Naked in the Met

Hannah Friedman, Spring 2015

By: Hannah Friedman, SY ’17, for the Spring 2015 Issue (PDF version)
A correction, published in the Fall 2015 Issue, has been appended to the bottom of this article.

Naked in the Met

Twice a year, members of the Dramat gather in the University Theater’s green room to decide which show should be the next mainstage. For those outside the theater world, Dramat Mainstages are typically Yale’s largest theatrical productions, and the Dramat hires professional directors and designers, though all the technicians are students. While other shows are either run entirely by independent groups of students (all CPA shows) or proposed and selected by the Dramat Executive Board (the Fall and Spring Exes and Commencement Musical), the mainstages are the only two shows where the theater community engages in an active debate about different shows’ merits. The Short list meeting,* where all of the shows suggested by members are presented and narrowed down to a “medium list” of 30 shows, usually involves many shows being dismissed quickly. Some shows are struck from the list for predictable reasons (nobody wants to sit through ALL of Les Mis, and no one wants to build a rotating barricade), people discount many other wonderful shows for one simple reason: diversity.

A typical criticism might go like this:

“This show has a cast of ten, and only three are women.”

“Eleven characters, and the only two female characters are prostitutes.”

“Do we have the black/Latin@/Asian actors necessary for this show?”

“This show necessitates that all characters be white.”

One of the (many) differences between theater and film is that the same plays are rehashed and performed thousands of times. While some films are remade—and others seem to be rehashes of tired, old plots—the vast majority of movies are new, and new movies present a blank slate, a new opportunity for characters and plot lines. Certainly, current playwrights compose many new shows each year, but students in high school and college will read the standard fare, plays like Twelve Angry Men, Death of a Salesman, and others. While these classic shows merit the praise they have garnered over the years, most of them have a cast that heavily features and favors male characters. The Dramat takes gender balance into consideration when selecting shows, but most professional theater companies are under no pressure to consider the number of roles for women in their selection process. And why should they? They will find the necessary actors regardless of the makeup of their cast. The theatrical world doesn’t lack actors, designers, or directors; it simply lacks a proper space for women.

In 2012, The Guardian published a study which examined women in the ten most subsidized theaters in England. The study found that only 38% of the roles in all of the productions produced by these companies were given to women. Women directed 24% of the shows, while men compromised 67% and 64% of Boards of Directors and Artistic Directors respectively. Outside of acting and directing, most of the designers employed by these theaters were also men. In playwriting as well, women were also chronically underrepresented: women wrote only 34.5% of the shows performed at these theaters.

All of these statistics prompt one question: where are all of the women? Anyone involved in theater at Yale can affirm that women participate in larger numbers here. Statistics from the Yale Drama Coalition reveal that the majority of the shows this semester are being produced by women, designed by women and staffed by women. Although Yale does not necessarily represent college theater across the nation, it is likely that women play a significant role in the theater communities of college campuses around the country. Despite this, every professional the Dramat hired over the past two years has been a man, with the exception of costume designers and choreographers, (costume design is one of the fields traditionally dominated by women).* Men dominate the professional design world. This year’s Tony Awards further demonstrate this: both the shows awarded Best Play and Best Musical were authored by men; men won both scenic and sound design awards, as well as director, original score, orchestration, and choreographer awards.

Theater has historically been an accepting community in some respects. Gay men found havens in the arts communities in the early 20th century, but women have historically found the art world to be less accepting of their endeavors. In other aspects of the art world, women also struggle to find representation. At the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the percentage of works by female artists displayed in their galleries usually hovers somewhere around 10%. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while the numbers fluctuate, the representation also usually hovers well below 10%, leading the feminist group Guerrilla Girls to ask, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met?”

Art is not inherently gendered. In a kindergarten art class, both girls and boys participate equally. In fact, arts and humanities are often more strongly, stereotypically associated with women and femininity, while society encourages people to associate men with the harder, more logical STEM fields. If, at the beginning, women possess the same talent, the same drive for creative pursuits, where does the disparity emerge? Like in many other areas such as academia and business, the gap expands most after college, once developing artists reach the professional world. The professional world of art is institutional, and politics, money and biases still dictate whose art is deemed valuable, and more often than not, women’s art is not.

Some might say that this entire article is irrelevant, that the best pieces of art are chosen and the best artists happen to be men. Others might say that even if there is inherent discrimination in the art world, society should not concern itself with the fact that the majority of publicly displayed art is by men, for men, and pertaining to the concerns of men. Art permeates our culture, and nowadays art is more accessible than ever for those who wish to observe. To see great masterpieces housed thousands of miles away in museums, we only need to search for the image online. Art informs us about life—about its beauty, its pain, its complexity and opacity. If men are the only ones producing art, then the consumers of art only observe the male perspective. Women’s art, in any form, provides access into the minds of great female thinkers who have just as much, if not even more, to teach audiences than their male counterparts. We know that the female perspective exists in its multitude of forms. We know that women exist who yearn to create and to express themselves artistically. We know that there are audiences of people, of young girls and older women and even men and boys and non-binary folks who are hungering for equal representation, for a fuller perspective on life and humanity that can’t be achieved by only showcasing the works of men.

Margins of Error

In her article from the Spring 2015 Issue, “Naked in the Met,” Hannah Friedman wrote the following: “Despite this, every professional the Dramat hired over the past two years has been a man, with the exception of costume designers and choreographers (costume design is one of the fields traditionally dominated by women).”

However, assuming the past two years to be the 2013 – 2014 season and 2014 – 2015 season, she neglected to mention two additional female professionals. Parade, the 2013 Fall Mainstage, had a female director. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the 2014 Spring Mainstage, had a female lighting designer.

Less notably, the meeting that Hannah refers to in her piece as “the Short list meeting” is actually called the “long list meeting” (as it is the meeting where the Dramat narrows the long list down to a medium list, as she correctly identifies).

– Henry Tisch, president of the Yale Dramat, DC ’16

Image: Guerrilla Girls