself. Of course I let readers know my personal opinion of the work, but I consider my primary job to give them the information they need to form their own opinions. My hope is that if I do my job properly, my reviews will be equally useful--and supportive--to all types of artists and audiences.




"because they were doomed by the male critical establishment."

Until someone tries to present a shred of evidence (meaning data - not abstract references to "vast bodies of research") to back up this claim at the end of the first paragraph, this is all just a bunch of theoretical bullshit. Love that it took an alliance of dozens to put such a shoddy argument together.

It's in extremely poor taste for one of the most decorated and famous playwrights in America (and the world) to blame her show closing early on not getting a good enough review. And to then spin self righteous victimhood gold from this supposed slight - it's a rhetorical approach we're way too familiar with from the orange-maned menace in the WH.

Thank you for this call. The same exact men taking up the same space as on other critiques of white male privilege in the culture in other pieces on HowlRound have unleashed their fury.

Sort of reinforces your point.

Yes, when you publicly call two critics bigots and say one demographic is subconsciously racist without offering any proof, people will get furious. Because THAT IS RACIST AND SEXIST.

Do you think it is morally acceptable to judge ANYONE based on race or gender?

Do you think you can see into someone's subconscious mind? You cannot.


This is a witch hunt. Its shameful. Howlround is publicly vilifying actual people. It's libel. Why are you defending this?

And one final comment. The notion that there's a "patriarchy" is just gassy propaganda by those who have no knowledge of history or anthropology. They just get this notion from humanities departments where only postmodernist theories of "power" are allowed. No opposing opinions. History to the postmodernists is about power so people now don't know history. If they would read history that isn't polluted by Foucault and Derrida they would realize that all of history is not patriarchy but a struggle of survival to build civilization.

The Maoist postmoderns want to tear that down. Good luck.

Western culture is the most progressive and one of the few that since its inception that moves toward universal rights.

And imperialism? Give me a culture that hasn't been imperialistic.

I sure as hell HOPE that's your final comment, but I'm guessing that after I reply, it won't be. Still, I will simply NOT let you have the final word. Because what you and a few other very small men have done is wade into what might have been a civil conversation and try to hijack it. You've made this entire thread about you and your tiny concerns, shouting your opinions at full volume rather than respectfully entering into dialogue and asking questions. You've done ALL of the worst things that men do in conversation, and you've done them un-apologetically. You have been crass, aggressive, and narcissistic, and you've added nothing but heat to the discourse, rather than shedding light. You've demonstrated a complete inability to understand points of view different than your own -- a total disinterest in opening your mind, really -- and that's simply the antithesis of what HowlRound has been about from the very beginning. If you don't appreciate that, and if you aren't willing to converse with a spirit of open-mindedness and inquiry -- listening long and hard at first, then deeply considering what you read, then asking generous questions... and NOT making statements until AFTER you've done that for a while -- then you don't belong here. Bullying speech isn't welcome. (And we're not afraid of it, either, so it holds no power.) Come back with an open heart another time, perhaps, and we'll try again. But check your ego at the door.

Actually I have read everything here. I am standing firm in my position as a classical liberal and Equity feminist against this Neo-Marxist intersectional theory.

I'm not bullying. I'm disagreeing with what has now become cultish in the American theatre. I'm sorry but you haven't read and refused to read any of the links I've sent you.

10 years ago I would've agreed with you but I've seen too much decline and craziness and hostility in the theatre over identity politics and this hyper-puritanical Brechtian approach to the theatre and it's sexless need to educate everyone on correct politics.

Watched the Frank Langella version of Williams' "Eccentricities of a Nightengale" recently and got depressed that political theatre is destroying a form that can really bring out transcendental emotions for anyone regardless of political belief.

With that said I'm done.

Carry on.

Well, I disagree quite thoroughly with your self-assessment... both with regard to your use of the word "feminist" and your characterization of your speech is not being bullying. But if you're done, I'll pursue it no further.

You may be surprised to learn that I agree, generally, that the investigation of that piece of art (at least as presented in this article, which appears on -- to my view -- a site with a less-than-nuanced agenda) seems to have been unnecessary. I, too, believe in and support the free speech of artists.

On the very edge of even rudimentary understanding of the subject matter. Is it possible to give some context to the discussion for the masses? What percentage of the potential "winners" are women and people of color? As a guy on the outside, I need some framework to understanding the problem. It's like someone telling me about the racial bias of Olympic swimming or track and field. In addition to understanding the bias that may have created the stereotypical profile, it's important for me to understand the demographic of the whole.

I don't know why you thought it was necessary to change the subject (whether or not Gwydion is an "establishment" voice) to impugn Gwydion's work. I guess you didn't want to admit you were wrong? I'll step forward to say that I have the utmost respect for both Gwydion and his work and I think that your insult was shoddy and unbecoming.

I am tremendously disappointed by several of the men who have commented here. Your arguments are doing a significant disservice to this conversation and are representing the worst impulses of our gender. This article is an opportunity to listen and reflect, not to argue, and I BEG you all -- man to man -- to consider doing that. (It's too late now, but next time.)

Speaking on behalf of the New Play Exchange: roughly* 50% of the plays in our database were written by women. This has always been the case for as long as we've existed. The fact that roughly 50% of the plays appearing on our stages are NOT written by women (though in DC we are making some limited progress here over the last few years) is, quite clearly, the result of systemic sexism. There's no other rational explanation for the phenomenon. That systemic sexism gets played out in everything from season selections to marketing collateral to, yes, criticism. Any attempt to deny that fact is tantamount to denying the existence and human causes of climate change.

As far as I'm concerned, if you're not actively working to solve that inequity, you're part of the problem. Please join us in helping to ensure a vital future and the full flourishing of all artists throughout the American theater.

* I say "roughly" for two reasons. First, because the percentage goes up and down a bit all the time, varying by 1-2%. Second, because 50% is a misnomer of sorts that erases non-binary gender playwrights, and that's not something we ought to perpetuate.

I'm tremendously disappointed in that you keep using "systemic bias" without actual evidence. There is no evidence in this postmodern analysis. The issue is that most of our plays produced are canon works that the public recognizes. If you don't do Shakespeare, Ibsen, etc. you will go under for the most part. The NON-PROFIT world is run by ideologues and the public can see through it. Keep clubbing them over the head with messages.

Equity outcome doesn't work. Sorry. Read your history.

Racism is exacerbated by the drug war. Research this. I have been friends with gang members, which is something you guys never do. They will tell you that blacks and latinos are in prison and police violence exists because drug lords use gangs as soldiers. PTSD police treat them like enemy combatants. End the drug war and watch everything wither away with this.

The systemic bias and anti-Western perspective comes from postmodernism. It sees all history as power and not recorded history. It is one of the reasons why there is an anti-science perspective on the left, because science and the Western narrative surrounding it is viewed by the postmodernists as oppressive to the Other. I am not the only one who is starting to fight back against this irrationality.

What you are seeing in American theatre is a solidification of the bourgeoisie, which includes all the artists in the picture associated with this article. The working classes, especially working class writers are kept out by you guys. That is why I critique the Yale School of Drama.

In regards to implicit bias and systemic racism, there are intellectuals who are questioning the validity of this. This is not to say that racism doesn't exist. It's compartmentalized in ways that are different than what you are propagating. Intersectionality treats everyone as a group and will say white men for instance have group collective guilt. This I reject.

Here is some dissent on micro aggressions and implicit bias (and theories of systemic racism.) Please read it to give some kind of insight into my thoughts:


What I see in the theatre is a really bougie perspective filled with virtue signaling.

You've gone rather far afield to make your point here. I'm not interested in digging in against you... particularly when you say things like "you guys" in conversation, proving that you're addressing me as some kind of symbol of a group you feel wronged by, rather than an individual, real human being you're exchanging ideas with.

If you knew me, you'd know that I happen to be a profoundly pro-science artist: one with deep reverence for a scientific worldview, one whose work engages with science, and one who comes from a scientific family. And I find your argument incredibly thin. Really, just a coded way of saying "I feel left out." Well, if so... I'm sorry that's happened to you. But "bougie" and "virtue signaling?" Pshaw.

Sigh...I don't feel "left out." I am just tired of sitting around watching my colleagues embarrass themselves.

Its really obnoxious that everyone is so sure of themselves with this implicit bias thing. Read the article I sent you.

I really hope there will be more to life than waking up in the morning to immediately contemplate my skin color and gender and then proceed to mentally fiddle with myself to find out if there's some subconscious part of me that is biased against even my friends.

I don't need to read the article you sent me. I've read HUNDREDS of studies on the subject. One more isn't going to do anything for me. You, on the other hand, seem to want to cherry-pick the evidence you'll consider.

The only obnoxious behavior in this conversation is yours. (Well, yours and that of a few other loudmouths.) And the only person embarrassing himself is you; you've got colleagues from all over the field in this conversation who, I'm imagining, will (like me) never work with you now. You're clearly like our "President" -- you accuse people of the very things of which you're guilty.

Your parody of what self-reflection, in your last paragraph, proves you don't actually do it much. Again, just like Trump.

Look, I don't care if I get blacklisted. I don't consider myself an artist anyway. I have an MA in theatre theory, but I chose not to get involved as an artist because I find current American theatre practitioners in the last 30 years completely obliterating the form, not pushing it ahead, and are way too fixated on Brecht. If you can't say anything bad about anyone's bad ideas, then why bother going through the motions as a self-important "artist" doing shit work with my "colleagues."

I focus on essay writing about the theatre and provoking leftists who get caught up in their dogma. Theatre activists need to be taken down a notch. I don't need to worry more about flooding the market with even more work collaborating with the politically hapless.

And if you can't look at an opposing opinion in a country where academia has run out opposing opinions, then you sir are part of the problem and one of the annoying voices that push people to the Right.

I don't care what gender someone is, their ideas are up for debate. I'm not going to shut up and listen when an article publicly calls critics bigots by name based on race and gender and nothing else. If we are equal--and we are--our ideas are up for debate. Should our ideas be judged based on gender? How is that equality?

The NPE in no way reflects the careers of individual artists or the effort and work each artist expends. There certainly is another rational explanation: cultural norms. I'll state a thesis one last time: Culturally, women are expected to sacrifice career for family and men are expected to sacrifice family for career. This is observable reality. Women still do most of the childcare and men work longer hours. We would be much better served to discuss these norms then to judge everyone by gender. And avoiding these trends and resorting to public displays of bigotry will not get to the root of the problem, namely how men and women work.

I want to address inequality. I want to address these norms. You want us to sit on our hands based on genitalia. No.

I agree: ideas should be up for debate.

These critics have exhibited demonstrable bias in their writing. That's problematic enough. Nowhere does it call them bigots; that seems to be your word, not theirs.

It's NPX, not NPE, and I have no idea what you mean when you say that it "in no way reflects" etc. Your point seems to be that even though there are equal numbers of male and female playwrights (as demonstrated by the NPX database), the fact that male playwrights are getting produced three times as often as female playwrights is because of cultural norms... and I would say that if you replace "cultural norms" with "systemic biases," I'd agree with you. In other words, what you're calling "norms" -- the status quo -- I'm calling problems.

You say you want to address those norms-cum-problems? Great. What are your proposals to eliminate whatever gets in the way of women being produced as often as men?

I apologize for the typo. I also agree that the norms are the problem. Norms does not mean what is right; it simply means what is. I'm not making value judgements.

I will try to be clear about what we should address.

Women should not have to do the majority of childcare if they have families. And they do. Women who have children work less. http://www.pewresearch.org/...

This affects their career. Men, across all fields, work longer hours. https://www.forbes.com/site...

People have kids. If you have a kid and the NORM is for women to sacrifice work for childcare, their careers will suffer.

We should address this. Should we not?

Thanks for asking.

I think the article itself gives plenty of examples of bias. Don't you think? It seems to me to be using various individual examples of problematic criticism, all of them cited above, to make a case for systemic bias. Is that not how you read the piece?

I thought the piece was arguing for structural issues... not leveling charges of individual bigotry. it's a claim i'm uncomfortable making from one/two cited reviews per author. but you say the reviewers are bigots. can you just clarify which ones exactly.

