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Becoming a White Man in the Theatre

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When bodies gather as they do to express their indignation and to enact their plural existence in public space, they are also making broader demands; they are demanding to be recognized, to be valued, they are exercising a right to appear, to exercise freedom, and they are demanding a livable life. —Judith Butler, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly

We published an article recently by a group of distinguished women—theatre practitioners and scholars—about the inherent bias in criticism in the American Theatre that is primarily written by white men. The article was not a personal attack on any single individual, despite being accused as such. It states quite clearly, in quoting Paula Vogel, one of the playwrights referenced in the piece: “The complaint is not personal, in other words: it is structural. Individual critics are ‘not the enemy.’” The article then implores, “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.”

I contend that when we dare to point out structural bias and dare to question the professional establishment, we are performing acts of consciousness.

As someone who was part of the conversation to publish the piece, I frankly didn’t think this was such a radical provocation. First, we know that the field of criticism is dominated by white men. This is especially true of the first-line theatre critics in many cities and of course in New York. Also, the idea that structural bias exists is hardly new. In fact, we have an entire country struggling with this issue right now. Further, that there is a thing called “patriarchy” didn’t seem that radical to me either. 252 comments later, I see it was. Many white male commentators responded defensively to the article. Then Chris Jones, a leading Chicago theatre critic responded to the HowlRound post in The Chicago Tribune further contemplating the pitfalls of the democratization of the arts, asking ultimately how he and other gatekeepers will get paid if everyone can have an opinion about what is “good”:

Alas, this new radical democratization threatens critics, just as it does well-paid artistic directors, executive directors, curators and all kinds of other gatekeeper types in the cultural universe, which explains why some say we/they react defensively…to any grass-roots rebellion.

For Jones and others, it’s interesting that democratization feels like a form of rebellion rather than a way of being inclusive. I contend that when we dare to point out structural bias and dare to question the professional establishment, we are performing acts of consciousness. When we choose to refer to acts of consciousness as acts of rebellion, the demand for democratization gets too easily reduced to personal attacks that can be dismissed as lacking empathy. The demand for democratization isn’t rebellious, but rather, our responsibility as citizens—to push our field to be more representative of the America we live in. The “gatekeeper types” have represented a small and exclusive part of our democracy and we must be challenged, and we don’t have to react defensively. Rather, we might have to feel the precariousness that women and trans people and people of color know so very well.

a protest sign
Photo by Olga Berrios.

Structural Bias
I could write a dissertation on what is problematic about a defensive response to a group a woman suggesting patriarchy and structural bias exist and asserting that bias keeps women from being more successful in our field. Do I really have to prove this?

This has been an inexplicable year of seeing the world in a completely different way as I have gone through a gender transition. I joined a club. I became a white man, and as I like to jokingly say, I picked a really complicated time to become me—but despite popular opinion, trans wasn’t a choice for me. By becoming myself, I entered a world of privilege I knew nothing about, a world I had heard about for sure but one I could have never imagined. Don’t get me wrong, being a trans guy is super complex and filled with a million discriminations—just try navigating the healthcare system for example. And I have news for you, the American theatre is really transphobic. Landmines of micro-aggressions blow up in every direction, even from open-minded, socially conscious individuals. I have been stunned at the level of discrimination I have faced trying to transition, but I’ll leave that for another HowlRound article.

Back to the club. In about March or maybe it was April, I crossed some threshold. One day I was ambiguous to the world, sometimes “he” and sometimes “she”… and then one day I was a man. What happened? What is that thin line that makes clarity for us between “he” and “she”? To answer this question, I will write a book one day.

But once I started to walk through the world as a white man, everything changed in my day-to-day reality. Now, those who encounter me for the first time don’t know I’m trans. Guess what? This white man’s world is a world of incredible daily privileges. It’s a world that I would describe as the opposite of one filled with micro-aggressions; a world where things just get handed to you without even asking. The first weekend I was in New York as a man, I had people waiting on me at the hotel in a way I had never experienced before. A waiter forgot to bring my orange juice and gave me free breakfast the rest of the week. I went into a store to buy a suit jacket the following week in Boston and had several male employees try to help me. (I have a long history of buying men’s clothes before the transition and good luck getting anyone to look at you!) When I went to pay, the clerk asked me if the jacket was on sale and I said no, he let me know that it would likely go on sale so he would just give me half off. Other white men treat me in an entirely different way. It’s a strange kind of warmth, a lot of “hey buddy, how’s it going?” And then there is riding around in a Lyft. I’ve had this bad knee so I’ve been in a lot of Lyft’s lately. Who knew men talk a lot? They talk a lot to other men I guess. They sometimes talk about women in ways that make me cringe, they talk about sports, and cars and politics, and culture, but in general I notice getting around is more relaxing, less threatening. It’s just easy to get from here to there in a way it never was before. It’s so many small privileges that you would never notice them unless you never had them before. This is called structural bias, and if you’ve benefitted from it you are unlikely to know it because it’s not a privilege you’ve personally asked for, it’s just been handed to you as you move around the world.

Another thing I notice as a guy: men, and not just white men, use their privilege all the time in the theatre. Somehow I can see this so much more clearly when I’m not the victim of it. They constantly interrupt women. They generally think their point of view is more informed and they never hesitate to jump in and speak up and let you know this. And white men specifically have no idea the ways in which navigating the world of work in the theatre is just easier for them. They don’t think they should experience obstacles and seemed shocked when things that happen to women and people of color all the time, happen to them. The men I’ve seen behave this way aren’t individually bad people, they take advantage of the privilege that has been handed to them but too often they do so unaware, and then as Chris Jones points out, get defensive when they are called on it. And by the way, in this universe is it any surprise that white men would step in to lead the way as arbiters of art (as critics and artistic directors)? They so fully trust their point of view—of course they would think it valid and informed and open-minded.

Finally, I can’t tell you how often I hear women artists talked about by both men and women in the theatre as “tricky” or “difficult” when they behave in exactly the way a male artist might behave who is given a pass for his “trickiness.” I think the world was shocked to see Paula Vogel and Lynn Nottage call out structural bias—being “difficult” in a way that women just aren’t allowed to be. This field is filled with misogyny. I couldn’t see this as clearly until I stopped sitting in its way.

Democratization isn’t the death of excellence and professionalism and expertise, it is the evolution of it. It is the beginning of new ways for us to live and experience culture together and to advance the medium we love to new heights.

I see the current mess we’re in—this radical moment where we no longer accept certain truths about art as conveyed to us by the gatekeepers—as an opportunity to lead the way toward a new America. The arts can actually push us forward here because imagination is one of the things we will need to create a new reality in our institutions (artistic and critical) that serves as an invitation to our radically diverse communities. Theatre belongs to us all, women and trans people and people of color all belong on Broadway, and we should all get to participate in the economic reality that has been the sole property of white men for too long. Democratization isn’t the death of excellence and professionalism and expertise, it is the evolution of it. It is the beginning of new ways for us to live and experience culture together and to advance the medium we love to new heights.

For this shift to occur, those bemoaning inclusion as a potential threat and loss have to gain a new level of self-awareness about how they have benefitted from and wielded their privilege. In the ways that those of us denied privilege for so long have had to adapt to untenable circumstances, well, white guys we might have to stop interrupting all the time and listen and feel uncomfortable.

The Conversation
As the director of HowlRound, I can speak for all of us here, that we exist to engage the most difficult conversations of our field. We have been here for six years and we have tried to honestly represent the diverse voices of our community and to make space for communities that have not had space, who have not been listened to in our field. Since the election of Donald Trump, the discourse that can only be labeled a discourse of white supremacy, where bias is a figment of the imagination, has increased dramatically on our website. At the same time, we recognize that some very important conversations about power and language and culture are happening as well. We want to be a place for that dialogue to take us to a more nuanced place in our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to one another. But it is our job at HowlRound to distinguish between difficult dialogue that happens in good faith and baiting exchanges meant to diminish one another. To that end we remind you of our comments policy and we welcome you into a conversation that can bring us closer together as a field of theatre practitioners with an ethical and moral obligation to strengthen our democracy and our artistic practice.

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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

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We all must continually challenge our societal upbringing. These patterns get established in microcosm as young as three years old!

