Adrienne Campbell-Holt addresses donors to the Denver Center’s Women’s Voices Fund. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
The Nest playwright Theresa Rebeck and Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt met with supporters of the DCPA’s Women’s Voices Fund before the opening rehearsal on Dec. 18 for a spirited conversation about the urgent need to level the gender playing field in the American theatre and beyond. Why?
- 68 percent of the Broadway audience is female. And yet, all 13 new plays offered in the 2013-14 Broadway season were written by men. Even though every play that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize that year was written by a woman.
- Only about 24 percent of all plays produced across the country in the 2014-15 season were written by a woman.
“They call this issue ‘gender parity,’ which I think is a slightly uptight way of talking about the fact that women’s voices have been marginalized in the theatre, and in film, and in television,” said Rebeck, whose new play about a group of regulars at a deteriorating neighborhood bar starts performances here in Denver on Jan. 22. “This is something every female theatre artist feels deeply. This is a very real issue that we are still pushing back on.”
The Nest is Rebeck’s second world premiere at the Denver Center since the arrival of Kent Thompson as Producing Artistic Director in 2005. Our House (2008) was an angry evisceration of the media and reality TV.
“When I was offered that first commission, it was a godsend to me,” Rebeck said. “Not just in terms of the money, but the fact that I was being invited into the Denver Center in such a gracious and sort of militantly hopeful way. Kent and everyone at the Denver Center have always been way ahead of the curve on this issue.”
2016 marks the 11th anniversary of the Women’s Voices Fund, co-founded by Thompson. The Fund is a $1 million endowment that specifically supports new plays by women and the hiring of female directors. In that time, Thompson has commissioned 28 plays by women, including 10 world premieres, and hired 17 female directors. The two centerpiece world premieres at next month’s Colorado New Play Summit are both written by women – The Nest and FADE, by Tanya Saracho.
“The Women’s Voices Fund is part-pragmatic in the fact that 60-plus percent of our audiences are female, and 80-plus percent of the time, it is females in the household who make the decision to go to the theatre,” Thompson said. “And part of it is philosophical, because … I really feel like there are things that only a woman can write for the theatre. Theresa was one of the vanguards of this latest generation of really exciting female writers. And I am happy that Adrienne is here to direct, because she is certainly a rising star in the theatre, and I think they will be a great team.”
Campbell-Holt is the artistic director of Colt Coeur, a collaborative ensemble based in Brooklyn.
“I feel so honored to be here directing this play, and I am so excited that this program exists,” Campbell-Holt said of The Nest, and the Women’s Voices Fund. “Women in this play are really saying things that have not been said in a theatre before that I am aware of.”
Campbell-Holt was recently a guest on Good Morning America to talk about a parody video she directed that took a “We Are The World” approach to spoofing the plight of men in Hollywood who “only” direct 93 percent and write 80 percent of all studio films. Campbell-Holt’s hashtag #MakeItFair video (below) has gone viral, with nearly 170,000 views.
The reason it went viral, Campbell-Holt said, is because it is funny, and it features celebrities like Rita Wilson. “But these issues are so central to who I am, not just as an artist but as a person,” she said. “And this this play is such an incredible testament and celebration to these kinds of issues as well.”
If only 8 percent of film directors are women, “then that explains how bad all the movies are,” Rebeck added to great laughter.
“Seriously, you guys have to go and watch that video as part of your day today,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
And it is serious business.
“If only 8 percent of film directors are women, then that is distorting,” Rebeck said. “Women are half the human race, and our stories are being lost in a system where there is a kind of a clubiness to it, rather than a real discussion about what stories are ready to be told.
“And that tells our daughters that they are not important enough to be represented in culture.”
Rebeck told those gathered that she is all but done writing for television. “My husband actually threatened to leave me if I ever worked on another television show because it made me so cranky,” she said with a laugh.
“I just can’t do it anymore. You just have to lay down too many of your tools when you walk into the room. I am tired of it being a boys club where I am the only woman around. There was one point when I was on Law & Order and I was like, ‘You guys, real people don’t hang out in strip clubs this much. Seriously!”
She said if it were up to men, television would be all swordfights and concubines. On a recent job, a male TV writer complimented Rebeck’s work by telling her, “You write women’s scenes so well.” Her response: “That’s because you guys don’t write them at all. Where I come from, we write men and women.”
Campbell-Holt had a similar experience after she directed an all-male play. A board member approached her and said he could not believe that she directed the play. “You are so small, and so cute,” he told her. Campbell-Holt found it shocking that this praise was delivered as a compliment. “I directed with my brain,” she said.
But she admits that part of the systemic gender problem is also women in power who do not help other women on their way up.
“There was a Princeton study that reinforces this idea that women are harder on other women,” Campbell-Holt said. “They expect more of them because maybe they had to work extra hard to get where they are.
“Let’s not do that anymore.”
But Denver is different, Rebeck said. “Kent was a visionary around this issue,” she said. Half of the creative team for The Nest, for example, are women, including the Scenic and Costume Designers.
As far as Thompson is concerned, “We have had centuries of men writing stories.” It’s time for a change.
“We can’t correct centuries instantly,” he said, “but we can start to change the dynamic of the voice that we put on our stages.”
That new voice includes Saracho, who was born in Mexico and writes for the ABC TV series How to Get Away With Murder. She can’t quite believe how helpful the Women’s Voices Fund is for developing writers such as herself.
“Kent is really special,” Saracho said in a separate interview. “I’ve been around a lot of regional theatres, and he doesn’t just put his money where his mouth is. He sits with you in the room and lets you make unpopular or hard or risky decisions. The agenda is just your play, your voice and getting your story out. And that is really rare.
“He’s an extraordinary visionary, and that’s not just lip service. I sat there with him in my workshop, and he really nurtured this play out of me in ways that you don’t see an Artistic Director do.
“I mean this when I say Denver is my heart. I’ve never been treated this way.”
Adrienne Campbell-Holt and Theresa Rebeck address donors to the Women’s Voices Fund. Photo by John Moore.
Previous NewsCenter coverage of The Nest:
Five things we now know about that bar
Cast list announced
Theresa Rebeck is not getting angry: She’s getting even
American Theatre magazine: The Colorado New Play Summit Is a Developing Story