I'm not accusing either reviewer of bigotry. (Or at least I didn't mean to be.) I'm commenting on what I'm reading (or, possibly, misreading) in the article. At the same time, I think it's patently obvious that all critics have biases and blind spots, because all human beings have those, and I would argue that we're in significant need of a means by which to communicate the biases and blind spots we see in critical work back to their authors such that they can listen and learn. After all, that's what they do for us as artists, when they're doing their jobs well.

"These critics have exhibited demonstrable bias in their writing. If that's not enough to call them bigots, I don't know what is. Their bigotry has nothing to do with their gender."

in context, you're referring to the critics mentioned in the piece. I don't know what others you could be referring to. you say they have a history of bias. if you feel that way, I think you should just own it and name them. we can't move forward by tiptoeing around bigotry.

You're absolutely right to ask for clarity from me here. By "demonstrable bias" I was referring simply to the quotes in this article. (My language may have been colored by a recent parallel discussion about the work of the critic Hedy Weiss, as well as my own reading of one or two reviews in my home town, DC.) In other words, I'm not tiptoeing, I promise... though I may be inappropriately exaggerating what's quoted here.

okay so based on the excerpted quotes in the article you were comfortable calling reviewers ben bentley and jesse green bigots. that doesn't seem right or fair to me. i am happy it seems like you are walking back from it.

but I might suggest being less trigger happy calling individuals bigots.

Well... yes. I'll have to think more about this, for sure. I may have let emotions color my language a bit. Wouldn't be the first time for any of us, I'm sure.

But there's a fine line between bias and bigotry, isn't there? I might argue that bias, unexamined, hardens into bigotry. And systemic bias, which is surely at work here, is really the same thing as systemic bigotry, no?

What interests me is why you're interested in me walking my comments back, rather than in confronting the arguments in the article itself. Are they hard to look at?

i don't need to confront article. i'm aligned with the piece on structural bias in reviews. I want to give women and poc more opportunities on stage and in byline. I was just appalled by your characterization of the critics mentioned in the piece as bigots.

I've just read your exchange with Kate Manninig. (Will this thread ever end?!)
I'm curious for either of you to give me one or two specific, concrete examples of either bias in a review or structural bias in a review.
The essay says that both Brantley and Green imply that both plays were "too ambitious" and "too serious," and those are charges not levelled at male playwrights, and so therefore that reflects the bias of Brantley nd Green against women playwrights? Is that the example you give as well?
Is there any other example?
I read both their reviews -- and Hilton Als review of Sweet Charity -- and I cannot sign on to the validity of this accusation..
Instead I read Ben Brantley explicitly calling Lynn Nottage "a justly acclaimed dramatist of ambitious scope and fierce focus." He's saying it is a positive thing to be ambitious. . His objection is that the play " feels too conscientiously assembled, a point-counterpoint presentation in which every disaffected voice is allowed its how-I-got-this-way monologue. And this thoughtful, careful play only seldom acquires the distance-erasing passion of Ms. Nottage’s “Ruined:

In other words, if I"m reading this correctly, he found "Sweat" too stilted -- unlike "Ruined," which he didn't find stilted; quite the opposite.

So, where is the bias in Ben Brantley the reviewer or in his review, if he can praise this very same woman playwright for another of her plays? The more I reread the essay, and follow the mountain of commentary, the less sense it makes to me (at least, that part of the essay that's about the "blatant prejudice" in reviews.)

Hi, Jonathan. Thanks for writing.

Rather than answer your nitty-gritty/specific question, I'd like to zoom out to the 30,000-foot level for a moment and say that I think this article makes a lot more sense if you begin with three understandings (not all of which you might share):

1) There are as many as 10-20 times as many male critics in positions of prominence on local dailies as female critics. (Someone might have a more accurate number than I do; it's clearly heavily skewed in the male direction.

2) We men, generally speaking, have biases and privileges that often make it difficult for us to see anything gender-related very clearly. (Some of us are better than others at seeing around those biases and through those privileges, but it's a task that requires constant vigilance and a willingness to listen and learn... and we're all trying to do better.

3) The combination of #1 and #2 means that women (and artists of color, for that matter) have historically had to make art in a world in which reviews are thus (usually, but not always, unconsciously) stacked against them. This is a contributing factor (though by NO means the only one, or even the primary one) to the imbalance in plays being produced by women field-wide.

If you don't share assumption #1, I'm not sure how we can talk any further. If you don't share assumption #2, as some of the men in this thread don't seem to, then I'm not sure we can talk, either, though I'm willing to try. Same for #3.

But if you share all of them, as I think most of the commenters and authors here must, then the imperfect praise of the reviews quoted here -- I'm using "imperfect praise" as shorthand for the reviews being discussed -- is merely emblematic of an entire history of similar reviews (and worse). What that means is that, fine, you can perhaps talk your way out of these excerpts being biased... but then you're ignoring the massive problem of which they are only representatives. Surely you don't mean to do that, right?

Because (while I haven't scrutinized all of your comments on this article) your approach here generally seems to be a kind of "not all men" response that serves only to distract from the real point. (For background on "not all men," see this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wi... -- it's Wikipedia, but it does the trick.)

Finally, in moments like this, when dozens of women are signing on to a bold statement about the theater, that I think it's incumbent on men to just listen, first and foremost, and try to understand where they're coming from, rather than trying to talk them out of their point of view. I find that's a useful direction; your mileage may vary.

You mean as an Equity feminist I need to suck up to third wave Neo-Marxist Identity politics feminism? No. You're insisting on orthodoxy with now increasingly discredited ideas. No. I'm not going along with what you're saying. I support women not leftism. Don't be so upset when someone disagrees with the theatres new path of identitarian self destruction.

I wonder whether you're able to speak from an emotional place, rather than using five-dollar words to add a layer of armor over what you're saying.

I simply don't agree with your analysis here at all. At the same time, I don't want you to suck up; I'd be happy, however, if you asked calm, curious questions, rather than shouting your opinions and making statements. In other words, I'm not the one "insisting on" anything; that's precisely what you've been doing throughout this conversation.

The theater isn't self-destructing. That canard is old and tired. Is it changing? Sure thing. (My favorite take on where it's going: Jordan Tannahill's excellent new book "Theatre of the Unimpressed.") And the way it's changing is that dull, white, male, middle-class narratives are losing their privileged position. The resulting jubilee of possibility (with regard to aesthetic, subject matter, and point of view) will be a huge reward for us all.

I saw Sweat at Studio 54 last week and thought it was the most important play I have ever seen. It boldly addresses the most important issue in my life; finding decent, high paying work. Of course I have a good job now or I would not have been able to afford to see this play. I was amazed that a play concerning union busting and factory closings could be produced and go so high profile as to make it to Broadway. This alone is a high achievement. The big test will be to see if this play is added to the seasons of Pennsylvania's regional theaters. I don't think my local community theater would touch this play with a ten foot pole even though it addresses the major concerns of the community.

What a fascinating, complicated and mostly defensive conversation. As a signatory on the piece, I can attest that we discussed the fact that, of course, there are other critics besides the ones that write for mainstream publications in NY. But we were interested in large part in the power they wield, and by how issues of bias impact viewing, reception and the market place.

We wrote much more but edited to keep the piece a reasonable length for people to read.

I do not think people should strictly be relegated to being reviewed by those who reflect their racial or gender identity. But when it is rarely the case, a lot of work gets misrepresented or dismissed.

Essentially, I am asking for more diversity in critical voices, especially at a high level. If you can't see the value of that and how that would benefit everyone, not just women and people of color, then you continue to be part of the problem.

I hope many of use can take a step back from our gift of articulation and truly listen to what we are trying to say.

I would love more diversity. But you have now publicly called critics bigots and argued that one identity group is too inherently biased to review others and you're wondering why people are mad?

You don't need to attack anyone to promote diversity. Yet all of you have done so. All of you have signed an essay which is overtly, brazenly bigoted. I humbly submit that you are part of the problem.

And there simply is no evidence that implicit bias, if it does exist, alters people's actions. Quite the opposite: http://www.chronicle.com/ar...

So you are espousing a bogus pseudo-scientific worldview while calling critics bigots by name based on debunked theories.


Here's what the article says: "Vogel fired the first shot on Twitter,
singling out Ben Brantley and Jesse Green of The New York Times for
helping usher women offstage while ensuring the longevity of straight,
white men, namely Lucas Hnath (A Doll’s House, Part 2) and J. T. Rogers,
whose Oslo won the Tony, along with almost every other prize this

What it doesn't say is that neither Brantley nor Green are
"straight white men." Both, in fact, are gay white men. As, indeed,
are a majority of leading theater critics (a small majority by my count,
but a majority nonetheless). Are the authors actually saying that gay
male critics are far more inclined to ensure the longevity of straight
white men than of women playwrights?

The piece certainly implies
that, although it doesn't cite any evidence for its observation that
"the criticism this year was so blatantly prejudicial," beyond, of
course, the reviews of specific shows by two gay male critics.

not gay critics generally understood by the signatories to this letter
to have a more complex relationship with the patriarchy than straight
white men? Might not a more nuanced article have acknowledged this?

I have just this morning been reading a note from a
progressive theater artist in Chicago extolling my newspaper to hire
more "queer" writers; a sentiment with which I very much agree. But
then how does that gibe with this?

This is a pretty serious attack alleging "blatantly prejudicial" criticism.
If you're going to make such a charge against two honest critics, I think this issue should be addressed.

If you want to make such a case based on how the critic identifies as a person, and I have no problem with the making
of the case, then I'd argue that the writers of this letter should also wrestle with
the question of the sexual identity of the critic. It would be fairer to everybody.

Chris Jones

Or we could refuse to judge anyone based on sexuality, gender and race. The authors have provided zero evidence that these critics are biased other than that their reviews were lukewarm. Their entire argument is based on race and gender. It needs to be said clearly and often: You cannot judge people based on gender, race or sexuality. It's wrong.

It's also self-defeating. This will only create a backlash and not help POC and female writers.

To my fellow liberals: The entire world is screaming at us to stop this divisive, bigoted psuedo-science. What would it take for us to re-think our strategy? Trump in the White House?

The American Left is doing the same thing as the left did in pre-Nazi Germany. The National Socialists adopted the left's socialist rhetoric and discarded the class rhetoric. The left wouldn't change their tactic to win back the working class vote. The American and European left is now doing the same.

Chris Jones: I admire your work tremendously, and read you almost weekly.

As a gay white male critic of theatre, I will point out that that doesn't absolve me of white male privilege or of exercising a male gaze.

The writers of the call, and virtually everyone else, know that Ben Brantley, Jesse Green and Christopher Isherwood are gay. And I must say, so what? Theatre, especially in "the" metropolis, has long been a relatively safe and welcoming place of gay WHITE men. I don't see any use of a queer critique in the text of BB, JG or CI's reviews. (There is some use of the rhetoric of flaming & dish, especially with BB.)

A call is a manifesto, I believe. It's scope must be large. It is a throw-down of the gauntlet. This blowback of "prove your point" seems an upwelling of injured white male pride, in a culture that has produced the worst political result in my lifetime, out of a lethal mixture of misogyny and racism (the rise of racist rhetoric after Obama's election.) I've seen exactly the same commentary, the same rhetorical tactics used to attack Hillary supporters all through the primary and general election.

What do you mean by "honest critic?" Did you read BB's review of Suzan Lori Park's VENUS (a brilliant and troubling work.) It was shamelessly sexist, shallow and vulgar.

This isn't to say BB is "always" this way (#notallmen). Or Hilton Als (a much better cultural critic, but his stance on SWEET CHARITY drips with sexist language and positioning).

Looking at the wide and deep range of the work of Vogel and Nottage, I see a different view of the possibilities of theater in general. In terms simply of the theatrical form, J.T. Rogers and Lucas Hnath's work provided much safer alternatives.

White male pride, eh? I'm not white, and my pride isn't hurt. My liberalism is hurt.