If white men are too biased to review women, wouldn't women be too biased to review men? Can white people review black people and vice versa? I'm saddened by this train of thought. Are we going to examine every review for bias going forward? Because by the logic presented here we could only avoid bias by letting identity be the deciding factor of who reviews whom.

Everyone is guilty until proven innocent?

I'm at a loss for words. So good luck.

Thank you for these essential insights. We all need to continue to work harder on our sharing and inclusion priorities. The guilt that coats privilege can be paralyzing. I look forward to HowlRound each day.

I'm traveling in Europe, and thus has no way to weigh in at length on individual comments, so I will just globally beg -- sincerely beg -- all the white men commenting here at length to stop taking up so much public digital space and just listen for a while instead. If you want to discuss the piece with another white man, feel free to email me privately. I'm not hard to find on the internet.

No. You cannot decide who can speak based on identity. Who taught you this was acceptable? This will drive us apart. How dare you judge people this way?

We know where this will go. It will not improve anything. It hasn't so far. This will spiral out of control and freeze free expression. People will be ruined and there will be a climate of fear. There already is.

You are actively encouraging racial division and tribalism. This will end tragically.

I'm not making any decisions for anyone. I'm simply making a suggestion that my fellow cisgender white men listen, for quite a while, before weighing in. We are terrible at that, and it's important for us to get better at it.

No one needs to be afraid. We do all need to be respectful. There's a big difference.

And I'm doing nothing of the sort with regard to racial division or tribalism.

You are suggesting that a racial group be silent. Do you think they all think the same way? Do you think all people of color are automatically correct and also think the same? Where is the individual, the concept we used to fight for, in this scheme? You are literally dividing people into classes by race. Do you see people as people or just part of groups you can suggest shut up en masse?

I've listened to this conversation for years now. It's racist. It's authoritarian. You claim to want democracy of opinion? We can not have democracy if we're not individuals. We are not individuals if we are judged by race. This applies to everyone.

I'm saying, yes, that generally speaking, in conversations like this one, we cisgender white men tend to talk a lot and listen too little. I think we need to be aware of that tendency. Nothing in that is controversial. In fact, the comments on this post alone are clear proof.

Are there individual exceptions? Of course. But I think it would be foolish and detrimental to avoid pointing out the larger trend to preserve the impulses of those few careful, thoughtful contributors to the conversation.

I'm not dividing people by anything. I'm noting a well-documented tendency. (In a group of which I'm a member, no less, which makes me a bit of an expert.)

Of course I see people as people. I also, however, see them as members of identity groups. They aren't one OR the other. They are both. I am both.

Why are you so concerned about your individuality? I'm treating you, in this conversation, as an individual. I'm hearing you and conversing with you. Specifically you.

I'm not interested in silencing dissent. The men who are shouting loudly throughout this comment stream are the silencers. The dissent is coming from the author of this profound piece of writing; that's expressly why I want us all to listen to it, and not drown it out. To ponder and reflect, rather than argue, knee-jerk-style. This piece dissents from centuries (millennia?) of toxic masculinity and unhealthy patriarchy. That's a damn difficult thing to do, and I admire it.

Should anyone have concerns about the essay...I would genuinely be interested in hearing them. But when comments are phrased as angry, entitled, condescending philosophizing, full of the same few messages repeated ad nauseam, that looks like bullying to me: again, an attempt to silence dissent, not dissent itself. And that's not worth anyone's time and attention.

Wouldn't you rather have a civil conversation, too?

You think comments are bullying? I think signing your name to a letter accusing individuals of bias is fairly bullying.

I will not judge people in identity. Not any identity, not in any way. I will not participate in a conversation which does judge everyone by identity without proclaiming it to be wrong.

I am not part of any identity group. I do not fit into any of the categories and I am not part of any of these trends. I am an individual.

All of the people I've worked with, from every possible walk of life, none of them would want to be judged this way.

I will not judge people this way. I'm being polite about it. I will not do it.

I think bullying comments are bullying.

I think we are all biased, whether we like it or not. I think you could no more "accuse" someone of being biased than you could accuse them of being human. "Accuse" is the wrong word.

I'm biased. You're biased. The man who wrote this article is biased. So are all the commenters. And so are the playwrights who wrote the original piece. And yes, so are the critics in question. Objectivity, it seems to me, is deeply difficult to attain. Scientists approximate it, through years of research and the careful application of peer review and double-blind studies. They check each other's work, and they control for variables, and through that effort they minimize the effect of those biases. That's all anyone is asking for here, really. Additional critical cross-checking. New peers to do peer review. Better science.

We are all individuals, as you say. We are all doing the best we can. But we've got imperfect brains; that's what evolution has given us, and we have to overcome the shortcomings of our thinking equipment. One of those shortcomings is bias, which works differently in each of us, with our own unique circumstances...but which also displays demonstrable trends among the members of different genders and races and sexual orientations and body types. It's not really arguable. It's just true.

You seem to really hate the thought of losing your individuality. Well, I do, too. I think we all do; you're right when you say that. Especially in a day and age of massive bureaucracy, when the world wants to reduce us to Social Security numbers and private data and cogs in capitalist machines. It's horrifying. So I honor the impulse to be free of all of that. To be an "I," rather than a "we." I even share it.

But at the same time, we have to be a "we," too. The planet-wide and nation-wide crises we are facing demand that. These are problems that won't be solved through individual thinking and acting alone; they also require a community perspective and global action as well. And they mean that we have to see ourselves in groups, too, for better and for worse. We can't just have it one way. We have to have it both ways. Or we will die.

Thanks for the conversation.

You in no way, in no possible way can know what's in my heart. You cannot say I'm biased. How can you?

I was raised by people who were students during the 60s. I raised not to judge people by race. It has been with me since I was a child. To be racist was considered unforgivable.

I was taught not to be biased. You were taught that we are automatically biased. You seem to think it's scientific fact. That topic is certainly not settled, but even if we are...what about virtue? Why are we born biased but not born with empathy?

I have worked with people from every walk of life. Judging them on anything other than their actions is totally unreliable and something that has been fought by our predecessors...forever.

I cannot stress the damage you are doing. Older people like me are shocked by this regression. This is open racism.

Yes, I am terrified of losing my individuality. You are a collectivist. You want to try again a philosophy that has failed in my lifetime over and over again. It has never worked.

No. I am not part of a group. You keep saying I am. I'm not.

You cannot see what's in my heart based on my skin.

Good luck.

I hear you and (I hope you believe this) honor where you come from.

I'm not saying there's anything intentionally cruel or prejudiced or racist in your heart. I'm saying that it's a settled scientific matter that in all of us there are different degrees of bias, whether we like it or not. We may, like you, work hard to overcome that fact. We may have been fortunate to have had parents who taught us to treat people equitably. (My beloved hippie parents did that for me.) But we know a lot more than we did back then. Bias is deep and subtle.

We are also, just as demonstrably, born with empathy in varying degrees. Not all of us are raised by families that help us nourish that part of our being, but it's there. And it's a big part of how we can overcome our biases.

I'm trying, in fact, to empathize with you. Might you do the same with me?

I can empathize. But you are saying bias is a scientific, universal fact of life? To be human is to be biased? Do you mean in or out group preference? How can you claim bias is a proven fact and exists in all humans? In everyone? You cannot prove that. I'm familiar with the science of implicit bias and it is a bitterly debated idea. It is far from a fact. I don't think it can be proven.

I didn't work hard at all to overcome bias. I was told not to judge people based on race and especially sexuality. My parents and teachers told me. That was it.

You've been taught something else entirely.

I offer you empathy. But I will not take this plunge.

Well, it seems as if we read the scientific evidence differently.

I was taught the very same things you were taught. By my parents (who were both teachers themselves) and by the very best teachers I had, too. But I've learned other things, too, since I was a young person, and I hope to keep learning, too. To that end, thanks for sharing your perspective. I'm glad for it.

I'm not sure I've seen any empathy from you, though. Empathy would feel more like understanding and less like judgment. Then again, tone is hard to read on the internet, so I may be mistaken.

Friend, I haven't read *all* the science and we can send each other studies for the next two hours. At some point we will have to conclude that we're both acting on faith. I have faith in the ideas which led me to work with the people I love, who don't suspect and accuse everyone of being bigots at heart and took the real, real plunge 60 years ago.

