photo1I’m staring at a blank screen, trying to figure out how to write about the thing I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. I won’t say his name: I won’t give him that. I won’t read his manifesto: I won’t give him that. I won’t watch his video: I won’t give him that. The Jagweed of Isla Vista, as I prefer to call him, doesn’t deserve our attention. So why can’t I stop thinking about him?

The Jagweed was born and raised in Hollywood. The Jagweed was “treated” by a Hollywood psychiatrist – in fact, this is the second client of note of that doctor to kill himself. The Jagweed also announced his intentions to the world not just through written words but also through a reportedly well-made video that included a scenic background of Hollywood’s iconic palm trees.

Why did the Jagweed of Isla Vista kill six people and injure thirteen more? Because he couldn’t get laid. He hated women for it, and he hated men that do get laid almost as much.

Initial media reports, of course, chose to focus on the Jagweed’s mental illness rather than his misogyny. Luckily feminists were not willing to let that stand, and they have since covered his relationship to the Men’s Rights Movement and Pick-Up-Artist Hate groups extensively. Washington Post media critic Ann Hornaday even went so far as to wonder whether Hollywood culture, as created by rich, white men, had given this Jagweed the mistaken notion that his money and his masculinity entitled him to sex. As you can imagine, the rich, white males running Hollywood did not take kindly to that.

photo2The most powerful response to the tragedy appeared on twitter in the form of the massively trending hashtag #YesAllWomen. A response to #NotAllMen, which provides men with the opportunity to claim that sexism is not their responsibility because they’ve never personally done anything sexist (to which I say, really? Are you sure?), #YesAllWomen allows women to give voice to the constant sexual assaults and harassment that all women suffer. No, not all men are sexist. But all women are the victims of sexism. All the time. Every day. Every where.

I don’t imagine that #YesAllWomen will persuade MRAs and PUAs and PUAHaters or the men behind #NotAllMen that they bear any responsibility for creating a culture that views women as objects to be “gotten” and men as totally within their rights to punish women who refuse to be got. Hornaday didn’t even name Seth Rogen in her article (though she did name Judd Apatow), yet Rogen felt the need to defend himself and debunk her to his two million twitter followers, effectively silencing any conversation on the notion that film creates culture. Fan pages honoring the Jagweed have popped up on Facebook and, despite being flagged as hate sites, they have not been taken down. And of course MRA and PUAHate sites are ablaze with comments supporting his act of revenge on a world that refused to give him his due.

The truth is, film does create culture. So does Facebook. So does Twitter. So do YouTube videos like the one the Jagweed made. So do reality-TV shows like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which featured a husband who beat his wife, sought mental health care from the same psychiatrist that “treated” the Jagweed, and eventually killed himself.

Is Hollywood to blame for a psychopath’s killing spree? Of course not. Is the Jagweed’s psychiatrist to blame that he refused to take his medicine? Probably not. Are his parents to blame for his inflated ego and sense of entitlement? Well, possibly. Are MRAs to blame for validating his hate and adding fuel to his fire? Definitely. Are lax gun laws to blame for putting weapons in the hands of a killer? For sure.

photo3Hollywood is, in this case, the least of all the evils that plagued this fucked up, deranged, misogynist Jagweed. But Hollywood is not an innocent bystander, either. Film creates culture, and when film is created entirely by rich, white men, the culture created by film inevitably validates men like them and often invalidates the lives and desires and bodies of everyone else.

One of my favorite pieces of writing to come out of this so far is actually by a dude: Arthur Chu, a self-declared Nerd who is nevertheless able to recognize that just because he doesn’t fit the Hollywood stereotype of the alpha male does not mean that he is being systematically denied his rights as a man to “get the girl.” Chu exhorts his fellow men to accept the fact that it’s not up to them whether and with whom women have sex. It’s up to women:

We need to get that. Really, really grok that, if our half of the species ever going to be worth a damn. Not getting that means that there will always be some percent of us who will be rapists, and abusers, and killers. And it means that the rest of us will always, on some fundamental level, be stupid and wrong when it comes to trying to understand the women we claim to love.

What did [the Jagweed] need? He didn’t need to get laid. None of us nerdy frustrated guys need to get laid. When I was an asshole with rants full of self-pity and entitlement, getting laid would not have helped me.

He needed to grow up.

We all do.