This "manifesto" and your comment judges people based on race and gender. This is unacceptable. If you loathe racism, why are you endorsing it? Feel free to break out the "you can't be racist to whites because privilege" canard as I disavow any redefinition of racism that is not focused on RACE. You can use the word bigotry if you'd like. If you don't think these critics sexuality should be taken into account, why are you advocating that their race and gender be? How is that not bigotry?

This "manifesto" claims these critics are biased without providing evidence based on their race and gender. It claims that we can see into their subconscious minds and find bias. We can't. That's impossible.

It's racist. The signatories are racist sexists. This isn't "mansplaining". My gender doesn't matter. Right?

Happy fourth of July. I'm going to celebrate by practicing the principles I was raised with in this country, namely not judging people on factors they cannot control.

I was very moved by this post, and I’m really grateful to the signatories, and to Paula and Lynn, for taking this subject on.

I am grateful that all of these people have used their substantial credibility to raise and stand by these questions. It has been a long haul getting to this place.

There is no doubt that all four Tony nominees this year were wonderful plays. You can quibble with all of them, of course. It’s impossible to say that the reservations which were articulated by the New York Times reviewers, toward Sweat and Indecent, were not honest. But the fact is, there were reservations and criticisms which could also be directed by the two plays written by men. Some people found Oslo to be overly long, and too much of a history lesson. You could say that Doll’s House Part 2 was rather schematic, and confusing in it’s use of the source material. Still wonderful plays, both of them. But like Sweat, and Indecent, not perfect. What human endeavor is?

You can honestly quibble about any play. In today’s marketplace, though, when the New York Times critic gives a straight play anything other than a rave, it is a blow. On the Broadway stage, this matters.

It remains a question of a level playing field. We don’t have it.

Thank you for the great article pointing out yet again the awful climate women writers and women writers of color live, write and breathe in. I sat in the balcony of the Wednesday matinee after the Tonys to see Indecent on Bway with a large group of what my family would call (in Yiddish) Eldercockers (old men) and Ballebus(ters) (difficult Jewish women) who had all seen Oslo previously and were now finally seeing Indecent.

We all got to talking because we wanted to figure out how to pronounce the word Indecent projected in the Hebrew on the back wall of the theatre -- there were no vowels (the way it would be written if it was in the Torah) so we struggled, and in our struggle became identified with what was about to happen onstage in very personal ways, and I was able to start a conversation with the row in front of me, the row I was in, and the row behind me (the first 3 rows of the balcony house right). I explained that I had studied with Paula Vogel, the writer, and I felt sad that she had lost to Oslo. Will you let me know afterwards, I asked them, which show you prefer? Why not? Nods all around.

She got gypped. You tell her, she shoulda won. They nodded. They all agreed. Even the men. One said, well Oslo was political. This was political! his wife elbowed him. This was beyond political, the next woman said loudly. It stole my heart! And there were tears, and they were all satisfied, they had seen the best show on Bway. Give me Paula Vogel, writing backwards in high heels, any night of the week!

As a signatory on this letter, I would like to take a moment to offer a few brief responses to some of the comments.

1. This letter is not a call for productions to be reviewed by critics whose sex, race, sexuality, religion, etc. are somehow mirrored in the productions. We are asking for greater parity and diversity among theatre critics.

2. I would also like to suggest that "people of color" refers to many who do not identify as African American. To discuss issues relating to people of color and then use statistics relating to African Americans is, at the very least, problematic. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015, 35.3% of women in the U.S. were women of color. [http://www.catalyst.org/kno...].

3. Our investigation of reviews was not limited to the reviews outlined in the letter, but for the purposes of space and argument, there is only so much evidence one can provide which is not to say that the evidence provided is anything more than a drop in the bucket.

4. Personally, I feel like I have spent a good portion of my life being asked to "pull back from the patriarchal, systemic, systematic sexism hypothesis." Not only my experiences, but also the experiences of my students, colleagues, friends, and women whom I have yet to meet but of whose oppression I am aware, make it clear to me that feminism is just as important today as it was a century ago and I am proud that it is increasingly more intersectional. The same, I believe, can be said of efforts to combat racism.

Joshua, do you really believe that intersectionality = antisemitism? I condemn the exclusion of Jewish women from the march. I don't believe that intersectionality has to be a caste system or a choice. I genuinely believe that understanding the oppression of one group of people and advocating for the rights and human dignity of others is useful and meaningful. I do work on women, theatre, and the Holocaust and that work has changed my life because of the willingness of survivors, scholars, artists, audience members, etc. to share their experiences in the hope of building a coalition of people committed to working toward change. I am not a Pollyanna, but I am a hopeful person. I feel like the alternative at this moment in time is despair and I would rather harness my anger (and fear), build community, and make some change.

For the last 7 years, I've seen intersectionality call Ashkenazi Jews white, call Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wildside" transphobic, it got me nearly run out of grad school, and it has been one of the reasons Trump got elected. It also caused this:


White Privilege THEORY is the same as the Soviet "Class Privilege" that got the Kulaks killed. It won't result in the same sort of violence, but it is creating social schisms.

I don't think the social schisms are the byproduct of intersectionality (which is an imperfect human attempt at activism through empathy). And I condemn attempts to limit free speech although I am alarmed by the manner in which free speech creates hostile work/learning/living environments and I have no solution because the end of free speech is, indeed, The End.

Intersectionality is a bigger problem than you think. Indiana, one of the most conservative states in the Midwest went for Obama in 2012. Then the left spent the next four years screaming white privilege for indo-europeans as a collective. If you can't see what a mistake that was, and how this "white privilege rape culture" bs is damaging the left, its because you live in an echo chamber.

Again, I have seen quality art called "rape culture" I have had my favorite artists accused of racism when they're not. The Left created the Alt-Right with this. And funny...a lot of what is being called Alt-Right are moderates who are tired of intersectionality, because if you criticize it, it recoils on you, calling you racist, transphobic, yadda yadda...

"The Left created the Alt-Right".... that is quite ahistorical. Read any good analysis and history of the neo-Nazi, White Identity and other hate groups in the U.S. (suggest you start with the Southern Poverty Law Center as a resource)

Reluctantly giving you something else to rail against.

Lotsa of manspreading and mansplaining in these comments.

Men spread their legs as their sex organs are on the outside. Are you suggesting that is happening here? Or are we taking up space on a forum with unlimited space?

"Mansplaining" is just sexist. You cannot judge ideas based on gender. That is wrong.


So, 30 years of peer reviewed research comprising literally thousands of studies isn't sufficient for you? Or have you just not bothered to look. Just a note: things can exist even if you don't know about them.

Why so hostile? I heard about the implicit bias test and was interested, looked into it, and it doesn't work. http://www.chronicle.com/ar...

It got me interested in the topic as a whole, so I looked into it, specifically Harvard's implicit project, and it's all critical theory. Like I said, I do not see the science.

If you have some of this research that isn't simply critical theory, I'd like to see it. Or you can laugh at me again for some reason.

There are oceans of scientific research proving the reality of unconscious bias. No matter how much you swear, or how many exclamation points you use, that will remain true.

And I beg you to consider that the alternative to unconscious bias is that, for example, the lawyers in this study harbor conscious antipathy towards black people. I don't believe that to be true of the majority of Americans. http://www.abajournal.com/n...

I was not using statistics for black women to refer to all POC or even all WOC. I was talking about a black woman. Why would I include all WOC?

Do you believe that a statistical difference proves discrimination?

Meghan Brodie: Both you and Martha say that there are many more reviews you could have used for "evidence" in this essay but that were cut for space. Well, as I write this, there are 71 comments, so surely you can add another one that details some of these other reviews.
But an important question -- evidence of what? That (white?) male critics are biased against women playwrights and directors, and that they write their reviews tainted by this bias?

I don't mean to bother you and I will not ask again, but no one involved in this discussion and none of the signatories will answer a simple Y or N question.

Do you think the critics named in this letter are racist and sexist?

Howlround, you have published an article accusing critics by name of being racist and sexist. They could and should sue you for libel. No one has provided any evidence of bias. This is disgraceful.

You people--progressive race realist ideologues--are suffocating the left. You have no solutions and do not hesitate to call people racists, and you believe that people are so inherently biased that they cannot avoid being bigots.

Which is demonstrably false. Even if people are inherently biased, there is no evidence--none--that it affects behavior. In fact, there is actual evidence that even if the invisible ghost of implicit bias exists, IT DOES NOT INFLUENCE BEHAVIOR. One of the creators of the implicit bias test says this in this article, which also details a major study debunking implicit bias as a source of bigoted behavior.


If you have facts, now is the time to speak. Otherwise you are all participating in bigoted libel. All the signatories are endorsing racism and sexism against two gay critics.

You are no longer liberals. You are no longer commentators or academics or critics. You are demonstrable bigots committing obvious libel.

Your move. I truly hope that you are sued. This publication is morally bankrupt. Disgusting.

"I don't meant to bother you..."

And then you proceeded to try to do that very thing for several paragraphs.

Honestly: it should be clear by now that no one buys your argument. We're tired of hearing it, and we've concluded that it lacks substance or merit, which is why we're not responding to it.

I hope you really mean it when you say "I will not ask again."

So? You said in a now deleted comment that they wrote biased reviews "and if that's not enough to call them bigots" you don't know what is.

You called them bigots, deleted the comment, and now refuse to even acknowledge that this entire article labels two individuals as bigots after you yourself called them bigots while avoiding straightforward questions about whether or not they are.

Your feet must hurt from all that tap.

I didn't delete my comment, I edited it. Because I changed my mind. You might want to give that a shot sometime.

More accurately... what I did (and sincerely regret doing) is pick up on YOUR use of the word "bigot," which others seem to have picked up as well. I made the mistake of letting you re-frame the conversation in an unhelpful way. I was in error in doing that.

My feet don't hurt at all. Recognizing an error in your thinking and amending that error is actually quite a relief, in fact: more like taking heavy boots off than putting them on.

Great. I've changed my mind, too. I used to believe everything you do. I was proven wrong. Implicit bias does not influence behavior. I changed accordingly.

I have not "re-framed" the conversation. The signatories are all onboard with saying these critics are biased. Because of their race and gender. If that's not akin to calling these critic bigots...I don't know what would be.

You're being condescending and will not be intellectually honest. So see ya.

So you think, for example, that the lawyers in this study all have conscious antipathy towards black people: http://www.abajournal.com/n...

Or the scientists in this study: you think that they decided to offer the identical female candidate a lower salary because they consciously despise women and think they should earn less: http://gender.stanford.edu/...

How about all of the people who offered apartments to white candidates but said there were no vacancies to black ones in HUD pair studies? All conscious bigots? https://www.huduser.gov/por...

Again, the research is overwhelming that bias exists and is real. And the vast majority of experts believe implicit bias is real and that is affects real world behavior. There is scientific evidence supporting that.

This is my final response to you, because you've shown little openness to evidence or to other perspectives, so I must conclude you are determined not to change your mind.

I think you meant this for me.

First study? Yeah, those people are racist. How does this study prove they are subconsciously racist as opposed to obvious bigots? FFS, they were told the authors were a certain race and judged them differently.

Second study? The same results are found with gender-blind recruitment. http://archive.is/LMnUy

Again, the supposed bias in the study you mentioned *is also present when gender is not mentioned*. Hmm. Perhaps this means there is something else at play? Such as the norms you refuse to acknowledge? That affect things like education and work experience? Because men and women work different amounts?

The third? Yes, those people are racists for *judging applicants on race.*

I'm willing to change. I used to be a rabid feminist. I saw how things were going astray and leading to...shit like this letter. I had to confront reality. It was imposed on me.

Do you think women work the same amount as men? Do you think men do not prioritize career over family? Do you think that bias always influences behavior even though I sent you evidence that it does not in the form of a study that has divided the very experts you rely on?

I'm (emotionally) sure people are biased. But we are talking about poking around in people's subconscious minds and judging them as if this was settled. And it is not.

Do you think the critics called bigots in this letter are bigots and deserve to be publicly attacked? Based on biases you cannot prove that these two individuals have, even if other people have them? Do you not see the problem?

Have a nice weekend. Try not to think about how evil and racist everyone is. I guarantee you that you cannot do it. You've got that old time religion.