I apologize if my tone is harsh. I detest these ideas, I admit it. But I do have empathy; I can tell you do care.

And I'm still learning. But at some point you can see a bad idea once discarded rearing its head and not have to relearn the piano. Nationalism is a terrible idea and I really don't need to read all that shit from those people to spot it.

I will leave you with this. If I disagree with proponents of identity politics, they will think I'm evil. They will call me evil. In writing. In print.

I don't think they're evil. I just think they're wrong.

Thank you for that.

I will leave you with this in turn: I, too, detest nationalism. I'm a humanist myself -- a secular one, for that matter -- and I think nations are dangerous fictions we continue to believe in at our peril. But we all share the same planet, so we have to be a collective if only in that we are all inextricably connected. And I think that's beautiful.

I think we would all do well to remember than EVERY human being, regardless of race, gender, orientation, gender ID, etc. has biases and prejudices.

Start from a place of humility before making assumptions about someone's motives or views.

I really appreciate this article and the perspective that you give. As a young theatre artist, I am starting realize the advantages and disadvantages that I have as a white woman and it is articles like this that are helping me make sense of it all.

Stop yelling at me. If I'm too much a dullard for a philosopher king such as yourself to converse with then by all means, stop talking to me and return to Olympus.

When people looked at orchestra hiring and saw that women did not get hired as often as men, some inferred that there was bias against women.

And they were correct.

Now it wasn't 100% proven. But the likelihood of bias was inferred, and when blind auditions occurred they were proven correct.

As you yourself admitted.

Now it is possible that blind auditions could have shown there was no bias. If even under anonymous conditions the performances of women were considered inadequate, it would indicate that women are just not as good at playing musical instruments as men.

But that's not what happened. People inferred bias, based on both the hiring practices of orchestras and no doubt what they knew about the general status of women in the society in general.

And their inference was correct. Because you can infer from statistics. It's of course important to demonstrate corroborating evidence, but picking up the scent of bias happens often enough in statistics.

Which people such as yourself who want to stop all discussion of bias don't want to hear about.

To my fellow liberals and even the rare conservatives in this community: I know you are scared to speak out against this madness. I know you're out there. Now is the time. This has gone way too far. We must commit once again to not judging ANYONE based on things they cannot control.

We are watching the left embrace race realism. We are accusing people by name of harboring secret, invisible sins. We are saying we can see into your unconscious and find you evil based on race. We are renouncing the principles of the civil rights movement.

We are witnessing students calling for segregation and academics accusing people of thought crime. We are watching the rise of censorship and open contempt for free speech and have begun the purging of artists and critics. Donald Trump isn't doing this. We are.

We've become the bigots.

All I'm pleading for is for us to look at what we're doing and where we are headed.

Edit: And I'm banned from Howlround.

Yes. Even as someone who supports pluralism, diversity, and equal opportunity for all...I'm a little tired of some of this.

I find it really tiresome when the people doing the most lecturing about race are white people.

As a white person, the last person I want to have lecture me about how progressive I am on issues of race is another white person. Newsflash: You're privileged too!

Most people, in most times, have viewed becoming privileged—or acquiring privilege—as unquestionably a good thing. Even the ex-slave in antiquity was happy to own slaves (a transition significantly less feasible in the American South where black slave owners had a negligible presence). Marx might say: A universal norm has been discredited. But ingrained behaviors and attitudes—belief in the rightness of air conditioning—are hard to change. Will anything short of Mother Nature's looming catastrophe have an effect? (Newsflash: Even theater itself was built on the privilege it serves to reinforce—an irony which I am sure is not lost on its practitioners.)

More evidence of bias: "Sixty-seven percent of the audiences were female" according to the Broadway League report of 2015-2016.


And yet we find:

Nearly Two-Thirds of Theater Productions Written by White Male Playwrights

And we find

There’s no denying that theater criticism is a white man’s game. Case in point: the theater website Playbill catalogs the reviews for every Broadway show when it opens. Of the 16 critics who reviewed the new musical Bandstand when it opened last night, only three were women.


And it's bad for women directors and for actors too.

There is more than enough good work available from women to make parity with men. Those who argue that there's a danger of quality dropping if men don't automatically get the lions share of everything clearly believe that men are just inherent better at all theater arts than women.

In other words, raging sexism.

You have to address the argument instead of endlessly parroting "correlation does not mean causation" as if nobody here has ever heard the phrase before.

It's not about correlation. It's about logic. Women make up 2/3 of the audience and yet their lives are not reflected on stage as much as the lives of men.

But we know that women will buy tickets for plays about women because women playwrights are more likely to write about female characters, and we know that plays by women make more money than plays by men.

And since we know that producers like to make money, why would they fail to give their audience more of what the audience wants?

I would suggest the answer is prestige. Theater producers believe that plays by male playwrights are more prestigious than plays by female playwrights. And having a succès d'estime is more important to them than the bottom line.

But that is admittedly speculation.

But what we do know is that producers are resistant to plays by and about women even though the audience is a clear majority women. There has to be some reason why theater producers are seemingly acting against their own financial interest. And since we know that bias against women in the arts exists this seems very likely the reason here.

We don't know the exact reason for why theater producers consistently produce work that is less likely to meet the interests of their audience, but we do know that this is a fact.

And they do it even though it is against their financial interests.

The most likely explanation is bias against women. And even you haven't automatically ruled it out, saying I could be right about prestige.

So you agree that there is something there that is causing producers to act against their own financial self-interest.

You just refuse to come up with an alternative to institutional bias against women.

We know that bias against women has existed in the arts, because of the blind auditions policy instituted by orchestras.

But of course you are aware of the blind auditions policy issue, right?

No, I will look it up.

Yes, you could be right. All I'm saying is you cannot look at statistical differences and infer anything other than that there is a difference. Which is what you've been doing.

Again, you could be right. Are you comfortable declaring the system is sexist on an assumption? Knowing that we KNOW the different ways we work affect our careers?

Sure it does. Women make up 51% of the population but their work in the theater is produced 30% of the time. In spite of the fact that women make up 60% of the audience and women, like all people, prefer art they can relate to, and which reflects themselves in some way.

And we know that women write plays about women more than men do.

So logically theaters should produce a higher percentage of plays by women than by men, for the sake of audience preference.

And for the sake of making more money.

It's clear that producers are operating against their own financial self-interest. The question is, why?

The most likely explanation is institutional bias.

But I'd be curious to see what alternative explanation the no-bias people come up with. I don't believe they've ever tried.

How do we know when a negative (or lukewarm) review constitutes bias?

Is a male reviewer inherently biased for giving a female playwright a negative review? If not, how do we know when they are?

Is a reviewer of one race demonstrating bias/prejudice if they negatively review a play by a writer of different race?

I think this is a question that needs to be discussed.

The new breed of progressives give a lot of lip service to 'dialogue', but it's not true, it's not reality.
They want dialogue only if you see things their way