A few weekends ago, I made a pass at a guy at a party who not only rejected me, he also spent much of the party flirting with someone else. Sure, my pride was injured. Sure, I was disappointed. And it’s certainly not the first time I’ve been rejected. I was never the popular girl: in fact I’ve had all of two boyfriends in my whole life, one of whom became a husband who ultimately rejected me in the most profound way possible: he left me for another woman, told me that it was because I didn’t make enough money, and blamed me for everything from his failed career to his dysfunctional relationship with his mother.

What’s the diff between me and the Jagweed? I haven’t been hearing the message my whole life that I should get whatever I want whenever I want it, so I didn’t pick up a gun and punish the world because I couldn’t get laid.  Instead, I grew up.

Nicole Shalhoub and Corey Brill in South Coast Repertory's 2014 world premiere of FIVE MILE LAKE by Rachel Bonds

When I hear producers say, “Plays by women don’t sell tickets” (and they seem to say that a lot), I always find myself asking, “Which plays by which women?”

The classification “plays by women” denotes nothing other than the author’s sex, and any two plays by any two women are as likely to be as different as any two plays by men. Would anyone, for example, group plays by the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre with those by the humanist William Shakespeare in the single category “plays by men” and assume that that tells us anything about those plays?

The fact is that an author’s sex does not dictate her content, and plays don’t sell tickets based on the sex of their authors. They sell tickets based on whether the play is any good or not.

Two shows opening in Southern California this month illustrate perfectly the fact that one woman’s play is not  another’s, and whether either of them is right for your local theater to produce really depends on its mission and your aesthetic, not the author’s sex.

Rachel Bonds’ Five Mile Lake—a 30-something life-crisis play about a group of friends from the same small town—begins performances at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa on April 13. Premeditation, by Evelina Fernández—a black comedy performed by The Latino Theater Company—opens April 17 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.

Bonds, Rachel

Producers looking to attract audiences younger than the typical baby boomer ticket buyer would be wise to take a look at Five Mile Lake. Playwright Bonds says her own small-town upbringing inspired this why-haven’t-I-come-of-age-yet story about family, friends and the struggle to find a home, both literally and metaphysically. Mary, whose brother has just returned from Iraq, works in a bakery alongside Jamie in the town where they both grew up. Jamie’s brother, Rufus, comes back from NYC to visit for the weekend with his girlfriend, prompting everyone to look closely at the past, the present and their dreams for the future.

Rather than focusing on a single protagonist, the play provides a different perspective with each character. Jamie respects tradition—he has stayed in town, poured his savings into the family lake house and is taking care of his aging mother. Rufus, who lives in the big city, is working on his Ph.D without much progress and becoming increasingly directionless. His girlfriend, Peta, an ethnically ambiguous transplant from England, has left her family a whole continent behind. Mary wants to move to New York but is staying home to care for her brother, who has returned from war with PTSD.

Refreshingly, the play does not provide solutions to anyone’s problems. In fact its dramatic effectiveness depends upon a certain amount of ambiguity. Depending on their values and experiences, audience members may come away with completely different ideas of what will happen to these characters once the play is over and they return to their day-to-day lives. Director Daniella Topol says this complexity is reflective of that generation at this moment:

It’s about the anxiety of what it means to be 30-something and trying to find your path, not having a family, not knowing if you want one, not knowing what it means to be rooted. It’s about people looking for individual purpose, family purpose and the purpose of the nation. What do we and don’t we do for our families? How do we care for our aging parents? How do we care for our siblings? How do we have room in our life for children?

Though it may add to the experience, you do not have to be from a small town to appreciate the complexity of defining home.Five Mile Lake runs through May 4.

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Premeditation is recommended for producers looking to bring in more diverse audiences, particularly in the Southwest. Evelina Fernández wrote and stars in this production about a disgruntled wife who hires a hit man to kill her UCLA-professor husband. (The show is directed by Fernandez’ husband, José Luis Valenzuela, who, not coincidentally, also teaches at UCLA.) When the wife, Esmerelda, meets up with the hitman, Mauricio, in a hotel room, her husband Fernando and Mauricio’s wife Lydia find out and suspect an affair. When they show up at the hotel to confront their spouses, hijinks ensue.