One of the major issues I have with this piece is the Equity Outcome scenario. Not only is this reversing things, its allowing truly mediocre work to be produced. I have issues with the Vogel play. It's theatre about theatre. And Nottage's work is about social realism. These works aren't progressing the theatre. We cry sexism and racism when we haven't had a playwright on our shores in the last 30 years on the level of Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane, or Elfriede Jelinek. In the post-Beckett arena in world theatre, American writers tend toward the twee and whimsical (Sarah Ruhl) or the moral urgency of Nottage.

To me theatre is beyond morals and politics and about human frailty, love, etc. I prefer the tragic nature of Kane's work above anything American writers have done and this isn't a call to "more violence" in plays. It is a call to better language. The language in Maria Fornes and Adrienne Kennedy obliterate Vogel and Nottage because the Fornes and Kennedy didn't immediately look at the canon as something oppressive. They took the past and made it their own. And of course under intersectional theory, I, as a heterosexual Jewish male, I need to keep my mouth shut. Since intersectionality has no truck with me, I will say what I please.

Intersectionality is killing the arts for audiences. They want moral ambiguity and high drama. Most people I know hate theatre and want nothing to do with it. But you show them Howard Barker and Sarah Kane and they love it. Show them the writers mentioned in this "call to arms" and they are bored to tears. Perhaps there is more to being a playwright than teaching at the Yale School of Drama. Talk about privilege.

Activism has no place in the arts.

"We are suffocated by writers that want to enlighten us with their truths. For me the theatre is beautiful because it is a secret, and secrets seduce us, we all want to share secrets" -Howard Barker

"Sex and death are the only things worthy of a serious mind." -William Butler Yeats.

I find this "call to arms" an embarrassment for the theatre that hasn't had a ground-breaking playwright since Sam Shepard.

Joshua, how do you know that Fornes and Kennedy didn't see the canon as oppressive or exclusionary? I have read Vogel's plays and I believe that in the majority of them, Vogel does exactly what you praise Fornes and Kennedy for doing: "They took the past and made it their own." Why does activism have no place in the arts? And might there not be the chance that a woman teaching at Yale School of Drama got there based on her abilities? Why do you "prefer the tragic nature of Kane's work above anything American writers have done"? Based on your comments, female playwrights need to avoid activism, moral urgency, twee/whimsical content, moral ambiguity, high drama, intersectionality, theatre about theatre, social realism, morals, human frailty, politics, and love. Not even Sam Shepard manages that.

I think all playwrights should avoid activism and moral urgency. The Yale School of Drama does not produce good work. It's a pipeline for the truly privileged. I am thinking you're not reading the theory that I read, i.e. Howard Barker's "Arguments for a Theatre," etc. I am thinking that I prefer poetic ambiguities like Barker, etc over this stuff. The tragic consciousness is not moral. It is moral speculation and does not reify standard morals, especially leftist morals.

I prefer Sarah Kane because her language is fresh, and her work comes from the Artaud vein which I find superior to the Brechtian. She is the heir to Beckett and pushes the form. Can't say the same for other writers in America mentioned in the "call to arms." And I didn't say I was against human frailty. Humans are sad primates and art is there to show what we are: sad primates.

American writers need to lay off Brecht and Boal. That stuff is just a relic.

I think we have plenty of playwrights working on the level of Sarah Kane, and cranking out jaw-dropping plays as shattering as Blasted. A small sample of the list would include:

The World of Extreme Happiness by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel
Mine by Laura Marks
Gideon's Knot by Johnna Adams

"Perhaps there is more to being a playwright than teaching at the Yale School of Drama."

Truer words were never spoken, crusader.

(I might go as far as to posit that the time is upon us where the theater community is going to have to decide whether its top priority is the survival of quality theater, or the survival of the Yale School of Drama. That is, does theater exist primarily to provide employment opportunites to Yale graduates [keeping up the demand for enrollment there], or is it about putting on the best plays, no matter where [or how] the playwrights and directors [and others] learned their craft?)

Yes, I agree. They produce soft work. It floods Playwrights Horizons and the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis. It's all twee, soft, and "political" without being offensive. There is no high drama anymore. Just Wes Anderson type tweeness but on stage. Of course there are some unfinished hurried grad projects that are "serious" like McRaney's "The Brother's Size" but other than that...meh. Again we have no Sarah Kane because her work is ambiguous and lyrically tough. Why is it that we can watch the new Twin Peaks but not theatre? No one likes these plays. But they have a stranglehold.

And that stuff is bad, isn't it? My favorite playwrights are overwhelmingly women...Kane, Churchill, Fornes, Kennedy...etc. So don't try to pin this on me. Twee = bad, no matter what gender does it.

You're using this whole gendered language approach from deconstruction. You are brainwashed into thinking that words injure.

There are those who would say that literature or words can “injure.” This comes from Deconstruction and the Marxist ideas inherent in it. You want to use art to “help people vote.” You want art to educate people, which should be the job of the teacher. Theories based in Marx do not take into account humans as imperfect primates. They believe that the world is socially created by language, including gender, and these “theorists” absurdly believe the notion that biology plays no part of human existence. So when these theorists say language can injure, they are spreading censorious propaganda, especially when it is directed at the ambiguous nature of art.

Sigh. The fact that you can find one twee man does not mean that the word itself is not gendered--that it is overwhelmingly used to describe women and work products by women. Again, please look at the google image link I added earlier.

This is a dodge.

Both shows transferred to Broadway based on the strength of their off-Broadway reviews in the New York Times. The reviews were so strong that both productions received Critic's Picks from Charles Isherwood. This was not a conspiracy against Paula Vogel or Lynn Nottage; it should, however, serve as a warning to any production that chooses to transfer to Broadway or mount a commercial run off-Broadway because of a single critic's opinion. Neither show's second Times review was a pan - they just weren't as glowing as Isherwood's take. It's slightly disingenuous to fault white male critics for your shows' lack of success when a white male critic's review is a large part of the reason why you transferred in the first place.

Groundhog Day was reviewed by Ben Brantley for the Times twice. His review of the West End production was a rave, but when it opened on Broadway this spring it was met with little enthusiasm the second time around. The producers were surely upset about it, but Tim Minchin isn't taking to Twitter about it. Nobody is entitled to a Critic's Pick and if the success of your show depends on that, then you shouldn't transfer to Broadway for a commercial run.

It also doesn't matter what the budgets of the various non-profits are in a commercial space. Neither the Vineyard nor the Public were the lead producers on Indecent or Sweat. Daryl Roth, who was the lead producer on Indecent, is not a non-profit. She can spend as much money on her show as she wishes to raise. The Vineyard was not footing the bill for the Broadway run in the same way that the Public wasn't forking over millions in advertising dollars for the Broadway production of Hamilton. This post revealed that the authors have a tremendous misunderstanding of how commercial theater is financed and produced and the role that non-profits play in that world.

Is it possible that maybe the reason why neither of these plays connected with critics is because of how they were advertised? Before I saw Indecent, I had little idea about what it actually was because of the marketing materials (it's just the word "Indecent"). The Sweat materials look like advertisements for a rave and have little connection to the show itself.

Shows close early all the time. Great shows - particularly new plays - are missed and ignored by audiences all the time. I agree that there should be more diverse voices writing theater criticism for major publications, but to blame these two shows' failures on that overlooks how these shows were produced and the fact that, along with A Doll's House, Part 2, they weren't very good.

Absolutely, Elaine -- every woman shouldn't carry the burden of representing all woman (or their culture or sexuality or ..) And yet, the power of diverse voices is incredible, isn't it? I sit on several boards and when there is diversity at the table, there is much less groupspeak and less silencing of perspectives that are less represented. The call in this essay, in my perspective, is that we pay attention to dismissal, and pay attention to encouraging a range of critical voices.

While I only played a small role in the furthering of this discussion by producing/directing the world premier of Lynn Nottage's "One More River To Cross" in Philadelphia, the critiques of our production here brought with them some of the same questions. Why was our production reviewed by a majority of white and male reviewers? Why were we unable to get lifestyle pieces published in the weeks leading up to the world premier of a two time Pulitzer Prize winning author's piece? We have critics who are POC and women in Philadelphia why weren't any of them assigned? Additionally we participated in Philadelphia's awards program the Barrymore Awards... but we were shut out by the nominating panel assigned to determine if we were to go on to the judging phase... a panel that was made up of exactly one person of color... out of 8 nominators.

It's caused me to question the validity of a piece, that is written, directed, and produced by POC and speaks to the experience of POC being reviewed by non-POC. The people of color who saw the piece and talked to me had no negatives to speak of, and the decisions I made as a producer and a director all made sense to them. The layering of music, dialogue, and movement (a decision of the author) all made sense to the people I spoke with. Why then did I get panned over and over for these decisions? Is it cultural bias? A lack of shared experience?

I don't know... I do know even though our publicity and PR were top notch and we got coverage on every news outlet in the region we never filled a house, and I lost huge amounts of money on what should be a piece of theatre canon... I don't blame the reviewers because I don't think they actually have that much clout, but I question their authority in reviewing the piece at all.

Are we really advocating that critics must be the same gender and ethnicity as the artists they review? Doesn't this assume that all members of a gender/ethnic group think and feel the same way? And that members of another group are automatically incapable of overcoming subconscious racism/sexism and cannot understand another perspective? Your anecdotal experience may indicate that. Does this make it a less illiberal concept? How can we even publicly espouse these ideas without shuddering?

As to why the critics were white...white people do make up the majority of the population. The gender question could be a matter of cultural norms. See my other comment if you want. This certainly needs examination, but I also maintain that people of different genders are capable of competently reviewing each other. To suggest otherwise is...problematic.

Why weren't you able to get lifestyle pieces? You don't know. You cannot ascribe motive without investigating. Why assume malice--and in this case, racism--when incompetence is more likely? Hanlon's razor applies.

As for only one out of eight nominators being a POC? That is 13.5%. Which is precisely the percentage of the general population that are African Americans.

We are going backwards. Representation is vital. Segregation is unacceptable. The ideas I see regularly espoused in the arts today directly conflict with principles of the civil rights movement which actually work.

"As for only one out of eight nominators being a POC? That is 13.5%. Which is precisely the percentage of the general population that are African Americans."

The percent of the population that are POC is about 28% -- weird that you left out every other race.

Since we're talking about Tony nominations, which take place in New York: 56 percent of the population in New York City are POC. Weird that you didn't factor that in.

We're not going backwards. You're doing weird, exclusionary math.

I was responding to someone involved in a production of a black woman's work in Philly. If you want to use NY, fine, choose whichever metric you want to prove the situation is systemic racism instead of reflecting national demographics. I'm using national data as it is definitive and we are in fact a multicultural nation, not just a city on each coast. And it's not math; it's statistics.

Are you suggesting that pairing artists with critics by race is PROGRESS?

It's not a "branch" of mathematics. It is a discipline using math, yes. But whatever. Why quibble?

I have no problem if critics reflected their communities, but you've rephrased the question to dodge it. This essay argues that white critics are biased and POC artists need POC critics. Agree or disagree?

You're being truly disingenuous. They address the problem as white male critics in the text. They say their power essentially torpedoed productions because of their bias, in the text. The comment I was replying to said that white critics didn't get the production but that a POC would. So whites obviously are too inherently biased to handle POC work. Come on. Do you agree with their hypothesis? That certain critics cannot act in good faith with writers *of a different race because of their race and gender?*

I feel sick just writing this. We don't need to be racist to anyone to call for more diverse critics and artists. It is fundamentally unacceptable to judge anyone, even a critic who simply didn't rave about your work, based on race and gender. It is immoral to judge entire demographics--even white men--based on race and gender. Say it with me: It is and always will be morally wrong and antithetical to a liberal society to judge someone based on race and gender. It doesn't work.

This article clearly argued that a member of one intersectional identity is incapable of judging certain work. I disagree with every liberal fiber left in my skeleton. THIS IS RACIST.