Wow, I'm throwing away my Leftie card.
Sorry but liberals and the Left are getting way out of hand. They don't see their own hypocrisy. It's brainwashing, and a witchhunt, not to mention a lot of privileged whining.
What makes you think a female critic or person of color would know any better what is 'good'?
What makes you think all women, all people of color,gay, trans,etc. think exactly alike. Would say or give the same criticism?
I can tell you for sure, they don't....all think alike, or agree on everything.
That's the problem with groups, or those that form groups, they think they are the ones to set the rules, standards, and all peoples of this group will think the same.
Talk about '1984'
Looks like you're determining,and setting your own rules as to what is 'good'.
Wow, as a male, I've never experienced all those male privileges you had in NY.
This is all getting out of hand, and you're giving the 'Right' valid examples of how extreme liberals and the Left are.
Nowadays, I can't always disagree with the Right, when it comes to things like this.
An Artistic Director of a theater company in Seattle was forced to resign because the theater company dubbed his audition notice to be racist in describing the characters as stereotypes. I read the notice, the Seattle theater community was full of it.
But they had the nerve to say we don't accept cliche stereotypes.
Who the hell are they? Again,'1984'.
The Chicago theater community had tantrums from a critics review of a play, saying the critic was racist.
Maybe the critic is racist in real life, but the one paragraph in her review that was pointed out as being racist, was not.
It made a valid point.
It was laughable when the Chicago theater community said they just want 'dialogue' with the critic.
Bullshit! The critic isn't stupid. It wouldn't have been a dialogue, it would've been them attacking, making, forcing the critic to see their side, not really listening to the other side.
It would've been a lynch mob.That's what I'm seeing a lot today with social media. I'm seeing a lot of social media lynch mobs.
The public has discovered they have power that way.
Unfortunately, too many abuse power.
The progressive community are acting like babies. Extremely immature.
They are taking away free speech in many ways, unless it abides by their standards.
The hypocrisy is astounding. Progressives saying how wrong it was for the Right to protest the Public theaters production of Julius Caesar, yet it's all right for them to shut down a critic they don't like. I've never seen such hypocrisy.
I'm seeing what's happening in today's America , or blaming it on the newer generation. I guess it's not really their fault. It's the lack of education, the lack of critical thinking. I don't see many today using critical thinking.
Everyone seems to have blinders on, whatever side you're on, that's the only way you will see things.
No listening to the other side.
I never supported anything that was rightwing.
But now, there's getting to be less and less I'm supporting from liberals and the Left.
I've always fought against sexism, racism,homophobia,etc. .
But now it's like the boy who cried wolf.
Anything anyone says or does is now racist, sexist, homophobic,etc.
I've always been for open casting, I always look at acting ability, nothing else, I don't care if someone is Hispanic, Asian, trans,etc..
But there's no more acting anymore,now if it's a role of a trans, a trans actor has to play it. If it's a blind character, it has to be a blind actor.
Where does the acting come into it?
I guess if a character is a drug addict or alcoholic, I'd have to cast an alcoholic or drug addict.
I mean how would the average actor know what it's like to be an alcoholic?
How in the world would an actor know what it was like to be gay,trans?
So much for all that actor training of delving into a characters life.
I throw in the towel with you guys

I agree with you. Read Howard Barker's "Arguments for a Theatre." It will make you feel better. I can't take it anymore either and I'm taking a few years off of theatre. I went to art school for my undergrad. My MA is in theatre. I am returning to painting and poetry for a while while this blows over. What we are seeing is a return to socialist realism in the form of "intersectional performance." The sad part of this is that they are making all theatre now to have "Brechtian messages." It's really quite sad and stultifying.

People are overreacting right now. And they're inviting safe space trigger warning culture into the theatre. It will be only a matter of time before this all collapses.

Thank you for your insightful discourse and analysis. This paragraph especially reminds me of why we are Theatre artists in the first place: " The demand for democratization isn’t rebellious, but rather, our responsibility as citizens—to push our field to be more representative of the America we live in.".

Thank you.

"Then Chris Jones, a leading Chicago theatre critic responded to the Howlround post in The Chicago Tribune..."

I read the Chicago Tribune article you link to back when it first came out, and I didn't get the impression he was responding to the Howlround piece (but rather to the petition to punish Hedy Weiss for her review and related matters)

So I read the article again now and I still don't see it. Am I missing something? Can you please provide evidence that he was responding to (or had even read) the Howlround article? (If not I respectfully suggest that you should retract or reword this sentence.)

(Note: When I read the Howlround piece there were only a couple of dozen comments I believe. I had no idea there are now 252!! Obviously if one of those comments was by Chris Jones then that would qualify as evidence that he read the piece and was responding to it. Did he?)

Chris' recent Tribune piece about cultural revolution: "And even as some in the Chicago theater rose up against one of the longest-serving female critics in America — not that many noted the irony — a group of academics also mounted a simultaneous protest against two male critics at the New York Times, Ben Brantley and the newly-hired Jesse Green, alleging that their reviews of several plays this Broadway season were "blatantly prejudicial" and calling for more women as critics." Thus in the Tribune, he responded to the Howlround post regarding Brantley and Green.

Beautifully written and I so much appreciate having this site to support and challenge my views as an artist. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and I look forward to reading many more fantastic articles on HowlRound!

Powerful and important article, Carl. HowlRound has proven itself as the most comprehensive and effective national space for essential and controversial discussions in the American theatre.

I would only suggest that democratization may not be the same thing as inclusion or representation. In a democracy everyone has a vote. The essential definition of democracy is that everyone's opinion is of equal value.

Certainly so-called standards of quality have always been the basis for the conservative argument against active inclusion. In the theatre, as opposed to the political process, I tend to reject inclusion as an operating necessity based only on an absolute need for democratization per se. Inclusion of diverse voices as critics and playwrights is necessary not just because it is more democratic. It is necessary become it makes all of our work better, deeper, richer, and a more truthful portrait of us. It is itself the path to increased and more comprehensive quality and their are plenty of high-powered voices to draw upon. HowlRound is itself proof of this.

Powerful and important article, Carl. HowlRound has proven itself as the most comprehensive and effective national space for essential and controversial discussions in the American theatre.

I would only suggest that democratization may not be the same thing as inclusion or representation. In a democracy everyone has a vote. The essential definition of democracy is that everyone's opinion is of equal value.

Certainly so-called standards of quality have always been the basis for the conservative argument against active inclusion. In the theatre, as opposed to the political process, I tend to reject inclusion as an operating necessity based only on an absolute need for democratization per se. Inclusion of diverse voices as critics and playwrights is necessary not just because it is more democratic. It is necessary become it makes all of our work better, deeper, richer, and a more truthful portrait of us. It is itself the path to increased and more comprehensive quality and their are plenty of high-powered voices to draw upon. HowlRound is itself proof of this.

Carl: Thank you for this. Your open, transparent, vulnerable examination of the effects of systemic oppression from a personal, interpersonal, organizational, and systemic lens are vital in raising awareness in all of us about the roles we play in these systems. People with positional power can use that for change on a personal level (which in turn becomes interpersonal, organizational, and systemic)... or they can us their position to maintain their power. Too often more writing of this type enters the conversation at the organizational or systemic level, meaning the authors bring their "organizational selves" and it is 1) obvious they don't understand how it effects them and they effect others 2) articles are full of dense language. Unconsciously, #2 is a way of maintaining positional power. Now I may be in a position of power that understands the language you use in this article--so maybe I have a blind spot? Like, truly--maybe I do. But as a long-time lover and supporter of HR and reader of your work, I found this piece personal, thoughtful, and accessible. In addition to being highly important. Thank you once more for sharing.

That piece absolutely singled out two critics by name. How can you deny this?

Implicit bias is not proven, far from it. It will never be admissible in court, for example. There is no correlation between supposed bias and behavior.http://www.chronicle.com/article/C...

Again, in the above article, one of the creators of the Implicit Association Test admits it is unreliable. You cannot see into someone's subconscious. You cannot do it.

You refuse to listen to what the world is begging us to do: Please, please, PLEASE stop judging everyone based on race, gender and sexuality. We are burning the left to the ground while refusing to stop smoking.

Your anecdotal experience is meaningful to you. That doesn't change the fact that ascribing any attribute or guilt to ANY demographic is reprehensible. And it hasn't made things better, has it? It is morally and ethically unacceptable to judge ANYONE this way, much less state that they harbor unconscious racism based on their race. That is madness. It's McCarthyism.

We cannot react to Donald Trump by sacrificing the principles of the Civil Rights Movement. He's not worth it and there's no going back.

P. Carl, I do not know you, but I would never, ever assume anything about you based on your race, gender or sexuality. And it would never occur to me to tell you that I can measure your inner life and that you might be a bigot based on my suspicions. We are talking about judging each other's subconscious minds. Do you do that? Would you judge someone's inner life based on their skin color? How could they defend themselves? How could we ever pass judgement?

Do you not see what we've done?

I'm sitting over here salivating at the thought of a week of free breakfasts—simply playing an awful lot of men on stage hasn't been enough to garner that kind of gift. Thank you for reporting from the other side to validate what we suspected. I'll just speak for myself, though I am sure others feel the same way—it is both heartbreaking to hear and a relief to discover I am, indeed, not imagining things. Every other field has figured out it's at least supposed to pay lip service to having a diverse work force. Theaters (here in the Bay Area at least) actively do seek out ways to present a wide range of types of performance that might represent a broad swath of our residents, and certainly lead by employing multi-ethnic casts—why on earth wouldn't we expect a multi-ethnic pool of critics as well? I can't imagine why this is even a conversation left to have. There are plenty of women, plenty of trans people, plenty of people of color out there who are plenty capable of interpreting performance and writing at the high level of yes, even the NYT. Seek them out and hire them. Shall we make a list for the "critic pipeline" like the Kilroys did for playwrights?

thank you, friend, very much. in chicago this week, coming out of a day of racial justice training within Sojourn Theatre's annal summer institute- looking forward to sharing this with 36 folks from around the country tomorrow...