Staged and designed in the style of film noir, the play uses tango music to set the scene for the battle of the sexes that these two couples play out. Esmerelda worries that after devoting herself to supporting her husband’s career and raising their kids, she hasn’t accomplished anything in her own life and therefore her husband no longer appreciates her. She regrets that she doesn’t have a college education, and has dedicated herself to learning by carrying around a large thesaurus. Her use of both English and Chicano words to parry and riposte in the noir style is better than that of most accomplished women, and her sensuality is evident as she proceeds to instruct Mauricio in how to put some romance back into his own marriage. Meanwhile, Lydia,  mistakenly convinced that her husband is cheating, also manages to help Fernando understand what’s wrong in his relationship.

Evelina Fernandez

The Latino Theater Company has been creating theater together since 1985, so developing the script as an ensemble led by a husband-wife team naturally involved a certain amount of intimacy and willingness to explore their own marriages. Fernández shared that, early on, the men and the women working on the show disagreed about whether Esmerelda would ultimately end her marriage or not. The men had a hard time imagining that she would really do it; the women believed she would be able to build a new life for herself. I won’t tell you who won that battle: Go see the play.

Since 1990, when the Latino Theater Company produced August 29 about journalist Rubén Salazar, who was killed by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department, they have focused on plays about middle- and middle-to-upper-class Chicanos. Regarding this particular play’s role in fulfilling the company’s mission, Fernández shared,

Once we started [doing plays about middle-class Chicanos] that’s been what we do—not because we don’t think the other stories are valuable or important, they are—but our goal is to tell stories of the middle class. We have also learned that the way to approach serious issues with a Chicano audience is with a lot of humor. It’s a big part of our culture to laugh. This play is about relationships and marriage, and regret and fulfillment, but it’s very funny. Says the playwright.

Trust me—it is. Premeditation runs through May 11.

No doubt some plays by women won’t sell tickets at some theaters, just as some plays by men won’t. However, an audience interested in questions of how and why to live in an increasingly fragmented modern world would definitely buy tickets to Five Mile Lake. An audience that believes in the power of language to reason us through our darkest moments will gladly pay to see Premeditation.

I’m looking forward to both.

photo1Originally posted at Ms. in the Biz

It’s staffing season for television, and many of us are playing close attention to gender and race of writers getting hired. A report from the Writer’s Guild of America revealed that in the 2011-2012 season, female writers made up only 30.5% of TV staffs. Racial minorities fared even worse, comprising only 15.6%. (A UCLA study based on publicly available data put the number for women at 32.8% in broadcast television and 27.1% in cable. That study found that only 7.4% of cable writers are minorities while only 10% of broadcast writers are.)

A number of causes collude to keep staffs primarily white and male, with one of the big ones being cumulative advantage. Originally an economic theory, cumulative advantage posits that “once a social agent gains a small advantage over other agents, that advantage will compound over time into an increasingly larger advantage.” In other words, the rich get richer. As social theory, cumulative advantage is what creates white, male privilege. When young white boys are encouraged by their parents, teachers, and communities to aim high while girls are told to focus on marriage and minorities on service-industry jobs, when white boys are praised over their lifetime for whatever they do while the hard work of the girls and minorities around them goes unnoticed, and when they are put in leadership positions more readily than girls and minorities, they begin their careers as grown men with the advantage of an impressive resume and an unparalleled sense of confidence. Women and minorities with the same levels of experience and confidence have inevitably had to work twice as hard with half the support.

In television writing, white male advantage continues to accumulate as they find themselves more easily staffed, more quickly promoted, and more readily offered opportunities to develop new shows than women and minorities. Though diversity programs have begun to open doors for new writers, the best known of which provides a financial incentive to shows to staff a diverse writer by paying that writer’s salary, these programs rely on the idea that the opportunity will be the beginning of an accumulation of advantage for that writer. In a recent interview, Director of Diversity at the WGA, Kimberly Myers, told me that success of these programs depends on the extent to which showrunners and producers support diversity hires:

You have to get everybody at the network level and the development level out of the mindset that diverse writers are only staff writers. It’s great to have a way in, but once they are in the ranks, are you developing pilots with them, and if not why not? It only works if the writers are properly integrated into the staff and not marginalized and supported—it’s a mentoring business, that’s how the business works.

Another reason more women and minorities don’t get staffed and promoted at the same rates as white men is the idea of “fit.” When a show is hiring, they’re looking for someone who fits into the culture of their writer’s room. In a recent article on how this phenomenon works in newsrooms, writer Aboubacar Ndiaye put it this way:

Fit is the unquantifiable variable which makes you think that you will be able to gchat stupid gifs with someone, or drink craft brewed beer/fair trade coffee/single terroir wine with them, or bemoan the sorry state of the local sports franchise with them. It is the bro/homegirl quality, the affability borne out of similar backgrounds and similar experiences. The truth is that we organize our lives around this feeling. We seek spaces that provide the maximum amount of conviviality, from the right kind of city, to the right kind of neighborhood, to the right kind of friends and romantic partners. But when this ethos is transferred into the workplace, it leads not just to a comfortable environment, but to an exclusionary one and a moribund one.