Ahem: Does this article not state that white critics cannot offer... not objective--because there is no such criticism--but good faith subjective criticism free of implicit bias...or not? Can we agree on that? That this treatise flat out states in the title and text that a certain identity group is incapable of NOT being racist when regarding a different group's work? Y or N?

Holly hell. First paragraph states these productions were "doomed by the male critical establishment." Vogel tweeted that The Patriarchy saved the show of someone for being a white man. I cannot go a sentence without tripping over this point. Shall I quote you the entire piece? IT STATES THESE CRITICS ARE BIASED IN THE TITLE. The author interprets male criticism as somehow implying that they are saying, "keep it simple, ladies. Leave the big themes to the men." The critics said nothing of the sort. I can't parse this whole thing...are you actually saying this essay excoriating white male critics for *writing criticism* does not paint said white (male) critics as BIASED? Can we agree on that? Yes or No?

Thank you. I agree. This intersectionality has gone on long enough and has destroyed the arts. There is nothing worthwhile because everything now is soft. It's all about "look what this horrible person did to this precious person and what are we as a society going to do about it." Soviets used "class privilege" to wipe out a lot of people and art. "White Privilege" theory isn't as "violent" but what it is doing is dividing people which in the end results in the very violence these so-callled activists are trying to prevent.

I just feel such deep sadness reading this comment.

Some of us have already felt "divided" from reviews of the kind critiqued in this article. You're asking that we shut the hell up so you can enjoy the illusion of harmony provided by a society where your perspective is dominant. I believe we will reject that request.

Nobody cares about your feelings. We only care if the text provided as theatre is good. The plays that won, the "Oslo" play isn't good. The Ibsen update isn't good either. The Vogel play and the Nottage play also are not good. American theatre is terrible. There is no mystery, no metaphysics. It's because the activism has turned it into something on the level of Soviet Socialist Realism, a form that is now dead. American theatre is dead because of activism.

Welcome to the experience of being a woman or a person of color. Except, actually, it's more like a small fraction of what the rest of us experience. There is research on this too.

I'm sorry that it's hard for you to think about other people's perspectives and experiences. Some of us have no choice but to do this from birth.

I am an ethnic Jew. I grew up in Northern Wisconsin where I attended K-12 with Anishnabe native americans. I was called "Noser" in reference to the structure of my nose. I have been called "white" by intersectionalists. Please, can we stop now?

You've felt divided by iffy reviews of plays because the authors are white men? How is your philosophy one of liberation again? You want to feel this way?

And you don't think progressive feminism is a dominant perspective in this country? Not THE dominant perspective, because there isn't one, but certainly a powerful force? It has taken over the arts and education. People are being publicly vilified, professors and speakers are being censored...I hate to break this to you, but your movement has power now. No artistic decision or educational practice or now even hiring practices can escape this critique. People are being fired. There is nationwide movement to make your perspective the central guiding principle in academia, even in STEM.

You are part of the establishment now. And it's not going well.

progressive feminism is THE dominant perspective?

1. https://hbr.org/2017/06/mal...
2. https://blogs.scientificame...
3. https://www.theguardian.com...
4. https://www.fastcompany.com...
5. http://www.laweekly.com/new...
6. http://www.leadershippsycho...
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.go...
8. https://newrepublic.com/art...

I could go on. There are thousands and thousands of studies proving that progressive feminism is not in fact the dominant perspective in this country. Not, at least, if you look at actual behavior towards actual women instead of the think piece ecology.

And it's actually stunning to me that you could continue to believe this given what we've observed in the last year alone. Did you somehow miss the presidential election? The fact that we elected an admitted sexual abuser to the highest office in the land?

I watched in horrified amazement as pundits on news programs actually debated whether the first female major party candidate had the stamina to be president—as if she were some delicate antebellum debutante instead of the former secretary of state. Or, as she was asked on a debate stage about why she was so unlikable, or as her ambition was discussed with grave concern, as a character flaw, instead of a necessary quality of everyone who’s ever run for the highest person who has ever run for the highest office in the land.

I don't understand how you can hold the belief that progressive feminism is now "establishment" or "dominant" given what we've observed.

Trump won in part because the left have become intolerant bigots. Ask Bernie:

The press questioned her stamina because she fell down. I voted for her and I found her unlikable. Not as a woman, but as a person. She was a career, establishment politician with no message. What was her message? Vote for me or you're evil? She destabilized Libya. Her biggest accomplishment:-)

Do you not think it is dominant in academia? The arts?

It's not a zero sum game. Progressivism is one of the driving forces in our culture. So is conservative reactionary thought. So is racism. So is sexism. I rather dislike them all.

I did not say THE dominant perspective. I said it was a dominant perspective. Why do you think these articles were published? You don't think progressive feminism is a prominent worldview? Tell Hillary Clinton. Tell every college that has a gender studies department. It's inescapable at this point. You don't think the academic signatories of this letter and the publication which printed it are progressive feminists? It is an unforgiving cultural force in the arts, in academia, and believe it or not, in corporate America.

Max- that answer is lazy of you! I remember your work in Minneapolis. I am talking about intersectionality. Read my post at the bottom. It's too easy to say this is about 'dudes" telling women what to do. There are a lot of women, Camille Paglia, Christina Sommers, Wendy McElroy and others who would look at this with a pretty critical eye. The problem is the theatre is overrun with ideologues and its killing the form.

I gotta tell you, I don't give a shit what you think is lazy. I'm sick of dudes coming on, constructing straw man arguments in defense of the shallowest privilege, tokenizing specific women and inventing a support that they have not expressed (until Camille Paglia, Christina Sommers and Wendy McElroy actually comment, you can't and don't represent their viewpoint), and constructing worst-case scenarios of white or male voices being permanently excluded all because somebody had the temerity to say that maybe white men are not always the authority on everything.

No. This "white privilege" talk is not based in reality, history, or anthropology. It judges people by groups and not individuals. I don't care what you think about the women I mentioned, and nothing here is straw man, because the opposing viewpoint IS NEVER said in the far left socialist theatre in the states. As for white privilege, here's the endgame of intersectionality, the whitening of the Jews and full on anti-semitism. I refuse to sit here and let the theatre carry on like this. Permanent exclusion? I mean look what's happening to Jews: https://www.washingtonpost....

Good is so subjective as to be useless. I think white critics and male critics are limited in the critical responses they can offer plays that are not about their experiences. And I know this is true, because I am a white male critic and have bumped up against the edges of my ability to offer informed responses my entire career.

And nobody called you white. Jesus Christ.

Here's my subjective opinion: political theatre is shit. Activism in the arts is shit. Nobody is stopping women or poc. Theatre practitioners are their own worst enemies with forcing politics and "education" down people's throats. The end result is the public hates theatre. Why do people go to musicals? Mostly they don't preach to you. That's why. This activism about "inclusion" etc...its terrible.

It doesn't matter because people went to see Hamilton because of the novelty of a hiphop musical. Guess what? Musicals are lowbrow shit anyway, except for maybe Porgy and Bess. I don't care. Of course people like musicals. They're easy and have a lot of spectacle.

Tony Kushner is an ideologist. He says it is wrong for artists to not offer "hope." I reject this. Beckett said when someone asked him why his plays don't have "hope." He responded that his idea of life is from Dante: Abandon Hope all ye who enter here." Tragedy as a theatrical form is amoral. Kushner, again, is part of the problem. People need to get out of the echo chamber of American theatre and start reading theory by UK playwright Howard Barker and his Theatre of Catastrophe. He pushes theatre beyond morals into meditations of death and sex and move beyond left-right politics. Theatre should be a spiritual practice to deepen the mystery of being human and sexuality, not to offer up political solutions because politics are fashion. This is why no one looks at Soviet Socialist Realism paintings anymore.

White men are not the authority on everything. Jesus Christ. And if we are equal--and we are-our ideas are up for debate, regardless of gender. Why do you want it otherwise?

My worst case scenario does not involve silencing white men. My worst case scenario is judging large groups of people based on race and gender. It leads to bad things.

Why do you want it otherwise? How can you claim to speak for a gender? Or a race? You can't. That's impossible.

Or is my opinion invalid because of my gender? Would it help if I were a recognized minority? Y or N? Why or why not?

No argument. But the greater question is why are all American new playwrights men and women, in the last 20 years terrible compared to their European counterparts. Its' not because of America being dumb. It's the shrill activism which results is social realism, twee art, and bad melodrama. It's because of morals (and the Yale School of Drama.)

I read the survey comments from our subscribers. We recently produced FUN HOME. While a majority of the audience loved it--as I would expect of such a superb work of theater--there was a small but vocal minority of theater goers who said they were "sick of being lectured at" and they "don't like political theater."

Now, there are no lectures in the play. It's not political in the way we usually use the term: it's an intensely personal, deeply emotional father daughter story. But the patrons read the play as political because the story being told was about non-straight-white-male experiences.

I wonder sometimes if we don't use the pejorative "political" in selective ways, as a stand in for a different concern.

After all, I see production of overwhelmingly white male voices as political. It delivers an unacknowledged message that their stories are more important, more consequential, more worthy of attention and concern.

I completely reject this unhelpful statement:

"After all, I see production of overwhelmingly white male voices as political. It delivers an unacknowledged message that their stories are more important, more consequential, more worthy of attention and concern. "

You are reading into things, doing a Foucaudian analysis and free associating based on false notions of power dynamics rather than actual population statistics. One could also say the pipeline of Yale School of Drama to the non-profit world is creating the imbalance you speak of, not certain men who write plays who most likely agree with your politics.

Art is not democratic. Also kudos for making theatre that doesn't club you over the dead.

I completely reject every single word you've "contributed" to this conversation. They're full of hate, and they do a tremendous disservice to the artists who generated this article, to the theater as a whole, and to the gender that I (unfortunately) have to share with you.

"Are we really advocating that critics must be the same gender and ethnicity as the artists they review?"
No I'm advocating critics figure out in advance what they are capable of providing valid critique for. Not one critic spoke to the themes, information, or artistry of One More River To Cross... instead each and every one that had anything negative to say (two white men and one white woman gave negative reviews... One white man gave a positive review) focused on production decisions I made. The only critique of the presentation of the piece was a misattributed off hand commentary, blaming me for choosing to overlay music on the dialogue when that was actually Lynn's decision and pretty integral to the cultural commentary of the piece. Is it possible that none of these folks understood anything about the play? I have no idea... but since they didn't really say anything relevant about the play they just complained about sitting for two hours (to watch a piece describing in detail the discomfort of a huge segment of our population that lasted for over 300 years)... maybe they just didn't have anything to say.

There's tons of critical commentary that could have been made... speaking to our decisions on a lot of things... they could have talked about our "greek" presentation and why it might or might not have been a real commentary on cultural appropriation... they could have discussed the validity of a young, independent producer and director producing a two time pulitzer prize winning author... they could have questioned the idea of a mixed race man directing and producing a piece by a black woman that talks about slavery! They could have gone all kinds of places and created all kind of interesting conversation, but they didn't. They didn't even broach the one most common criticism of audience members who are POC that I had white actors as part of the chorus, and what that said about the experience and the story. Why didn't they speak to any of these things? Because they're white? Because they're males? Maybe, but mostly because they didn't have the requisite cultural connection with the work to effectively criticize it.

"As to why the critics were white...white people do make up the majority of the population"
Just because white people are on the national average a larger percentage of the population has nothing to do with why the critics were white. Philadelphia has a very diverse makeup, and mostly non-white... it also has a very diverse critic population... and editors could have done a better job deciding who to assign to this job.

"The gender question could be a matter of cultural norms"
It is not. Again... Philadelphia has a very diverse critic population... we could have been equally reviewed by men and women... we weren't. I fought hard to have an equally gendered cast and crew... why wouldn't editors fight hard to have a representative critical environment.

