By Dana Harrison
On Saturday, March 28, a vibrant group of women and their allies filled the Ashby Stage to mark a holiday dreamed up in 2008 by WomenArts founder Martha Richards and film critic Jan Lisa Huttner: Support Women Artists Now Day—or SWAN Day.
This year, SWAN Day events took place in 25 states, and in countries as varied as Burundi, the Czech Republic, Finland and New Zealand (view full list here). In the Bay Area, WomenArts hosted a special gathering designed to connect and celebrate women artists, and inspire women with news about the strength of the world-wide movement for gender parity in the arts.
|SWAN Day participants deliver the "SWAN Salute" at the Ashby Stage event. Photo: Christine Young
The free afternoon event opened with a welcome by Martha Richards, and an invitation to all attendees to join her in the "SWAN Salute" [photo above].
Richards enumerated the SWAN Day events happening all over the world, and shared her work bringing to light the sad truth of the underrepresentation of women in all areas of theatre-making—a reality that is being more widely acknowledged through projects around the country and in Canada to collect statistically valid data to show the patterns and provide a baseline for policy changes and action. Richards is currently working with Shellen Lubin, copresident of the Women in Arts and Media Coalition in NY, to organize a convening in Toronto for people doing work on gender parity in theatre on April 28; it's scheduled to coincide with the free Equity in Theatre conference being hosted by the Playwrights Guild of Canada on April 27.
Next, we enjoyed four ten-minute plays by and about women that were developed in collaboration with PlayGround and Symmetry Theatre. In Katie May's Abominable, Fate and Luck dueled using mortician's assistant Beverly Onion as their pawn. In Lean in with Liz by Rachel Bublitz, a new mother on leave from her job as a lawyer is challenged by her teenaged self, and appreciates the ground gained since the era of her suffragette ancestor. Street Photographer by Genne Murphy provided a vignette into the life of street photographer Vivian Maier, through an imagined encounter with John Maloof, the man who "discovered" and publicized her work after her death. And then we wrapped things up with a hilariously inspiring and infuriating look at Feminist Valhalla by Takeo Rivera, in which Pharaoh Hatshepsut and her court of feminist icons rule in the Norse afterworld, welcoming new warriors to their hall—until they're infiltrated by a modern capitalist who threatens to trigger Ragnarok by her perversion of feminist principles.
After this enjoyable warmup, Valerie Weak and WomenArts Board member and USF professor Christine Young presented high-level results from NOT EVEN: A Gender Analysis of 500 San Francisco/Bay Area Theatrical Productions 2011-2014 from The Counting Actors Project. This project, initiated by Weak in 2011 after she joined Actors Equity and noticed the disparity in awarding of union roles to men and women, consolidates the data provided by hundreds of volunteers on professional productions in the nine Bay Area counties which is reported monthly on Weak's blog on the Works by Women SF site. The full report, presented on the WomenArts site, includes a wealth of supporting data and analysis—but perhaps most importantly, a very useful infographic summarizing the results—which demonstrate not only a frustrating disparity in opportunities for women, but also no progress over the four years studied.
We wrapped up the day on a high note with a lively Q&A and the opportunity for women to promote their work and upcoming events. Young reminded attendees that the Theatre Bay Area Gender Parity Advisory Committee is working year-round to improve this situation, and invited everyone to join her, Weak, Richards and SF Shakespeare Festival Director Rebecca Ennals at the TBA Annual Conference on April 13 at Berkeley Rep, where the committee will host two panels and a networking lunch—and, for the first time, the conference will offer a designated Mothers' Room. Young and Richards acknowledged our hosts, Shotgun Players, who have kicked off their 2015 season featuring six productions and six staged readings—all of plays by women. Shotgun's experience will be featured as a case study in a session at the TBA Conference, titled "Who's Got Next?", as a way of inspiring other companies to follow suit.
The event ended with wine and cheese, plenty of conversation and connection-making, and renewed inspiration to be certain that women's voices are heard and women's talents are seen and recognized on stages across the Bay Area and beyond.
Dana Harrison is managing director of Theatre Bay Area.