Even once a woman or minority writer has met the “good fit” requirement, actually being in the room requires that they continue to prove their fit daily. In an article on The XX Factor/Slate, Dan Harmon (Community) said that in his experience, female staffers “do more dick jokes than anybody, because they’ve had to survive, they have to prove, coming in the door, that they’re not dainty.” Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under) shared that, “When I used to be in writers’ rooms with men, I would always try to be the most inappropriate person in the room, to tell the dirtiest jokes. It was a way of communicating that I could play with the boys. It made it harder for them to count me out.”

But this approach can backfire. Whereas men who are crass are seen as funny, crass women and minorities can be dismissed as inappropriate. Men who speak up about and defend their ideas are seen as visionary, whereas women and minorities who do the same thing are often seen as pushy or, when it’s a woman, bitchy. Being the only woman or minority in the room puts a person in the position of having to choose between a rock and hard place: S/he can conform to fit in or be themselves, but either way, s/he will face resistance from someone.

Imagine if all the energy these writers have to spend fitting in could be spent on, you know, writing. Imagine how much less time these writers would have to spend navigating sex and race if they weren’t the only ones of their kind in the room. Imagine how much better television would be.

Unfortunately, the continued lack of diversity in writer’s rooms makes me think too many people lack the ability to imagine that. So next time you find yourself in conversation with a showrunner or producer who just doesn’t see why having a diverse writer’s room is important, here’s a few reasons that may speak to them on their level.

 10 Reasons Your Show Should Staff a Diverse Writer

10. Because they generally earn less than white men, they can save you a lot of money.

9. Women will inevitably bring moderate to major room-odor improvements.

8. When viewers of color get pissed that the one character you wrote that represents them is an offensive stereotype, your minority writer can explain why they’re so angry. Better yet, s/he may be able to keep you from making that mistake in the first place.

7. When women viewers get pissed because all of your characters are defined entirely as mothers, wives, nurses, or sluts, women staffers can explain why that sucks. Better yet, she may be able to keep you from making that mistake in the first place.

6. Chicks dig dudes who hire chicks.

5. Being able to say, “Some of my best writers are minorities,” upon committing a racial faux pas can get you out of some sticky binds.

4. Prostate exam jokes: Cliché. Gynecological exam jokes on the other hand …

3. White dudes making jokes about people of other races: Not cool. People of color making jokes about white people: Hilarious.

2. Even some zombies are women and minorities.

1. Women and minorities represent a paltry percentage of writing staffers but are far and away the majority of the viewing audience, and their jokes, stories, and perspectives make for damn good television.

In their pieces, “Women Directors: Language Worth Repeating” and “The Revolution Will Be Systemic: A Response to ‘Women Directors‘,”Jess K. Smith and Hannah Hessel Ratner have started an important conversation about the language that directors use in rehearsal and the extent to which it is gendered. As Ratner pointed out, this is a conversation that’s happening in many fields, and it has been happening ever since women started making it into upper-management positions.

In fact Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, has just launched a campaign to “Ban Bossy,” so that girls who used to be called bossy start to be told instead that they are leaders. Efforts like this to change the culture, though, are long-game solutions to an immediate problem. In the meantime, how do women directors, especially those just starting out, balance the competing demands of actually leading with gendered expectations as to what constitutes good leadership?

The tendency that Smith observed in her students to end their directions with a question is so engrained in young women today that they often pitch their voices up at the end of sentences whether they are asking a question or not. This “uptalk” reads, to people older than Gen Y, as submissiveness. But, as I wrote in my article on the trend, to other people the same sex and age of the speaker, uptalk simply denotes membership in that particular demographic group. In fact, if Smith’s student was directing other people her age, they probably did not find her at all lacking in authority. More likely, they saw her as one of them and therefore trustworthy.

Young women–surrounded in every other part of their lives by women who talk just like they do–are increasingly responding to mentors, teachers, and bosses who try to help them overcome these vocal habits by, as Ratner did, arguing that they shouldn’t have to change for society. Society should change for them. People should learn that asking questions and using uptalk is a sign of caring what the other person thinks, not of submissiveness.