"Why weren't you able to get lifestyle pieces?" I actually do know... and anyone who knows Philadelphia theatre knows the answers to this question I kind of threw it out there as a rhetorical. In Philadelphia the papers of record do not do both a lifestyle and a review of any given piece. All of the papers chose to do a review. They chose to do a review because of bias, not because of incompetence of my PR (who got me more coverage than anyone else in the same time period)... it is because they didn't want to write a lifestyle of the piece because it "sounds like a black play for black people"... This is a huge problem here in Philadlephia... we have several theatre companies that put out pieces season after season that are geared towards black audiences... why don't they get coverage? They're no less out there than any of the companies putting up rehashes and remounts of classic theatre pieces... We have a diverse production community... in every position there is a very talented top level artist that is also a POC, yet only the white artists get mentioned in reviews and get accolades for their efforts... even when the production company mentions the artists of color over and over and over again... I've been in production in Philadelphia for quite a long time and I have never had my name in a review unless I am the director and/or producer... sometimes, and it doesn't actually surprise me anymore... writers find a way to exclude my name even when I am the director and producer (as they did with the Jenkintown run of OMRTC)

"As for only one out of eight nominators being a POC?" Yes one of eight was a POC... that's almost as laughable in Philadelphia as if one of eight employees at a coffee shop was a POC... we have a very diverse population (I sound like a broken record)... someone else mentioned 55% POC... we have a very diverse theatre population... I wouldn't doubt if it was at least 55% POC as well... We can't get moderators that are POC at realistic rates like 4 in 8 for a play about slavery?

"Representation is vital."
Damn skippy bud.

Quick response: I did not mean to imply that your PR was incompetent; I meant the press is incompetent. Again, Hanlon's razor. Why assume malice on the part of others when incompetence is far more likely? This applies to critics, too.

Ok... I'm sorry I assumed who you were talking about being incompetent... Hanlon's razor lead me to believe you were referencing my PR because the only incompetence I can even fathom in the editorial board leading to there being no lifestyle piece is racism. No it doesn't have to be malicious racism it is/might have been the lazy racism of white privilege...

I don't know what other kind of incompetence would lead to that result

Again "white privilege." Look up what the Soviets did to the Kulaks because of "Class Privilege." You're using the same language they did.

You're assigning group guilt and its not working. You are setting back the civil rights movement. Please stop with the privilege rhetoric.

I live in Los Angeles. White people make up 28% of the population here. And yet they still dominate the critical community here.

The percentage of white critics exceeds by far the percentage of white people in the nation as a whole. But, when you look at the demographics of the major cities where most critics are based, the disconnect between the demographics of the critical community and the demographics of the communities they serve is truly shocking.

Well there is a vast body of research suggesting most of us harbor unconscious bias. However, I have noticed some individuals try to understand the world beyond the limits of their perspective & experience, and others work vigorously to avoid doing so. (Many voices in this thread, for example.) I believe the former category is better suited for the work of criticism.

I live in Los Angeles too. And around me I see tons of support for black and latino theatre, etc. I find this community to be diverse and supportive of that. Why do people really care what critics think anyway. Very few of them I respect.

Because I'm an audience member who is tired of bad theatre, who wants to see good theatre. I am tired of reading plays from overseas and seeing bad American theatre. I am commenting on this blog because I feel the attitudes in this blog are preventing what I want to see as an audience member in the theatre.

And I hate political theatre.

Okay, so the current critical establishment isn't worth listening to? I can understand that.

You're seeing bad theatre, and want to see better theatre. I can certainly understand that.

So, where are you getting your theatre recommendations from? If it is indeed from the critics, wouldn't you welcome a more diverse (in all senses of the word) critic pool who can point you towards excellent work that is being overlooked by the current establishment? Critics who can see through their own biases, be they racial OR aesthetic, to shine light on truly great work, even if it isn't in their typical wheelhouse?

And if you've given up on the critics, be it because you find their responses worthless or because you think they aren't giving critique in a way that's making the work in your community better, again, wouldn't you welcome a more diverse (in all senses of the word) critic pool who can raise the standard of the work being done?

I don't think the critics have anything quality to critique. I think the issue is not the critics, but the pipeline of bad theatre from our MFA programs. I think all critics in the states just go through the motions. I don't even think they really like the work they are critiquing even when they say they like it.

I search for theatre through various ways. There are a few voices I trust who aren't critics. I avoid any theatre that has to explicitly do with social justice or has overt messages.

The more contemporary (in the last 50 years) playwrights I like include Sarah Kane, Howard Barker, Beckett, Yukio Mishima, Bernard Marie-Koltes, etc.

I prefer amoral tragedy. I need quality prose. Deep, mystical, quality prose.

I don't like comedy as much or stuff like Vogel, Durang, or Ruhl. That stuff I think is the worst theatre imaginable.

I try to avoid most things that have MFA attached to it.

I think this equity talk is something that is suffocating theatre. All I am seeing are people complaining about this and that...all these issues regarding race. No one has talked about the content of the plays, nor the quality. It's truly boring and damaging a form.

No one here has the ability to even look at a different perspective other than theatre being there to pretentiously "serve and educate the community."

"I have decided to become the Milo Yiannapolous of the theatre world." I have questions about this.

1. You do know Milo's hateful racist, misogynistic, and transphobic views cost him most of his sources of income? And his outspoken support of pedophilia cost him the rest? To say you want to be Milo is to say "I want to be fired." Is "Joshua Reubl" your real name? Because you might want to re-think trumpeting to the world that your Teen Crush is a writer who crashed his career over his white male supremacist hate and support of pedophilia.

2. Why do you think theatre needs to hear a Milo-style white supremacist "alt right" voice, and why do you think such a voice would be "challenging," as if we aren't all already hearing that perspective all the time? If you want to be "challenging," at least choose someone after which to model yourself who is *actually challenging* and not just a tedious alt-right mouthpiece.

3. Why do you assume that you, and only you, are the sole gatekeeper of what is "good theatre" and what is "bad theatre"? I'm asking because it's odd for anyone with any real knowledge of contemporary theatre to claim that "all American plays are bad" and "European plays are better." That makes no sense, as it takes as its premise the categories "Europe" and "America" have discrete artistic meaning and don't encompass hundreds of different writers in different styles and approaches.

4. Why do you think "political theatre" only applies to plays that do not have a white male point of view? As if the white male point of view is just "theatre" and anything else is "political"? Europe is a hotbed of political theatre, btw. Your definition of "political theatre" does not conform to the working professional definition. I will say this, though-- you get points for consistency, as it's the definition used by the white supremacist "alt right."

We don't need any specific "challenges" from the white supremacist "alt right," as we are all currently living in a white male-dominated culture. The white male supremacist point of view is already quite well represented, and I can assure you that everyone here is extremely well versed in its tenets and beliefs. You do not need to pretend you are fighting The Good Fight here by standing up to these mean old feminists and people of color, defending the unfairly tarnished honor of white men, and raising a bloodied fist to the sky in the name of Milo Freaking Yiannopoulos. Your point of view runs the nation, and we are deliberately opposing it. We already know what it is, and we reject it.

I voted for Hillary. Never once have I voted right. My politics are classical liberalism.

I think we need someone to bash down political didactic drama. I will be that voice.

I used to be a progressive. I've read Faludi, Emily Buchenwald, Julia Kristeva, etc. All of it.

But since undergrad in the 90's my main intellectual influence is Camille Paglia.

But I see the dark path we are going on with the Left.

Now I will use what I know of progressives to destroy political theatre. One of my essays on capitalism and Shakespeare was used as research for a product on economics and morality in theatre at Brown University. I've been waiting for the right moment.

Get ready for a return of Artaud-style drama and real theory.

I have more questions. I also have a PhD, so I'm not impressed by your reading list. I have read the work of every person you mention.

1. Why do you call yourself a "classical liberal" when everyone knows that "classical liberal" is libertarianism? "Classical liberal" is what Gamergaters and redpillers call themselves when they are trying to inoculate themselves against charges of racism and sexism. Which leads me to:

2. Why did you think no one here would recognize your list of "Awesome Females Who Agree With Me" as based scholars for Gamergate, redpillers, and the alt right? Gamergaters even referred to Christina Hoff Sommers as "based Mom." Call yourself whatever you want, but the writers you mention are openly anti-feminist, anti-transgender, anti-social justice darlings of the alt right, so it's going to be tough to convince anyone that your personal philosophy does not align with alt right viewpoints as you have been trying (unsuccessfully) to do. You can't say "equity feminism" without everyone understanding that means "I don't believe in systemic sexism." It's not feminism. It's a conservative/libertarian pretense that imagines that legal equality = actual equity, which has been amply proven to be bullshit. We already had all these discussions during Gamergate.

3. But Gamergate was about ethics in game journalism, right? And this is exactly the same fight. You're fighting against encouraging outlets to hire women and PoC reviewers and fighting against encouraging reviewers to understand social context and include thoughtful commentary about the portrayal of women and PoC. It's the same fight, just (so far) without Gamergate's attendant vicious harassment of women in the industry. (Please do not run to /KotakuInAction/ and start some vicious harassment campaign against women in our industry). You're using all the same arguments we had to wade through during Gamergate-- even quoting the same writers. And with the same level of success, I might add.

4. How-- and I'm serious here-- does a playwright with no productions think he's going to upend the entire theatre world with "Artaud-style drama"? I don't need to "get ready" for "Artaud-style drama." I've seen dozens of undergrad white dudes create their version of "Artaud-style drama," and it usually involves violence against women and shouting at the audience. It's tedious in the extreme. Artaud is fun to read-- one of my favorites, actually-- but if you think you're going to Change Everything!!! with "Artaud-style drama," get in line behind Cory, Gabe, Josh, and Austin from sophomore year.

5. "I think we need someone to bash down political didactic drama. I will be that voice." Get some productions first. Work on your craft. You have an MA from Humboldt State. I did my undergrad at a CSU and taught at one for many years. Believe me when I say to you that I understand your frustration with the MFA pipeline. I agree that it's bunk. But please rethink taking refuge against that in redpiller philosophy.

6. The "return of real theory." And you are the sole human in the industry who understands what theory is "real" and what theory is "not real"? This arrogance is exactly what prevents you from accessing "real theory." This arrogance is why you think Christina Hoff Sommers makes sense. The theatre community is telling you that white men are given preferential treatment, and you have to square that with the fact that you can't get your work produced, which sucks. Then CHS, Camille Paglia, and the rest of the alt right anti-social justice writers come along and tell you "no-- they're all lying to you. It's actually women and PoC who are getting preferential treatment, and white men who are getting the short end of the stick." And that has to be a real comfort for a playwright with your track record-- a seductive idea. But it's rooted in arrogance to believe the problem is the whole entire theatre culture working against you, not just that you need to work on your craft, network more, etc.

I have an article deadline today, so I have to be done for awhile. But-- and I mean this from the bottom of my heart-- please spend some time thinking about why the scholars you love are the darlings of the alt right. Please spend some time thinking about empathy. And please go to the theatre. See the enormous variety of plays being staged. Go to indie theatres. Go to LORT theatres. Go to Black theatres. Go to dance theatre. See the wild, amazing variety of styles and approaches that are out there before you continue to embarrass yourself with "all American theatre is terrible." Except YOUR unproduced plays, right? Close /TheRedPill/ and go to the theatre.

I realize that the scholars I am referencing are being used by the alt-right. They are also uncomfortable with this. But the Left is so shrill now about arts censorship.

When I think of Artaud, I am not thinking of blood or violence and he did not like that in his theatre either. What he was looking for was something more occult. It is interesting that you immediately think that one is going to make art about violence against women. I work on my craft daily. I am quite proud of my plays and I also enjoy writing female characters. I have noticed a tendency in the arts, especially in arts education, that any art made by a male, a straight male, that has sexual content, is immediately without analysis dismissed as somehow sexist, as though a depiction is an endorsement. I've seen this again and again, and its really frustrating. My plays (I don't consider myself an artist) are dense, lyrical and written with language similar to Caryl Churchill or Howard Barker. Some of my first plays were maybe influenced by Pinter and Martin Crimp. I don't actively send them out because they are morally ambiguous and I'm not sure the "establishment" would like that. I do work for spiritual reasons. I'm interested in the influence of Western occultists such as Aleister Crowley, Helena Blavatsky, etc. and their influence on certain strands of theatre which includes Artaud, Shepard, Sarah Kane, and Peter Brook, especially with his work on G.I. Gurdjieff. My wife and I were in the HSU program together. I was also accused of sexism for no reason at all. My plays are not violent but rather erotic. The eroticism apparently is what bothered them. And I think this has to do with this "power critique" against straight white males who write erotic content. The intersectional politics of HSU made it difficult to do research on Western occultism and its influence in the theatre because they were much more concerned with indoctrinating students into Augusto Boal's theatre of the oppressed. Many students joined in our work when we put on Jean-Claude Van Itallie's "The Serpent" and Howard Barker's "Judith." The faculty immediately looked at my wife and I as a threat, especially since I have read most philosophy and religion, my tear-down of postmodernism wasn't welcome.