Hi--While it's exciting to have more democracy in sources of criticism, I can't help but be concerned when everyone sets themselves up as a critic whether they're qualified or not. This is my reason: last year I was in a playwriting class with a prominent blogger who does theater reviews. She said she joined the class to learn more about drama. You would not believe how little she understood about drama. She totally misunderstood the plays we read and didn't even know the meaning of dramatic action. I was appalled that she is an influential critic. Seemingly, having an opinion and a website were her only qualifications.

So while we embrace democracy, let's not forget there is still a bar for informed criticism.

You do not have to accept the words of every critic as gospel truth. That she was in a class "to learn more about drama" only speaks well of this unnamed critic. Any reasonably intelligent adult can opine about a play without being a specialist. All to the good.

That already happens. Blog critics are everywhere and most people don't actually check their qualifications - they're a critic so it's just assumed they are qualified to evaluate. So really, that's going to continue to happen regardless for as long as someone can start a free website and write about stuff on it, haha! The question then is more about institutions of record, the trusted sources (Times, Tribune, Post, etc) and interrogating the perhaps unconscious biases and their sources, since they are, and are intended to be, the standard bearers for artistic criticism.

I can't follow the logic of your argument, but in any case don't share this disturbingly common belief in the rampaging biases of professional critics. I also suspect you're not aware of the primary way these "institutions of record" choose their theater critics. Take a look at the critics' backgrounds (read old interviews with them), and you'll see that most were initially selected because they write well -- and because the editor who promoted them sensed the right kind of sensibility for the job. Very few started out with anything close to a comprehensive knowledge of theater, certainly not a professional or academic grounding in it. They learned on the job -- as bloggers and other non-institutionalized critics do.

I think you dont follow the argument because I'm not making an argument. Amy made a comment about being "concerned when everyone sets themselves up as a critic whether they're qualified or not," based on P. Carl's article about democratization as evolution. I commented that this has been the case for a while, so thats not a new concern, nor is it something that isnt already navigated constantly. I guess you could say I'm arguing, then, that such a concern really doesnt have bearing on this current "democratization" circumstance we have found ourselves in, since thats already been our reality far before this current "evolution" situation has exploded?

I likewise struggle in following your point. So youre saying that since thats how its been done, it shouldnt be discussed? We shouldnt examine how systems can be improved and more in tune with the present day? We shouldnt try to constantly try to make things better?

I guess the line that threw me begins "The question then is more about institutions of record." The "then" indicates an argument -- or at least indicated one to me. Perhaps it was: We can't do anything about the proliferation of possibly unqualified blog critics, so "then" we should focus on the biases of professional critics. But as I said, I couldn't follow the logic.
I have two points I tend to make in these conversations in HowlRound about critics.
One is to point out that there are plenty of independent critical voices that already exist, but they're given short shrift in these discussions, even when the people holding the conversation are themselves independent theater makers. Many independent critics are just as qualified as those working for "institutions of record."
The second -- and main -- point is to call people on their glib and unsubstantiated attacks on professional critics for their supposed biases.
I think it's a tradition in the theater for theater makers to resent theater critics; it certainly goes back a long way. What feels new is turning critics into the symbols and examples of what's wrong with society -- enabling theater people to feel righteous about the antipathy they already felt towards the people employed to assess their work for the public.

Ok. Fair enough re: the phrasing.
There are indeed plenty of independent critical voices that already exist. But what percentage of those voices on average, particularly those who are not white men, find their way into positions - and positions of leadership - at those professional institutions? Because at the end of the day, the Tribune is a far greater influencer on both culture and market than Chicago Theatre Review, and that is not a disrespect to CTR, its a fact of scope.
As for glib and unsubstantiated attacks, which ones do you deem as glib and unsubstantiated? You are right about the tradition of course, but that is a different conversation than the one that is happening. This isnt about resenting a negative review. This is about accountability to things that have been said. Thats not turning anyone into a symbol, thats someone making a statement and that statement having impact. Plenty of examples have been given to contextualize the complaint - quotes in full context of the reviews in which they appeared. Disagreement doesnt mean the claims are unsubstantiated. At the end of the day, this whole conversation is a call to just look at ourselves more closely in the mirror, see some of the impacts - intended or not - of the work and the systems within which the work takes place, and see if we are really being accountable to our statements and actions and if not then to take steps to improve. And thats on artists too.

I like your last two sentences
So, I'm going to ask you to look more closely at yourself -- specifically, to look at the unexamined assumptions behind your reply to my first point. You clearly assume that the independent critical voices all WANT to make their way into "positions of leadership...at professional institutions." You also don't seem to see that, once they're at these institutions, they're no longer independent critical voices. You throw up phrases like "greater influencer on both culture and market" as if everybody buys into this as fact -- and as if these have a standard and agreed-upon definition -- and, in any case, as if this is the way (to parrot back what you said to me) this is the way it HAS to be.
As for your response to my second point: I call people on their glib and unsubstantiated attacks on professional critics. When I don't think the attacks are glib or unsubstantiated, I don't call people on them. (We haven't gotten into specifics, so you can hardly argue that it's always only my opinion that the attacks are unsubstantiated.)
I don't think it is a separate conversation at all to talk about theater makers antipathy towards critics. If you're going to accuse critics of having bias (even "implicit bias") that taints their reviews, why can't we examine whether there is "bias" behind theater makers recently heightened, ugly attacks on critics.
By the way, there is a bitter irony to these heightened attacks that I haven't seen too many people mention: The job of critic, as a way to make a living, is fast disappearing. I'm not being, um, dramatic here. There are literally fewer and fewer jobs as reviewers that pay a living wage. So this dying field is the one you choose to beat up for being a bastion of bigotry?

Ok, I'm game.
You say I clearly assume that those independent voices want to make their way into those positions. No, that is something you are inferring from my statement. But I didnt say that. You are presuming subtext. I could do the same thing by saying that you are then clearly assuming by this reply that those independent voices DONT want to make their way into those positions. But thats not what you said either. Instead, I feel confident saying that there exist in our community some critics who are not white cis males who do aspire to those positions. I will also say I feel confident that there have always been at least some who do, or would, aspire to those positions. And yet the track record at those institutions is one dominated by particular demographics. None of those statements assumes that "ALL WANT" anything.
I completely understand that once at these institutions they are no longer independent voices, but representatives of a larger organization with its own politics, both internal and external. What part of my reply tells you I dont understand that?
Are you arguing that critics don't influence culture and market? They arent trying to reach readers to inform them about and contextualize whats going on in our particular corner of the artistic universe? Or that they dont have an impact on ticket sales, particularly those critics at the established institutions? Its not a complicated definition. Critics put out their writing to an audience to read and absorb. That has impact. Otherwise, why do it?
Ok, then what parts are unsubstantiated, and what evidence can be provided to debunk the accusations? And are some critiques of some critics more substantiated than others? I will admit I do not know enough about the Brantley/Green track record. But Hedy Weiss, on the other hand, is another matter - as a Jew I have been personally offended by her comment, in and out of context (and yes I read the full review), about her comment that was personally directed at Tony Kushner in 2004. I dont argue that you are the only one of that opinion - again, never said anything of the sort. But no one who has been defending her has seemed eager to discuss the actual 14 year history of quotes that are not about the shows and rather about comparing body types of people on stage, larger societal advocacy of racial profiling, or one of the many other specific instances that have been documented and criticized by fellow critics as well. This is why it seems like a separate conversation - the antipathy-toward-critics has consistently been brought back to "you dont like getting bad reviews" - when, at least re: Hedy Weiss as far as my own knowledge goes, that isnt the conversation at all, its about 14 years of published problematic statements that should be discussed.
And just because something is disappearing, that means they should get a pass and they shouldnt be accountable to their published statements?