As with Sandberg’s plan to ban bossy, this revolution will be great. But unless young men adopt this pattern of speaking, too, it is unlikely to become normative for the whole society any time soon. Young women, then are still forced to chose between assimilating, as Smith put it, by adopting a more authoritarian attitude, or trying to get resisters in the cast, design team, and crew to accept that their director’s way of speaking does not make her weak.

The choice becomes even trickier when you recognize that we are conditioned to read the same behaviors differently depending on the sex of the person performing them.  What is seen as submissive in women is often seen as collaborative in men. Likewise, what is seen as clear vision in a man can be interpreted as inflexibility in a woman. This means that Smith’s suggestion that directors articulate “big huge messy ideas that aren’t yet perfected” is far more of a risk for a woman than for a man. A male director who does that is likely to be seen as brave and collaborative. A woman is more likely to be seen as lacking vision.

This is what feminists call a double bind. If you use more authoritative, masculine language, you risk being seen as a bitch. If you use questions and uptalk, you risk being seen as submissive. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

As a result, most women directors, especially at the beginning of their careers when most of the people in the room are older than they are, spend about half of their time and energy dealing with micro-aggressions from collaborators who are uncomfortable with their leadership style. This means these women are spending half as much time and energy as young men actually making art. It’s no wonder, then, that more young men than women make it out of “early career” status, with its fellowships and mentorships, to actual full-time employment.

When I’ve found myself in collaborations with people who reject my direction, I’ve been advised to ignore the people who don’t respect me and just refuse to work with them again, or, alternately, to confront them. Sometimes those things work, but often they don’t. The disrespect is hardly ever out right – that’s why they are called micro-aggressions – and when confronted, most people simply accuse you of misinterpreting. On the other hand, when ignored, some people dig their heels in further and become even more disruptive. Just one person bent on undermining the director can have a deleterious effect on a production and the general esprit de corps, so while it’s all well and good to never work with that person again, the director still must do whatever she can to limit the troublemaker’s impact on the current project.

After doing this for 20 years, I wish I had more concrete advice to offer women starting out about how to bridge the gap between their voices and society’s expectations. I myself have been told to be both more familiar and more distant, more open to criticism and less easily changed, more authoritative and less demanding, more specific about what I expect and less of a micro-manager. That’s the nature of a double bind – there is no right choice.

I can only tell you the one thing that doesn’t work: Blaming yourself. The fact that many people are still predisposed to distrust women in positions of authority has nothing to do with your voice or with your vision. Though you are put in a position of negotiating the competing demands of leadership and gender, you did nothing to warrant being put there. This is the silver lining of the double bind: You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, so you might as well do without ever second-guessing yourself.

Over time, your dedication to your voice and vision and your increasing numbers will precipitate change. Women and “feminine” ways of leading will become increasingly acceptable. In the meantime, spend as little time as you can choosing between a rock and a hard place. Whichever someone hits you in the head with, it still hurts.

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L to R, Linda Park as Lady Nijo, Karianne Flaathen as Isabella Bird, Sally Hughes as Marlene, Rhonda Aldrich as Pope Joan and Etta Devine as Dull Gret

Few women playwrights have garnered as much praise and generated as much controversy as Caryl Churchill. Her work has been called feminist, post-modern, post-colonial, Marxist, experimental, irritating, innovative, ludicrous and brilliant. She has worked with feminist collectives such as Monstrous Regiment and at establishment institutions such as the Royal Court Theatre, where she was the first woman to hold the position of resident dramatist. In both spaces, she has maintained her dedication to dismantling sexist, economic and colonial power structures through an ever-evolving exploration of dramatic form. Though she is still writing today, her early plays are already considered part of the Western canon.

Unfortunately, being included in the dramatic canon does not ensure that your plays will get produced on contemporary American stages, and even theaters devoted to producing the classics often avoid Churchill. This may be partly because she didn’t win inclusion in this elite, mostly male club by being one of the boys. If the traditional dramatic form, which proceeds in a straight line from exposition to climax, can be said to be “masculine,” Churchill’s writing is the epitome of the “feminine”: circular and multi-climactic. Likewise, if a masculine form can be said to be concerned with the individual protagonist’s psychological experience, Churchill’s feminine structures deliberately de-center the individual in order to explore identity as a product of social and historical forces.

