You Don’t Have to be an Ally, but Don’t be an Enemy
A Response to the Jubilee Responses
As someone for whom the Jubilee proposal might (might) open a door or two, I read it with great interest and a gleam of hope. For those who might see a door or two temporarily closing, I heard some trepidation and some outright fury. Who will Jubilee close doors for, albeit at just some theatres for just one season? Straight white non-disabled cisgendered men. The biggest constituency on American stages today and yesterday and the day before that and many tomorrows.
I’m an American playwright and the American theatre has been telling me it’s not for me all my life. So throwing a tantrum is not a crazy response, but consider: when women and POCs speak up about systemic sexism and racism, we are risking our careers.
Is that fair? After all, in the theatre, you don’t gain from productions you don’t get. You don’t expand professionally from having your nose pressed to the glass. I know. So this is a gentle intervention for those who are pissed off, or just seriously worried.
I’ve never read a call for submissions that openly stated “there will be one slot held for a female playwright, unless we just don’t feel like it this year.” But look through enough festival histories and the four-guys-one-woman pattern is a well-established thing. The mainstage is even worse. That’s the reality. When I go for an opportunity, I’m really competing for a much smaller, much more limited slice of the pie than advertised. It’s the same (and worse) for artists of color. Apparently, nobody means to do this, but it’s done. And really, don’t bother denying it. Since The Count, no one with any sense is buying that argument.
You may think I don’t empathize with your situation, but I can and I do. As someone whose opportunities have always been more limited, I know how it feels. How would I react to a contraction of my already-piddling chances? I see two choices: throw a tantrum or get creative.
The tantrum is easy and on display all over the Internet. Cries of “Reverse discrimination!” and “All lives matter!” are commonplace. There’s a clear script for throwing a big old white riot.
What does the alternate creative and positive response look like? I only know what I’d do. I’d network like mad. Go to every show I could manage. Volunteer. Get out there, be visible, be a supporter, use the opportunity to discover new potential collaborators. Frankly, do it in the hopes of becoming a known quantity, someone an artistic director might take a chance on down the road. This isn’t a Pollyanna suggestion: this is what I do now, facing my contracted opportunities. Those of us who are fighting an uphill battle just to be seen or considered are used to finding creative workarounds. Go self-produce something. Put your head down and write like mad. Make it work for you.
Your very public online tantrum says so much about you, so be sure you really stand behind what you say.
OK, you’re still mad that Jubilee is not for you. I get it. I’m an American playwright and the American theatre has been telling me it’s not for me all my life. So throwing a tantrum is not a crazy response, but consider: when women and POCs speak up about systemic sexism and racism, we are risking our careers. We get labeled as bitches and whiners (see recent yellowface Mikado flap or any online forum on any topic in which any woman dared voice an opinion ever). Check out the nasty backlash and consider: do you want this? Your very public online tantrum says so much about you, so be sure you really stand behind what you say. I’ve read responses to Jubilee that actually state that systemic sexism/racism is OK because no one flat out comes out and says No “You People” Allowed. You’re free to say it; that’s your right. But the rest of America is not going away. You get to choose your response to change. You can attack your fellow artists, or you can do something else—something positive and worthwhile.
You don’t have to be an ally. But don’t be an enemy. Sure, there are theatres and theatremakers I harbor some bitterness toward. There have been bad days, bad communication, and bad productions. But to stay in the game, I need to salt that eggplant of unhappiness and let it sit in the colander for a while. Because as much as I like a bitter drink or a bitter green, no one likes a bitter playwright. And no one likes an entitled white guy screaming in her face that she doesn’t deserve a shot. When you cool down, you’re not going to like the picture, either.
So: deep breaths. It’s not until 2020. We’ve all got a lot of writing and working and rehearsing and theatre-going and meeting-and-greeting to do between now and then. Go out there and be a force. Make people see past the fact that you’re a straight white guy and treat you as an individual. Help people stop making biased assumptions about your personal life or your economic situation or your talent based on your skin color, gender, and sexual orientation alone. One year, one Jubilee season, is not going to destroy your career, halt your momentum, or sideline you forever. If the rest of us are still here, still writing, still showing up despite our marginal opportunities, you can do the same. We’re all in the same boat. We all want to tell our stories, on stage, right now.