Also, for reference, here is an example of an extremely negative review that I think is handled brilliantly, by the incoming critic for New York Magazine. Its not about bad reviews. Its about accountability to specific statements that are problematic from the point of view of the cultures/identities targeted by those specific statements.

Well, I'll have to read this more carefully later (and maybe we should take our conversation off-line?)

But I just want to say now that I was not speaking nor thinking about Hedy Weiss. I'm from New York, not Chicago. And not only was I not speaking about her, but neither is P. Carl, whose essay we are supposedly commenting on, nor are the collective essayists to whom Carl refers in the first few paragraphs.

Sure, and I'm game.

I also just want to say that this essay makes specific reference to a Chris Jones article that is both about Hedy and the NY Times critics as it pertains to the "democratization" of the form, which was what Amy Crider was responding to, which was what prompted my first comment on this altogether. Its also worth noting that in reviewing my own comments, they are about interrogating the larger big picture conversation now happening given the multitude of issues that have burst forth right now re: critics, accountability, pattern and bias. As such they are not specific to Brantley/Green or Hedy, but rather larger big-picture questions that are now being, and must be, raised in the wake of a series of conflicts with established critics.

Unconscious bias can at most be suspected and there is no link to bias and behavior. http://www.chronicle.com/ar...

You cannot see into someone's subconscious mind. Please, please stop promoting this concept. Can you not see the consequences? We are ruthlessly embracing race realism. We are judging everyone on their race, gender and sexuality. Not only that, we are ascribing people unconscious bias *based* on their race, gender and sexuality.

It's indefensible. It should be automatically deemed unthinkable to the liberal, rational mind.

You are correct, one cannot see into someone's mind. But that doesnt mean that people are also not accountable to their actual statements. You mention that we are "judging everyone on their race, gender and sexuality." Thinking about one critic at the center of this controversy in particular, referring to a particular playwright's choices and behavior, naming the playwright personally (as was done in the review), as those of a "self-loathing Jew" (in any context) is judging someone based on identity (2004). Comparing the body types of performers for MAMMA MIA is judging someone based on body type and not performance quality (2017). Arguing to your readers that, when dealing with people of Middle Eastern descent and the threat of terrorism, "What practical alternative to profiling would you suggest?” (especially when saying this in context of the Boston Bombings, which she did in the review and which were not carried out by Middle Easterners who are the subject of the play itself), that is judging people on their race (2013). Making broad statements about black-on-black crime in our actual society (not within the action of the play) without referencing any of the context surrounding those statistics and the long standing debate around the validity of those statistics and ideas is judging people people based on their race (2017). These are a few actual things that have been said by a single person within their published writing.

I can see your argument about implicit bias. But what happens when one can point to a track record of actual statements? And at what point is one allowed to ask questions about that track record?

Sure. But that's also not the full picture. When a New York Times piece needs to be written like "Two Female Playwrights Arrive on Broadway: What Took So Long?” (https://www.nytimes.com/201..., shouldnt it at minimum prompt us to look at the possible reasons why certain trends and patterns have become more and more visible over time? Is it not worth examining the sources of imbalance? You are focusing on the unconscious bias aspect, but have not yet - at least in this comments section - engaged with why the conversation is happening in the first place, which is based on a pattern and track record that can be pointed to. As such, it comes off like you are attempting to invalidate the issue itself, which again is rooted in identifiable statements, patterns and impacts. You are correct, we can not read peoples minds and assume their intent. But impact > intent. If I hurt your feelings with something I say here, the fact that I didnt mean to hurt your feelings probably doesnt make the fact of my hurting your feelings any better. And its the impacts - and the reasons behind the impacts - that needs to be addressed and examined.

I in no way was trying to invalidate a discussion about the imbalance. I want us to disregard implicit bias as the reason for the imbalance, or at least get people to question the validity of the concept. The signatories of the initial missive had already decided it was due to implicit bias. They called critics biased by name publicly and suggested that were biased because of gender. I do not see how this furthered the discussion. And it's wrong. It is factually, scientifically, morally and ethically wrong.

They all signed proudly.

That is alarming.

We know the pattern of disparity, yes. I suggest a hypothesis based upon the earnings gap. We know men outearn women. Is it because of bias? Structural or implicit?

Men sacrifice family for career. Women sacrifice career for family. Men work longer hours. Women still do the majority of childcare. http://www.pewresearch.org/...

These are also trends we could look at, cultural expectations we should challenge. I don't see that happening. I see conversation after conversation after thinkpiece about implicit bias and structural racism. I hear how we're a White Supremacist Patriarchy, almost irredeemable, a fascist nation of overt and covert bigots. I see theatres changing staff, changing hiring, changing submission policy, festival guidelines, programming...to little or no effect.

We know women and men work differently. Sexism involved? Yes. Racism? I would think so. But we cannot quantify sexism and racism.

We could talk about changing the way women and men work right now.

Just a hypothesis.

First, ascribing the racist and sexist actions of individuals to implicit bias is the most generous analysis. Saying their prejudiced reviews are the product of implicit bias is to largely give them a pass as individuals because implicit bias is seen as widespread and inevitable. Should we work on our implicit bias? Definitely. Does having implicit bias make us bad people? Not at all. The alternative is to assume they are unrepentant, unabashed bigots.

Second, zooming out, women being given responsibility for unpaid labor at home (what you describe as "women and men work differently") is exactly what people mean when they talk about structural sexism. It is almost the perfect example. You have a system-wide bias that massively disadvantages women and that is so deeply ingrained in our culture and institutions that many people barely recognize that it exists. That is basically the definition of structural sexism: a bias that permeates the structure beyond any individual's actions.

Embracing democracy in no way means treating all utterances as equal—what it means is trusting a wider range of experts who already exist or who, by opening just a few closed doors, could exist. Why do artistic directors still choose mostly plays by white men, when there is a preponderance of spectacular playwriting being done by the rest of the playwrights in this country? (I've been on the Literary Committee for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival for several years and each year the first cut has included more women than men, for example, despite the fact that we "blind-read" scripts, and an 2013, 5 of the 6 plays chosen were by women, and not because we wanted to boost women in particular. Proportions of writers of color that make the cuts are also high and continue to grow.) Why are most theater critics white men? How are those two demonstrable facts related? I've read a lot of critics in my lifetime, and while the white male writers aren't "worse" in my experience, they definitely see things differently than the women, and the writers of color—it's important that we have a diverse set of informed opinions out there. Yes, each company has its own natural limits, but any theater out there that isn't programming diversity into their seasons and hiring multi-ethnic casts is abdicating the duty we have as a field to represent the world as it is and present a variety of options for our future. Why shouldn't we expect the field of theater criticism to "cast" similarly, perhaps even more broadly? Each single theater has its "style" that can be recognized, but each critic is tasked with understanding and interpreting for an audience the styles of a vast array of performances and companies. Why on earth wouldn't we want a vast array of people with varying points of view doing that interpreting?

Most theatre critics are white men because white people are the majority of the populace and men work longer hours. It is not a conspiracy. Its demographics.

We need more diverse critics as they are part of our culture. Period. But if we continue to attack white men for being white and men...it's going to be a very long presidency.

You will not avoid “structural bias,” so when someone writes, “We published an article recently by a group of distinguished women—theatre practitioners and scholars—about the inherent bias...” instead of “We published an article recently by a group of (female) theatre practitioners and scholars about the inherent bias...” the chauvinism is obvious. What we can do, however, is aim for (and require) better writing. How “distinguished” the authors are is immaterial to the argument (I can Google that if I want to find out), but attempting to tip the scales by such an assertion—and white men have done as much, both blatantly and sneakily—deprives the argument of any force it might have.

That said, I have never felt particularly under attack _as a white man_, and suspect your suggestion of “It[’]s demographics” represents a considerable simplification.

No, it is not obvious chauvinism.

I don't really understand you, (I never mentioned how "distinguished" anyone is, but I'm sure I could figure out that authors were women by seeing their names). Are you suggesting I would assume they were men? You cannot see into my mind. Can I see into yours? No? Then why do we entertain these ideas?

I do not believe that inherent or structural bias have been proven. Again, how do you prove what's in someone's head? More importantly, how can they defend themselves? Do you see the problem?