Churchill’s style, then, requires more of actors, directors and audiences than the typical canonical play. Yet a classical theater in North Hollywood, CA, has taken up the challenge: The Antaeus Company is running an engaging and highly relevant production of Top Girls through May 4.

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Flaathen (left) as Mrs. Kidd, Hughes as Marlene

Top Girls, which premiered in 1982, is best known for its opening act, during which an ambitious woman, Marlene, throws herself a dinner party to celebrate a work promotion. Her guests are historical and folkloric figures: Lady Nijo, a 13th-century Japanese concubine; Isabella Bird, Victorian world traveler; Patient Griselda of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; Dull Gret, from Breughel’s painting of the same name; and Pope Joan, a medieval female Pope. The second act takes place largely in the employment agency where Marlene works. The third is set a year earlier in Marlene’s sister’s living room.

Though Churchill originally wrote the play for 16 women actors, practicality led the first director, Max Stafford Clark, to have seven actors play all the roles. This doubling, which is almost always replicated and is being used in the Antaeus production, creates resonances between the historical and mythical characters of the first act and the women of the 1980s in the second and third acts. Despite centuries of supposed progress, these women face similar oppressions, from violence committed to unequal marriages to limitations on their ability to earn money and live independently.

The resonances don’t stop with the 1980s. Churchill, whose feminism is deeply rooted in socialism, says Marlene, an ambitious, upwardly mobile Thatcherite, was inspired by a visit to America, where for the first time she encountered a capitalist feminism designed to enable women to climb the corporate ladder. In Act Three, when Marlene tells her sister, who has not escaped the poverty in which they were both raised, that she “doesn’t believe in class. Anyone can do anything if they’ve got what it takes,” the audience can hear not only the politics of Thatcher and Reagan, but also the voice of crusaders such as Sheryl Sandberg , who even today insist that the only thing keeping women out of leadership positions is their lack of ambition.

Not only are the women of Top Girls limited in their economic aspirations, but they also struggle with patriarchal conceptions that pinhole them as domestic creatures rather than as autonomous human beings. In Act One, Isabella Bird recalls that being at home made her physically ill; she was only happy while traveling. Her Act Two counterpart, played by the same actor, has dedicated herself to being a housewife, and is therefore left helpless when her husband’s ability to earn a living is compromised. In Act Three, that actor’s third character is abandoned by her husband and trapped in the small town in which she grew up, living out the same miserable existence that her mother did. Even the maid job she is forced to take is domestic. The audience cannot help but think of contemporary marriage proponents such as “Princeton Mom” Susan Patton, who urge women to subvert their own interests and ambitions in favor of finding a husband, thereby risking their abilities to ever care for themselves on their own.

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Flaathen (left) as Joyce, Hughes as Marlene

Finally and perhaps most frustratingly, Top Girls shows that, despite centuries of progress, women still do not have complete control over whether and when to have children. In the first act, Lady Nijo, Patient Griselda, Dull Gret, and Pope Joan all have their children taken from them. Joan, not having received any sex education, had not even realized she was pregnant until she gave birth in the street. The professional women of Act Two have had to give up having children entirely in order to succeed in the corporate world. And in Act Three, we discover that Marlene had a child but gave it to her sister to raise, enabling Marlene to earn money and enjoy her freedom while her sister remained stuck at home. Today, lack of access to family planning and childcare continue to make successfully balancing work and motherhood far too difficult for far too many women.

Nevertheless, many producers worry that Churchill’s plays, unlike the plays by men in the canon, are dated. Nothing could be further from the truth. The clear design, crisp direction and excellent acting—the accents in particular deserve note—of the Antaeus production mine Churchill’s script for its full potential so that the audience is constantly bringing the content into the present. Unless the issues Churchill addresses in this play–income inequality, lack of reproductive freedom and paternal conceptions of women as the weaker sex–have been solved and I didn’t notice it, Top Girls is nothing if not topical.

Photos by Daniel G. Lam

5. Slap bets, Slapsgiving, and all the other ways we get to see the sexist and manipulative Barney get the shit kicked out of him.

4. The complex narrative structure at the heart of the show: Stories within stories, jokes that continue to pay off season after season, and a complete disruption of the idea of the past, present, and future.

3. A married couple with an active sex life and the frank discussion of female desire that Lily’s unboundedness allows for.