You've proven to me about your dismissal of undergrads who like Artaud about the belittling influence of Marxist intersectional gender politics in the lives of students who use art for ancient purpose: a non-violent civilized way to show the animal within. This is not sexist or misogynist.

Next thing you know erotic writing by men will all be called "rape culture." It's this constant shrill sanitizing of the arts based on the false beliefs in deconstruction that words and images injure. Even with video games. There is no rape culture in the arts.

In fact these theories of "white privilege rape culture" are making it so young women see violence in everything, even in art that is there to "help." There is nothing worse than ruining the agency of young women by making them believe that art is out to "assault them." Take a look at this for the endgame of your theories:


The students we worked with at HSU wanted to create art that was spiritual and personal for them, and the faculty wanted it censored.

Christina Sommers is brilliant as is Paglia. They have actual statistics. They don't use broad propaganda terms such as "white privilege" or "rape culture." They are reasoned.

And this need for productions. Buchner wasn't produced in his lifetime. Artaud was run out for not liking Marx (hmm.) Again, you kind of need theatre with seasons that put on work like Barker, Artaud, Sarah Kane, etc to send your work to. I don't have time for hunting as the theatre is pretty homogenous as you know. Don't automatically assume too, that I misread Artaud or Barker like your undergrads. I am more influenced by the novelists Joan Didion and Paul Bowles than most playwrights. Again, this arrogant dismissal of young students interested in sex and death and the spirit and then assuming that I am on this level and also want some kind of capitalist compensation. I work in software and my income is quite nice.

Again the academic dismissal of tragedy as a form is the issue here. You've considered Brecht and his influence the "de jour" of theatre.

And putting my plays on so they can be ruined by actors more trained in identity politics than craft (so they don't get harmed by those rough Meisner training sessions and run to their safe space) and then have a lame "talk-back" afterward to make sure that the audience "really gets it" does not seem like a good time in the theatre.

I'm a classical liberal because it's the safest place for freedom of expression to not be condemned by postmodernism.

And why would I start a harassment campaign. You're doing the "safe space" thing, assuming that this disagreement is going to turn into some attack on women. This is the paranoia that concerns me.

Again I'm not an artist but an essayist. My plays are part of my research and by self publishing I get to keep the money. I don't mind if my plays are just read.

If I were to mount a production I'd do it myself to make sure the identity politics don't tarnish the production. Please stop trying to put me in your realm.

When your entire argument boils down to: "I'm unfairly called a sexist because women just don't understand my erotic masterpieces and faculty are threatened by my philosophical genius," that's when I bid good day to you, sir. I wish you good luck with your misunderstood genius, your "Jet of Blood Part Two: Josh Ruebl and the Deathly Feminists," and your Amazon self-publishing career.

Brian, if the authors and signatories of this letter are repeatedly called racists and sexists by a large and growing group of disgusted people on THE LEFT, don't you think it's time to start asking yourself why everyone misunderstands progressives? Could it be that they judge people based on RACE and GENDER?

Oh, honey. You're nothing if not persistent. You're like a puppy who won't stop dropping a drool-covered ball in everyone's lap until someone finally throws it. All the many people here who ignored your question did so because they wisely reasoned, based on ample evidence, that you are not asking this question in good faith, but are instead hoping against hope someone will finally throw the ball and cue whatever nonsense you have so clearly been dying to say for nearly a week. Your question is not answerable, so I am not going to answer it. But I *will* explain why.

OK, pup, here we go:

We don't talk about who is "a racist" because that is not a productive discussion. Because we live in a white supremacist society, we are all indoctrinated in its tenets and beliefs, and are either happy to uphold them or are in a constant process of fighting them in our minds and hearts. No one who lives in this culture is entirely free from them. It's a very complex issue that does not productively reduce to "he is a racist."

When we discuss these issues, we confine our discussion to *acts* rather than *intrinsic personal definitions*. Is it a racist and sexist act to fill a vacancy with another white male reviewer when you have nothing but white male reviewers on full-time staff? Yes. Is it a racist and/or sexist act for a white man to evaluate the work of a woman or person of color without making an effort to understand the cultural context he might be missing, without making an effort to understand the cultural context of the gendered language and assumptions he might be using? Yes. Is this man "a racist"? I am not a child, so I do not see the world in such simplistic terms as "he did a racism therefore he is now and forever a racist" apart from the very obvious cultural reality that all white people, myself included, are "racist" in that we are struggling with the relentless barrage of white supremacist messages thrown at us living in this culture. All we can do is continue to fight them, but there will always be something we miss, or are blind to due to our privilege, which is why it's so important-- of *primary* importance-- to listen to people of color.

Your question is embarrassingly simplistic. This is why everyone keeps ignoring you.

Now repeat all of this for sexism.

This is the single most condescending thing anyone has ever said to me. You are stunningly, sickenly arrogant and all you've done is spouted the same rhetoric I've heard from a million other ideologues. You're a racist zombie. You're a twisted, bitter BIGOT. Do you not hear the sickness in your own voice? You sound like you're describing witchcraft. I know they taught you this shit in school and you unquestionably swallowed it and your grades depended on it, but that doesn't make it true. It's theory. That's all it is. Congrats on the PhD cough cough appeal to authority. I'm assuming you studied media or theatre or communications or gender studies or modern sociology. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if I'm not...you studied bullshit.

Did you study statistics? Because if you did you might be aware that it is NOT racist for more white men to be critics as white people are the majority of the population, men work longer hours, and, say it as loud as you can: A statistically different outcome is not proof of differential treatment. That's day one level stuff.

So we come to bias. Sorry, baby, it's bullshit. If it exists based on a test even one of its creators says is flawed, there is no proof it influences behavior. http://www.chronicle.com/ar...

Your entire worldview is horseshit. Your discipline is akin to a chiropractic. You have failed, spending years learning useless, bigoted, racist hokum.

I've been asking my "simplistic" question for the following reason: These signatories are saying that they can see into the subconscious minds of people and find bias. They can't. You can't. You have no evidence they are biased. Yet you are saying you can see into these peoples' hearts and have condemned them based on your magic, non-existent authority.

You cannot prove they are racist. Repeat for sexism. So how are they biased again? You don't think gay critics in NYC have ever seen work by WOC before? Tell me, what other disturbances in the force can you detect?

And they way you talk about POC....is racist. You're saying we should listen to them unquestioningly not as actual people but as magical representatives of some alien monolithic race. No. They're humans. Their ideas are up for debate.

You just said that a white man must do extra work to understand POC's work, as if we are from different planets and haven't been exposed to said work all our lives. But oh that bias YOU CANNOT see must be a factor! You are a race realist. You are openly, proudly biased. You are judging people by race.

Do you not see a problem?


Terrific letter. I should point out, however, that female critics, while we do indeed need MANY MORE do not necessarily guarantee responsible reviews for POCs. See the latest on Hedy Weiss and PASSOVER by Antoinette Nwandu at Steppenwolf.

Just saw this comment. I'd suggest watching (Chicago Tribune critic) Chris Jones's appearance on "Chicago Tonight" last Thursday. (It's available online.) He made several intelligent comments, and made it clear that the thought Hedy Weiss review was "responsible" and, in fact, that it was Steppenwolf that was out of line for the press release they issued.

I'm sorry, but I have to point out a fact that has been completely ignored during this entire, multi-year discussion: A statistical difference does NOT indicate differential treatment. Correlation does not equal causation. These are basic principles of social sciences. The fact that POC and female playwrights are produced far less is NOT proof of systemic sexism and racism. No scientist or statistician would argue this without performing an experiment.

And we have performed the experiment. There has been a massive, multi-season push for female playwrights. Submission procedures, administrative positions, festival guidelines, season programming...we have actually altered many, many, many experimental factors and seen no change. Perhaps our hypothesis that sexism is the culprit is wrong.

I'm speaking as a social scientist. We gathered the data and *then* latched onto a hypothesis and performed massive changes that have not produced results. Do we form another hypothesis or do we keep performing the same experiment?

I have another hypothesis: Culturally, women are expected to sacrifice career for family and men are expected to sacrifice family for career. That's why men outearn women and are VPs. These are cultural norms we should be discussing instead of labelling critics who happen to dislike certain plays as sexist and telling women they are oppressed and discriminated against on a systematic basis. Women and men could benefit from challenging these norms. But we will have to pull back from the patriarchal, systemic, systematic sexism hypothesis. It's the difference between examining well documented cultural norms and waging an ideological war against statistical differences.
As for WOC playwrights, I humbly submit that since African American women make up roughly 7% of the total population, their absence is not indicative of systemic racism. I humbly offer that it is a matter of demographics.
When we have reached the point of accusing critics of being subconsciously racist and sexist for issuing lukewarm reviews...we may need to re-examine our assumptions.

It sounds like you're saying men just write better plays. Check NPX; there are roughly equal numbers of plays by men and women (women may even be ahead). This isn't 1950; women do have families AND careers. But theater hasn't caught up with that fact, and these "pushes" you speak of are going to take time to do their work.

I never said that in any fashion. Do not say I did. Of course women have families and careers, but women still do the majority of the childcare and men still work longer hours. Whose career would you expect to flourish? You don't think that's worth talking about instead of demanding an immediate equality of outcome and publicly calling critics by name bigots and flatly stating artists should be matched with critics by *race*? People used to fight that. For decades.

I'm willing to give this experiment more time, fair enough. But I'm not willing to tolerate a vitriolic public call for artistic segragation. Not for one second.

I said "sounds like." The women playwrights I know work just as hard as the male ones; that's all I'm saying. An argument that we're all too busy caring for homes and children to pursue careers is right up there with saying there are no plays by women in the pipeline; it simply isn't true. BUT... I will grant you that women perhaps aren't mingling with the male decision makers as much as their counterparts... But as more of THOSE positions are taken by women, maybe that will change, too. Wendy Wasserstein famously said that she got her plays done because she made friends with the men who made the decisions; that pretty much sums it up.

I will certainly agree that writing isn't just writing. It's networking. Mostly. And I'm not suggesting that female writers do not work their asses off. But my contention that women do more childcare and men work longer hours is not a contention. It's statistically true. On average.

But all things are not equal. Again, men work longer and women work less. I'm suggesting we should examine these norms instead of immediately claiming sexism. I should say I have no doubt there is real sexism involved, but if we ignore these norms we will never solve the problem.

How many plays do you read every year? I read about 500. There is no difference in quality between plays by men and plays by women. Women network too.

There is a vast body of research proving that bias against women because of their gender is endemic. The exact same piece of writing will he scored higher by respondents who believe the writer is male than by those who believe the writer is female.

You imply that it is ignorant and illogical to believe that misogyny is a factor in our field. However, the research suggests we would be foolish to believe we are immune.

I didn't say there was a difference in quality. I'm saying if one gender statistically works longer hours, that does account for advancement in one's career.

It is not ignorant or illogical to believe misogyny is a factor. All I'm saying is that if we've reached the point of publicly calling critics racists and sexist and our efforts to combat sexism haven't really worked, maybe we should look at other factors, namely cultural norms that affect every other field.

If you know where I can find those bias experiments, I would appreciate it.

I told you I was familiar with Project Implicit. Did you read the article I sent you? It specifically addresses PI. How is the study detailed incorrect?

Again, PI's work is based on the IAT...which does not work. Why are you so invested in theory that has no scientific merit? These are simply postmodern critical theories. About power.

Look further than that one study.

This argument is analogous to the climate change controversy. You need to look at the consensus of the field instead of cherry picking the studies that support your preconceptions.