As for structural bias, howlround recently published data about designers by gender. It showed that women were underrepresented, but that's ALL that it can show. Correlation does not mean causation and a statistical difference is NOT proof of differential treatment. We need to find the reason. We cannot from a scientific standpoint assume structural bias. It does not follow.

Will, my question was rhetorical. Yes, there are more white people in this country—also white people are more likely to come from families with enough wealth to allow them to take up careers in theater and writing—but your "men work longer hours" trope is laughable. Like, seriously, terrifyingly laughable. Like I have to laugh not to cry because wow, where does one even begin on that one (again, rhetorical question)? Also interesting that you felt both attacked by what P and I wrote and compelled to spell out that having mostly white men in this position is just the natural order of things. It's not. It's what we're used to, yes, because it's the result of the system of white male privilege. That's not any individual person's fault, but it is something we as a field have a particular calling to overcome, and not just because our actual job is, literally, to provide a vision of our world to our communities, not just of how things are now, but how they could be, so we are called to be leaders on this issue. Add to that whole "nature of our business" thing the fact that our field has a shockingly terrible history (and present) of prioritizing white men's stories. The vast majority of people who try to enter the field are women, and 67% of ticket buyers nationwide are women, yet SOMEONE keeps programming Mamet for some reason (which itself might actually be proof of conspiracy ; ) if not idiocracy)—why? Again, a rhetorical question. Let me spell out the answer—because white men are the gatekeepers both at the institutional level and the critical level. It's like Peggy says in the Mad Men Bye Bye Birdie storyline: I know you guys love this, but this approach is speaking to men, when the product is for women. Theater should be for all of us, but our core audience is women, so why would anyone think that male writers should get the majority of the slots, should get primacy of the vision that's being laid out for those audiences. Maybe it's because the artistic directors want to attract more men to their audiences? But they supposedly want to attract more POC to their audiences too, and yet I'm not seeing *programming* change to attract people of color.

Finally, this article may call out a couple of male critics, but part of the reason criticism is being called out right now is to address the ongoing racism in criticism as most recently evidenced by what is going on in Chicago. This is not about pillorying "men" or "white people" but "bad practice," and as long as people perceive a basic, reasoned, and overdue ask for parity as a violent uprising, there's no real way to have a conversation, let alone solve the problem. Below you beg us all to get along, but you are the one who felt we weren't getting along in the first place, with your "Well actually" of a comment. This needn't be a fight to open doors—we could just be opening doors without
comment—but if you deny that the doors are open, you might be surprised at the crashing noises that ensue while we try to get through them or the bump you perceive as we try to get through the door you're guarding. I too want to get along, and I know first hand how arguing this point is "wasting time"—I could have gotten a play pitch out the door in the time I've spent typing this response—but none of us can move forward until we can all see that the door is closed and work together to get it open, and I trust you to have the vision to be able to see that. Please, instead of arguing about things you for very good reasons might not be able to see, perhaps ask a person in my position or P's or a theater artist of color or a disabled theater maker what we can see from where we sit, and maybe even ask if there's anything you could do to help. If you could do that, we could all move forward together. That's my vision of and for theater, and that's why I am so excited about this article.


I know you find the concept laughable. It ain't. Men work longer hours.


Culturally, women sacrifice career for family. Men sacrifice family for career. You don't think this affects their careers?

You are so condescending. I'm suggesting that we examine the way women and men work and to challenge those norms instead of accusing people publicly of being bigots and blaming White Male Gatekeepers at a time when said gatekeepers are bending over backwards to get women in the door.

You're not addressing the problem. White male privilege? Men and women work differently. These are facts. Address them. We could change things.

Oh, but you won't read this because you have your answer (you can see into people's unconscious minds!) and were only being rhetorical. Your answer is racism and sexism.

How is that working out for you? And what the hell does calling out men in NYC over lukewarm reviews have to do with a racist woman in Chicago? Your theories don't work.

Change the way women and men work. Jesus. Why not discuss that instead of talking about white male privilege? It might actually work. Your way demonstrably does not.

Edit: I apologize for the snark, but calling pertinent facts laughable while posting a wall of rhetoric which doesn't seem to propose any actual solutions kind of gets my goat.

You argued that "Most theatre critics are white men because white people are the majority of the populace "

So by that logic most theatre critics should be women since women make up 51% of the population. So that kills argument #1.

Argument #2 - men work more hours than women.

Let's have evidence that male critics put in more hours than female critics, since that is what we are talking about. Or are you claiming that male critics simply deserve to be hired more often because as a group women work fewer paid hours in general?

It's bizarre that you admit that: "women sacrifice career for family" and then maintain at the same time there is no structural bias. It apparently does not occur to you that women must "sacrifice" because they are picking up the slack that men leave for them.

You must have missed this one when you were looking for data over at Pew:


What? No, because women work less. So given a high percentage of the population who work more, you are wrong. I'm not saying this is how it should be. I'm saying we should challenge these norms instead of claiming we can see into people's subconscious minds.

I'm not saying this is how it should be and again, differential outcome is NOT proof of differential treatment.

The pew research you linked to says women do most childcare. I agree!

Why are you so disinclined to let go of the implicit bias and systemic bias hypothesis if we've been operating under them and we've gotten nowhere? I want change and I'm suggesting something new.

First let's take a moment to acknowledge that your demographics-based argument is dead. Women make up 51% of the population and yet do not make up 51% of theater critics. I will assume you have abandoned that argument.

As far as this:

Why are you so disinclined to let go of the implicit bias and systemic bias hypothesis if we've been operating under them and we've gotten nowhere?

We haven't "gotten nowhere" but I'm curious to see what you think is the alternative hypothesis to get us "somewhere." Other than "leave things exactly as they are, there is no such thing as sexism or racism."

I've already stated the variable that explains the earnings gap and which I believe is at play here: Men, on average, across all fields, work longer hours. Women still do most childcare.
I suggest we challenge these norms. We KNOW this affects women's careers, you sent me the pew research yourself.

So I want to change that. I'm not saying sexism or racism don't exist. But we KNOW this is a factor in women's careers. Why not challenge that?

The "women work fewer hours" argument is generally used to explain why women make less money.

But pay difference is not the issue here.

The issue is hiring women as theater critics in the first place.

I want you to explain exactly how the number of paid hours women work impacts the decision to hire women as theater critics.

If someone is a critic and works longer hours, they will have a better career. They will be hired more often and prosper. If you're saying women aren't hired as critics because of gender...prove it.

If a male critic has worked longer hours it culminates in a better resume. We know this applies to other fields.http://archive.is/LMnUy

That or systematic sexism. Which WE CANNOT PROVE.

Clearly men are being hired more than women.

You are claiming the reason is because female theater critics work fewer hours than male theater critics.

But theater criticism is not labor-intensive like other fields examined.

So let's have your evidence that the reason fewer women than men are hired as theatre critics is because women theatre critics are working fewer hours than men.

How do you figure that impacts hiring decisions, exactly? Are you claiming there is no pool of accomplished women writers to offer the job to?

No, I'm not claiming that. Like I said, gender blind hiring in gov favors men because they've had more work experience. Because their. Careers had advanced. Because they worked longer. http://archive.is/LMnUy

Look, I have to go. All I want to say is that we cannot assume systemic or implicit bias based on statistical differences. Which we are doing. And it's leading to arguably provable libel against two dudes who didn't do shit.

We have demonstrated implicit bias.

Your objective is to make us stop talking about it and pretend that everything is fine exactly the way it is.

While insulting those who argue against you as if we're idiots who haven't heard of basic concepts like "correlation is not causation."

By all means, feel free to desist.

Why are you so instantly hostile to the suggestion that the world isn't out to get you?

The first study assumes causation.
The second relies on inherent bias. We've covered that.
The third has been refuted by gender blind hiring policy that backfired.http://archive.is/LMnUy
The last assumes causation and claims women are systematically paid less. That's not true. It has been illegal to pay women less since the Equal Pay Act of 1963. If corporations could legally pay women less, they wouldn't hire men. Companies also want to avoid massive class action lawsuits. They earn less because they work differently.

Men and women work differently. Do you want to address that fact at all? I'm not saying its the way it should be.