2. Did we ever find out what the deal was with the goat?

1. A show about a DUDE who has made finding a wife and having kids his number one priority.

At a recent summit of DC-area artistic directors, Ryan Rilette of Round House Theatre made a reference to the infamous “pipeline” of new talent that runs from New York and London to America’s regional theaters, claiming that there are not enough plays by women in this pipeline for his theater to produce. The idea of this pipeline is nothing new, but importantly, it is not inviolable.

Pre-Revolution, the colonies actually had three equally important centers of theatrical production—Boston, New York, and Philadelphia—all of which primarily presented British plays. Theater in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania was limited by the Puritan philosophy that writing your own worlds into being is an offense to God, the ultimate playwright of our theatrum mundi. New York, on the other hand, being primarily a center of commerce, managed to develop a theater culture that continued through the Revolution (even when it was illegal) and beyond.

As the young Republic expanded, theaters founded without reference to one another sprang up in other parts of the country. It wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth-century, when railroads allowed the exportation of both commerce and culture, that these theaters became stops on tours of shows created in New York. Then, in the early twentieth-century, a locally-sourced Little Theater Movement began in Chicago and took hold throughout the country, spawning a generation of dramatists that did not live in New York. Federalism reasserted itself in the sixties, when local theaters of a certain size joined together under LORT, an organization based in New York, and regional theaters once again became aesthetic subsidiaries of Broadway, Inc.

Today, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, local artists are again asserting control over the means of production and claiming American theater for themselves. The huge Twitter response to the reference to the pipeline made at “The Summit” revealed a deeply felt frustration at the unwillingness of artistic directors to recognize that forty-year-old notions of what makes great theater are no longer relevant. Sure, New York still has more theater than most other places, but there is no longer any reason to believe that it is any better.

Furthermore, by limiting themselves to plays, playwrights, directors, and actors based in New York, non-New York theaters run the risk of presenting material that has little relation to the lived experiences of their audiences. As anyone who follows politics can tell you, inhabitants of different regions often hold sharply distinct if not altogether contradictory beliefs. The primary industries that drive the economy in America’s various regions are vastly different, meaning that the work lives of the people who live there are vastly different. Even the environment itself, from the weather to the landscape, has an influence on the thinking and values of people who live in it.

Additionally, theaters that insist on relying on talent that has already proven itself in New York perpetuate a theater that is inevitably elite. New York City is expensive. Self-producing, acting in showcases, assistant directing for free, and interning all require steady income streams from elsewhere. Very few people are able to do this without significant family support. Companies that aim to produce theater for a diverse audience cannot expect to do so while only producing plays written and directed by people born into privilege.

Of course some artists not born into privilege who work three jobs and do theater for free in New York do manage to find success in regional theaters. But even those people, unless they happened to grow up in New York, have uprooted themselves from their communities and families and transplanted themselves to one of the most difficult cities in which to live in the world. Yes, some artists are inspired by New York. Yes, some are glad to leave their previous lives behind. Others are overwhelmed and exhausted. How much American talent are we actually crushing by needlessly requiring that people spend years of indentured servitude in New York for the privilege of having their plays produced in theaters not in New York?

New York does have at least one quality that sets it apart in terms of its theater community. In New York, the big theaters pay attention to the small theaters. Even a small show can get reviewed, and if it does well, it can get the attention of the legacy theaters. The artists who created it will often be invited to remount the production at a bigger theater, or they may be hired, based on that success, to work there on something else. This is why a few emerging artists can develop a national reputation by working in New York.

But the synergy of the New York theater community is not an argument for regional theaters to only do plays that come out of New York. It is an argument for regional theaters to develop the same level of synergy with the other theaters in their cities. In fact, regional theaters could save a ton of money by developing new work with artists for whom they don’t have to provide housing and a per diem.

The lack of men of color and women in the pipeline is an excuse used to justify seasons that fail to achieve diversity and gender parity. But New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world. If success there is the barometer by which plays are chosen for regional productions, LORT theaters would be producing plays developed by Intar, The Women’s Project Theater, and the National Black Theatre, to name just a few New York institutions devoted to developing work by underrepresented groups. Rather, the same dated notions of who and what makes good theater that lead artistic directors to rely on a mythical pipeline also keep them from recognizing the surfeit of diverse talent in New York and across the country.

Though New York remains the center of American commercial theater, companies across the country need not largely rely on plays created in that place for that audience. Today, the pipeline flows in many directions at once. Theaters genuinely interested in serving their communities would do well to develop twenty-first century ways of making theater.