Cherry picking? The study I referred to examined the use of implicit bias testing and found that the tests are useless. The tests make up the backbone of all those 1000s of studies you keep referring to but cannot produce. This study completely undermines the basis for an entire field. Unless you can debunk this study, I'm not going to read anymore studies based in demonstrably failed principles.

I used to believe in IB. I was wrong.

WOMEN WORK LESS? Did you really just say that? The fact that you think these are NORMS--as in normal--IS sexism. This whole fight is to try to change what men think is normal, i.e. getting the lion's share of opportunity. Even in one small example, the theater where one woman is in residence, thirteen men have been offered commissions but not her. It's REAL.

I'm not saying that sexism isn't involved, but yes: statistically, women work less. I'm not a sexist for pointing this out and frankly this needs to be talked about. Or we will not achieve equality.



I don't want women to be saddled with childcare. I don't want them to work less. I want women and men to each have the opportunity to either prioritize a career or a family. This is how we level the playing field.

You cannot have it all. Sorry. If you have a family and cannot afford childcare and you're a woman...your career is going to suffer.

What shall we do about it? Scream sexism? Or talk about these norms? And by norms, I do not mean this situation is ideal or how it should be. It is simply statistically normal.

"I'm sorry, but I have to point out a fact that has been completely
ignored during this entire, multi-year discussion: A statistical
difference does NOT indicate differential treatment. Correlation does
not equal causation."

Thank you!

There is much that is spot-on about this essay, but its title is misleading, and also ironic, since the weakest part of “A Collective Call Against Critical Bias” is in its effort to back up its claim of critical bias.

I agree that the reviews of “Sweat” and “Indecent” by Ben Brantley and Jesse Green may well have been a factor in shortening the run of these splendid plays. I also find fascinating Vogel’s effort to connect the box office success of a show to the wealth of the theater or theater producer backing it. (I also think that the Tony Award broadcast’s bias against non-musical plays kept the national TV audience from seeing how good Sweat and Indecent are.)

But I raved about both “Indecent” and “Sweat” (https://newyorktheater.me/2... and https://newyorktheater.me/2... – and so did the vast majority of other critics, male and female. (The only outright pan I read was by female critic Suzanna Bowling in Times Square Chronicles.) The 24 signatories of this essay attempt to get around this inconvenient fact by referring to the “male critical establishment” (and later “the East Coast male critical establishment”) then citing just three reviewers of Sweat or Indecent.

Their doing this reminds me of an irritating practice by some of my friends and even family members. They’ll tell me that “the reviews”of a show were raves (or pans) – but, when we get down to details, it turns out they only read the one in the Times.

The reviews of “Sweat” by Brantley and Green were not pans; they were mixed. And, while the essay heavily implies that the reviewers were sexist for calling Sweat (in the essay’s paraphrase) “too ambitious,” it again conveniently leaves out a similar criticism leveled against “Sweat” by Variety’s female critic Marilyn Stasio: “The plot is less successful for trying to cover every conceivable labor issue….”

The essay also later quotes Hilton Als for his "attack" on “Sweet Charity," but omits his review of “Sweat,” which went beyond positive; Als spends a paragraph telling us he’s learned the most from women of color playwrights. “…[W]hat I discovered, as I read and saw works by Alice Childress, Adrienne Kennedy, and Ntozake Shange, then Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage, and, most recently, Dominique Morisseau, was that there was, and is, a broader perspective out there, one in which “the man” wasn’t the entire issue: being was. Those women playwrights of color made the recognizable unrecognizable—which is to say, they made it art.”

Yes, the field of theater criticism should be more inclusive. But this may or may not solve some of the problems explored in this essay. I doubt it will do much to address a practice I’ve noticed (and noted) before in essays I’ve read in HowlRound: People in the theater community glibly blame critics for problems for which we are not primarily responsible.

One problem that I rarely see written about is how much power theatergoers and the theater community – including the 24 signatories of this essay – give to the critics at the Times, as if it’s the way the world is and will always be, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. There are many other critical voices RIGHT NOW, and the world is changing so that there is more opportunity to hear them – if only people like the ones who signed this essay were willing to listen.

Hello, Jonathan. Yep, I'm the one critic signatory of this essay. Yes there were drafts that included more in-depth references to critical responses to plays in general and these plays specifically beyond the reviews cited. and the piece was pared for word count and argument nuance. The essay was this for me: inspired by events of the recent Broadway and Off-Broadway (if we include the Als comments on the recent Sweet Charity revival), a group of feminist theater people decided to put some thoughts down about the male critical gaze. The call for additional voices and perspectives throughout the piece and in its conclusion, in my eyes, asks for world of critical voices to include a broad range of perspectives. Yes, not all possible dimensions of the arguments are made here. And yes, it's kinda amazing that these same points still need to be made in 2017.

And yes, I'm listening to the wide array of critical voices writing and speaking about theater today. I'm part of it, I celebrate it, i write about them.

One of our signatories, Jill Dolan, published "The Feminist Spectator as Critic" in 1991, and won the 2011 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for her online criticism as "The Feminist Spectator."

We are listening. And we are reading. And we had these things to say about commentary over the past season.

You should know, Martha, that I admire your personal and professional efforts to give voice to a wide range of perspectives. And I'm sure there were compromises that had to be made when 24 people decide to produce something collectively (although nobody was forcing you to create such a product.) I also am on board with roughly half of this essay -- the part that has nothing to do with critics + the Jack Viertel attack on Laura Collins-Hughes (I was flabbergasted by his wholly inappropriate attack, and I too noticed that he didn't attack Jesse Green for saying much the same thing.)
However, my comment was in response to what the essay says, not what it could have said or should have said, or what some people I know who signed it have said in the past.
Overall, the essay seems to me clearly predicated on the unstated but ever-present belief that the NY Times = ALL THAT MATTERS.
For anybody who was not involved in the production of this collective essay, the points it makes about critics seem pretty clear and condemnatory, if sometimes only insinuated:
1. Brantley and Green (and we'll throw in Rothstein) gave less than rave reviews to "Sweat" and/or "Indecent" BECAUSE these critics are men, and the playwrights (and directors) of these shows are female. (Was it because they were white too?)
2. These reviews are among the many "biased reviews" (presumably by male critics) "of productions by women and playmakers of color this season"
3. And these plays are having short runs "in large part because they were doomed by the male critical establishment."

The essay simply hasn't made a persuasive case that any of this is true. For example, at least two women reviewers made the same points that the male reviewers did about the shows in question. Yes, Brantley's mixed review may well have been a factor in keeping audiences away -- one factor, but "doomed" "in large part" by "the male critical establishment"?! Consider the counterargument: Many people have pointed out it was because of the rave reviews by the New York Times of these two plays when they were Off-Broadway that they transferred to Broadway in the first place -- rave reviews by Charles Isherwood, no longer at the Times, but then and still now a white male critic.

Thank you very, very much JLMandell for your detailed, well-thought out comments regarding how flawed this article is. A couple of additional thoughts:

1) I was surprised that there was no mention made of the recent controvery involving the Chicago Sun-Times's Hedy Weiss (a prominent female critic). Could it be because so many of the people who were reaming her were women, and one of her primary defenders, the Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones, is a prominent white male critic?

There is a vast body of research on contemporary bias. One of the many consistent findings: most women harbor implicit bias against women. We all came up in the same (sexist) culture. We all are at risk for imbibing negative stereotypes about women and our potential.

Interesting and, I suppose, not surprising, though certainly frustrating..
You seem to be bringing this up in response to my mention that some women reviewers had the same criticism that the male reviewers of the NY Times had about these individual shows. But I don't see any evidence that either the female or male reviewers came to the conclusions they did because they hold a bias against women playwrights and directors.
An effective way to prove this, it seems to me, would be to drill down to the body of an individual reviewer's work and identify a pattern.

I suggest you educate yourself on the research and learn more about how contemporary bias functions. You will then learn to recognize its symptoms.

This piece clearly states that not all negative reviews of women's work is sexist in nature. It's a convenient straw man because that is a much easier opinion to argue down, but it is not the opinion of the authors. I suggest you re-read the piece.

I think, Joy, that you've responded too quickly to too many of the comments here all at once, without civility. Your comments are even less persuasive than the collective essay, because the signatories simply do not back up their accusations with evidence. You go further and, not only don't cite a single source or a single fact, but patronizingly accuse somebody who has a different view as ignorant. I suggest YOU read my initial comments.

I don't know what to tell you. Many people in this thread are denying the reality of systemic and implicit bias. It is as ignorant a claim as those who deny the reality of climate change. You should read BLINDSPOT and EVERYDAY BIAS. The facts are there, if you choose to see them.

My comments -- if you read them carefully, or at all -- are only about the essay above this comments section. I don't deny the existence of bias in the world. Your bias, for example, is certainly clear.
Not one of your many comments in this comments section -- I count 23! -- get into the specifics of the essay we're supposedly discussing. What specifically about the reviews by Brantley and Green (aka "the East Coast male critical establishment") of "Sweat" and "Indecent" are "blatantly prejudicial," as the essay claims?
And how does one prove these two critics exhibit the effects of "implicit" or "systematic" or any kind of bias against women in these specific reviews if 1. Women critics made the same criticisms, and 2. These two male critics don't make the same criticisms of all the plays they review written by female playwrights? If your answer is anything close to "read the extensive literature on bias and educate yourself to why this is so" -- if, in other words, for the 24th time, you fail to provide specifics -- then I'll feel free to label your line of attack Orwellian.

I sent you the proof that the IAT does not work, and you are still promoting IB? Blind spot is based in the IAT. Every day bias is based on nothing. What facts are you referring to?

I'm going to leave this here for other readers and I won't bother you again. The implicit bias test is totally unreliable. Even one its creators states in this article that it is unreliable. There is no proof that implicit bias influences action. There is scientific proof that implicit bias does not affect actions. Again, one of the creators of the test admits there is a "very weak" connection between bias and behavior. The guy who created the test says this in this article:


This isn't akin to climate denial. This would be akin to Steven Hawking publicly stating he was wrong about Hawking radiation and people purposefully ignoring him for political reasons.

You're like a bot. Stop referencing abstract supposed trends or other tomes us suckers need to read before we can understand anything, and engage with the argument before us. Mandell deftly leaves this article a pile of smoking rubble. And you keep repeating "but you don't understand".

Do you think these critics are bigots?

Do you think it is ever acceptable to judge someone based on race and gender?

Because you have. The "male gaze" is not a provable phenomenon. It's barely a coherent critical position. It's a postmodern ghost. It's SEXIST, Martha.

Why is it morally acceptable to judge men on their gender, Martha?

I'm sorry, but I have to point out a fact that has been completely ignored during this entire, multi-year discussion: A statistical difference does NOT indicate differential treatment. Correlation does not equal causation. These are basic principles of social sciences. The fact that POC and female playwrights are produced far less is NOT proof of systemic sexism and racism. No scientist or statistician would argue this without performing an experiment.

And we have performed the experiment. There has been a massive, multi-season push for female playwrights. Submission procedures, administrative positions, festival guidelines, season programming...we have actually altered many, many, many experimental factors and seen no change. Perhaps our hypothesis that sexism is the culprit is wrong.

I'm speaking as a social scientist. We gathered the data and *then* latched onto a hypothesis and performed massive changes that have not produced results. Do we form another hypothesis or do we keep performing the same experiment?

I have another hypothesis: Culturally, women are expected to sacrifice career for family and men are expected to sacrifice family for career. That's why men outearn women and are VPs. These are cultural norms we should be discussing instead of labelling critics who happen to dislike certain plays as sexist and telling women they are oppressed and discriminated against on a systematic basis. Women and men could benefit from challenging these norms.

Great article, about great plays! Indecent, just reading the script, gave me chills.

This is a great article. One point of fact checking, however: the American Theatre Critics Association adjudicates the Francesca Primus Prize for emerging women playwrights. (I have served on the committee the past two years. The latest recipient is Lauren Yee for her play "in a word.") The Osborn and Steinberg Awards are adjudicated by a separate committee ot ATCA members and are open to all for consideration, regardless of gender.


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