March 15, 2014

Trans people and discourse around gender parity

There's a pattern I've noticed whenever trans people are brought up in a discussion about gender parity in theatre. It can be summed up as follows: "men, women, and trans people."

From what the trans people I'm in contact with (most of whom are trans women) have been saying, automatically placing trans people into a third category separate from men and women perpetuates the notion that trans men and women are not "real" men and women. Trans women and trans men have spoken a great deal about the harm that this does. 

Of course, people who don't fit neatly into the categories of "man" and "woman" do exist: intersex people, third gender people, genderqueer people, non-gendered people, and so on. Even so, trans men and trans women have been very clear about the fact that trans women are women and trans men are men. See the links at the end of this post for more resources.

All that said, the "men, women, and trans people" phrasing raises important questions about how we discuss gender in theatre and what it is we're working for when we say we're working for gender parity.

Questions like: How do we make it clear that, when we speak about gender parity in theatre, we are including trans women when we talk about women? How do we include other gender minorities when talking about gender parity in theatre? Is the gender problem in theatre about the dominance of men in general or the dominance of cisgender men in particular?

As with any questions addressing the systemic and structural elements of marginalization, I don't believe there are simple answers to these questions. But I'd love to hear from trans people about needs to happen in discussions about gender parity in theatre.

And now, some resources about gender identity and transgender people.

I have no time to rehash information that's readily available via a Google search for "trans 101." Here are a few links to get you started. Any further investigation, which I hope you are doing, is on you.

March 7, 2014

We've got it all wrong

I'm sorry, theatre.

I've been pretty strident about the need for a more radical approach to addressing racial disparity in American theatre, and I have pointed out a lot of what you were doing wrong.

I take it all back.

What I should have been saying is, "Just add rap music."

Apparently, we've been missing out. Maybe if we simply play rap music, Black people will spring up at the box office like cabbages.

Why haven't we thought of this?

See, that's the real problem. The problem isn't the racism embedded in the institutional structures we participate in. It's not playing enough rap music.

So all this transforming systems of power thing? Forget all of it.

Just blast some rap music.

March 3, 2014

The need for a radical spirit in achieving parity

As we continue talking about diversity and parity in theatre, the running theme seems to be: What are we striving towards? What does it look like?

The need to articulate a vision and define goals has been a kind of zeitgeist for weeks now, and I'm of two minds about it.

The pragmatist in me says, "Yes, we need to define goals and create strategies to achieve them."

But the radical in me says, "We need to focus on the root of the problem."

It goes without saying that I think we need both, but outside of activist circles, calling someone radical is another way of calling them insane. This is unfortunate because a radical perspective gives us a way to analyze and transform power structures, which is where I believe the real work has to be done.

Let's be real. Racial and gender disparity in American theatre didn't "just happen." They have always been part of the history of American theatre. That history has been one that has upheld the structures of patriarchy and white supremacy. Thus, the vast majority of American institutions are built on racism and sexism. I don't mean this in the sense of the personal convictions of individuals, but in the sense of how organizations and institutions plug into legal, financial, social, educational, geographical, and cultural structures that allow them to exist. To put it simply, the vast majority of organizations--all organizations, not just theatrical ones--benefit on some level from the exclusion and disenfranchisement of women and/or people of color. In theatre, this impacts every aspect of what we do, especially when it comes to access to resources like money and space.

Without a radical perspective, there is no way we can fully understand, let alone change, that given circumstance. I will not pretend for one second that this is easy. Power structures are deeply embedded within how society functions, which also means that they find themselves embedded within organizational cultures. However, until we get a handle on how power works within an organization and/or an industry, I don't anticipate any deep or lasting change happening. I can see it happening like those corporations that realize they have a racial diversity problem, but simply hire a few people of color instead of looking at ways they can change their organizational culture so that more people of color would want to work there.

It's not that I don't believe we should figure out precisely what the fuck all of this is supposed to look like in the end. I do believe that's crucial. But unless we place that within a context of understanding and changing power structures, I can't say that we'd actually accomplish those goals we set for ourselves.

February 28, 2014

Thinking about space and "Encanta"

I've been giving a lot of thought to space recently.

Aside from the cost of getting rehearsal and performance space for Encanta, I've also been thinking about what kind of vibe I want the space to have, the kind of atmosphere I'd like to evoke.

The closest parallel I can think of is Congo Square, a place I only know about through via description and some photographs. This New Orleans website describes it this way:
Within the park confines is historic Congo Square. Formerly known as Place de Negres, it took its name from the tradition of slaves who gathered there on Sundays, their day off, to sing, beat drums, sell home-made goods, and celebrate.
This is exactly the kind of atmosphere I'm going for. It's crowded and noisy and colorful and the smells of all these different types of food. It's a complete sensory overload with music, food, dancing, conversation, and beautiful Black and Brown people everywhere.

When I think about the kind of space Encanta should occupy, I don't see it in a proper black box theater. I don't even see it indoors. I see it smack dab in the middle of where everything happens.

I don't see the audience sitting still and being quiet in perfectly aligned seats. I see them eating. I see them getting up and moving around, browsing the wares, tasting the food, listening to the music, talking to each other.

And here's the weird part: I don't even necessarily see Encanta happening in one sitting. I can easily split the play up across a three-day event: Act One taking place during the day, Act Two taking place at dusk and/or night, and Act Three happening once again during the day.

The question, of course, is how to make this happen without breaking the bank.

November 30, 2013

Looking for love (in all the right places?) and a theatrical soulmate

For a long time now, Crossroads Theatre Project (@XroadsTheatre on Twitter) has been my baby. I've been writing and developing the scripts, doing the fundraising, hiring the cast and crew, interacting with peers and audiences via social media, and all that.

It hasn't always been easy, but I did enjoy doing those things myself. I enjoy my autonomy. I enjoy being self-sufficient. I enjoy the freedom it gives me to learn and explore in a hands-on, low-stakes way.

I don't regret spending so much time doing this more or less by myself. It's helped a lot with helping me figure out exactly what I want to do and the kinds of working relationships I want to have. That knowledge came in a far less painful way than it would have if I'd begun from a more ambitious vision or involved more people than absolutely necessary.

However, I think it's time for me to admit that I need help.

It's not because I can't do this anymore or don't want to, but I've come to understand that trying to do it all more or less by myself is starting to hinder my ability to grow. Right now, I'm in a phase where I want to focus on writing and developing more scripts. That doesn't mean I want to stop producing my own plays or abdicate all responsibility to someone else, but I do think that I am now ready for an artistic partner or two.

When I think about it, what I want looks a lot like what Jim and Pete had at Nosedive Productions. I'm looking for something where this person and I can grow together over a period of time. Granted, I'll have to be more intentional because my temperament and current situation prevent me from just lucking into finding someone who just clicks.

If I had to write a list, I'm looking for someone who:

  1. can commit to a long-term, non-exclusive creative partnership
  2. wants to share the responsibilities of producing theatre
  3. understands the importance of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. in arts and media
  4. makes bold artistic choices on each production
  5. is open to trying unconventional casting and rehearsal processes and non-traditional venues
  6. works magic on a shoestring budget
  7. has an interest in mythology, folklore, and fairy tales
  8. is something of a sci-fi/fantasy/horror buff
  9. can get along with someone who is a textbook INTJ
I don't really care about the resume or CV. I care about vision, passion, and commitment.

Do you know someone like this? Can you put me in touch with them?