It most certainly does and we know this because a gender blind hiring practices in other fields still favored men because they had more work experience. http://archive.is/LMnUy

The gender blind orchestral hiring works as that is a totally subjective situation. I'd say we should try it for critics, but I don't know if that would work without relying solely on writing samples. They're going to want to see a resume.

"More work experience" is not the same as working longer hours. And certainly work in the arts can't be measured by standard hourly metrics.

Orchestra members were not hired by hours work but by quality of performance.

What you are no doubt arguing, ultimately, is that women just don't write as well as men.

What? Demographics might be the least plausible explanation.

White men make up just over 30 percent of the population. Even if you try to adjust for differences in workforce participation (which for creative fields is incredibly unreliable), that in no way justifies the overwhelming dominance of white men in the field.

Also, let's be real: professional art and art criticism are not spread evenly throughout the country. There is incredible concentration in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, DC, and Boston (even more so for professional art criticism than professional art -- the Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, and Boston Globe employ more art critics and those critics hold far more influence than papers even in other arts-heavy cities). Those cities are about 15 percent white men collectively but about 60 percent of art critics and editors are white men.

So, in fact, it is the discrepancy between the demographics of the population at large and the demographics of the art critic ranks (particularly at the top tier of those ranks) that demonstrates a systematic problem. Workforce participation is wildly insufficient as an explanation.

Anybody interested in theater in the last 10 years must surely be aware of this study:

Quality of work is subjective but a metric that is NOT subjective is ticket sales An the study found that even though women's pays in general sold more tickets, their shows were pulled sooner than plays written by men.

Ms. Sands examined the 329 new plays and musicals produced on Broadway in the past 10 years to determine whether the bar was set higher. Did scripts by women have to be better than those by men?

Of course, there are many ways to define “better,” but on Broadway, with the exception of three nonprofit theaters, everyone can agree that one overriding goal is to make a profit. So did shows written by women during that period make more money than shows written by men?

The answer is yes. Plays and musicals by women sold 16 percent more tickets a week and were 18 percent more profitable over all. In the end, women had to deliver the equivalent of higher batting averages, Ms. Sands said.

Yet even though shows written by women earned more money, producers did not keep them running any longer than less profitable shows that were written by men. To Ms. Sands, the length of the run was clear evidence that producers discriminate against women.

Women's plays did BETTER economically than plays by men, and yet men were still give more productions and their productions ran longer.

There's institutional bias against women in the theatre RIGHT THERE in exact data points.

Claiming that there is no bias is sheer ignorance or sexist bullshit plain and simple.

You certainly can infer causation from statistics. It's done all the time. It is an absolutely standard source for gathering information. How is it possible you don't know that?

People believed that there was a bias against women in orchestras because they looked at the hiring statistics, which indicated that women who auditioned for orchestra jobs were far less likely to be hired than men.

And blind auditions proved they were correct. Once the musician's gender was unknown, and women were being judged only based on performance quality, they were hired more.

And even you admitted that the blind auditions demonstrated bias. So you admit their statistics-based inference was right.

So you apparently either think that bias only happens in the world of music, or that bias used to be a factor but has magically disappeared.

You realize that making an inference based on statistics is not the same as correlation = causation, right?

Fundamentally, the problem with correlation = causation is one in which a coincidence is taken for a driver.

For example - pornography has become far more easy to access in the past 20 years. At the same time, women have increased their economic independence from men.

It would be an example of correlation = causation to conclude that pornography has aided in the economic independence of women simply because both happened at the same time.

The study that I have presented looks at why some productions get shorter runs than others in spite of making more money. And the study suggests it may be because of gender.

That doesn't say no other factors could possibly be impacting this phenomenon, but I haven't seen anybody on the other side come up with alternative explanations.

Probably because if you examine the arguments of the "everybody already has equal opportunities" side you discover they actually believe that men are just naturally better playwrights than women and that's why men get more production opportunities and longer runs than women.

But they don't want to come right out and say that.

But you cannot make a meaningful inference. That conclusion may be perfectly plausible, but it is only a possible answer and you are treating it as the answer. I doubt any business would be so sexist as to scuttle a moneymaker over gender. That's not how businesses work, they will exploit all assets till they aren't profitable. If they don't they will be eliminated.

You are saying you know that your critics think men are better writers, but that's only what you think. You can't prove that and to me that indicates you are very biased.

I'm not going to pile on about correlation, you seem to have your mind made up. But I warn against making these accusations. Look at what's happening.

As far as being against equality of opportunity, that's very frightening. How many people have been lifted out of poverty by collectivism in the last hundred years? I would argue very few. Quite the opposite. How many have been lifted out by capitalism? A lot. https://www.economist.com/n...

The fact that you want equality of outcome, something that has been tried many, many times and always ending in disaster...I'm shivering.

Work to improve our best worst option (opportunity). To scrap it in favor of equality of outcome is terrifying.

Interesting that you just happened to join Disqus yesterday and your writing style is exactly like right-winger Will_I_Tell. You even feel you have to throw in an public service announcement for capitalism.

I think you're just another sock puppet for Will_I_Tell. So I have nothing further to say to you.

I'm a liberal. I'm defending equality of opportunity. You want to try something that doesn't work. We know it doesn't.

I didn't know disqus existed until I read this article. I'm old. This is dangerous stuff you're advocating.

I think you've discredited yourself by hurling accusations so I have nothing more to say to you.

On one hand, I agree....I like to have my work evaluated by people who know what they're talking about.

BUT we rarely have an audience full of trained theatre professionals. Audiences are usually just 'typical folks' who like theatre.

So, if an "average person" with no specific training reviews the show, chances are others in the audience probably saw it that way too.

I have such tremendous respect for what you do and who you are, Carl -- and gratitude as well. I find fascinating the part of this essay that talks about how you see the world differently as a white man. I agree this could be a book, and I would love to read it.

Now, I ask you to engage in an experiment – try seeing the world through the eyes of a theater critic.

A theater critic would read Paula Vogel’s comment with appreciation, when she is quoted in the essay as saying the complaint is not personal, it is structural.

But a critic would also not skip over the essay’s claim that the “ criticism this year is so blatantly prejudicial” and would detect in the essay what seems inescapably like personal attacks on Ben Brantley and Jesse Green, specifically, for having written bigoted reviews of Indecent and Sweat. A critic would notice that the main evidence the essayists cite for this bigotry is that the critics (say the essayists) accuse the playwrights of being “ambitious.” But a critic would also notice that Ben Brantley in his review of Sweat explicitly called Lynn Nottage "a justly acclaimed dramatist of ambitious scope and fierce focus."-- saying, in other words, it is a positive thing to be ambitious. A critic would notice as well that Brantley also praised Nottage for “Ruined.”

A critic might wonder why you quote Chris Jones honestly acknowledging that some react defensively to the shifting culture, but leave out such other points as:

“[R]eviews now are different kinds of battlefields. Who is writing them is just as important — perhaps more important — than what is being reviewed. The old agreement, that the critic should de-emphasize self in deference to the art work and a presumed diversity of readership, has fallen apart.”

(A critic might see Chris Jones's essay as an attempt at being honest and balanced -- not dismiss it as the defensive ramblings of a white man losing his privilege, but rather respect it as the concerns of a lifelong theater critic and cultural observer.)

A critic might also notice that the collective essay has a very real if unstated bias towards the New York Times – as if the only critical voices that matter are in the Times. A critic might react with frustration at the deep irony of this bolstering of the “establishment” by people claiming to be fighting the good fight, yet doing it by ignoring and thus implicitly declaring as irrelevant all the other critical voices that exist RIGHT NOW (some of whom write for HowlRound.)

A critic would certainly not smush together every one of those 250+ comments and dismiss them all as defensive and privileged and thus, not worth anything. To paraphrase Judith Butler, these commenters too would like to be recognized and valued.

Thank you for writingand posting this comment, JLMandell. My favorite part: "A critic might see Chris Jones's essay as an attempt at being honest and
balanced -- not dismiss it as the defensive ramblings of a white man
losing his privilege, but rather respect it as the concerns of a
lifelong theater critic and cultural observer." That was how I took it as well.

Really great piece. Reminds me of how much I take for granted all the time, and how much work I have to do. And how much our society needs to do. Definitely an important read for people both inside and outside of theatre.

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