Marketing is full of statistics. Stats are a good attention grabber. People tend to think that when they see a number with a percent sign, that it’s 100% true and encompasses every matter that can ever be discussed on the subject. This isn’t something I necessarily agree with, it’s just the way I feel that people perceive things.
The reason I bring it up is because I experienced the draw of statistics while doing marketing work for this year’s festival. The statistic I found so compelling is as follows: Nationally, only 19% of plays are written by women, but at this year’s festival, 30% of our shows have female creators.
The first time I saw this stat, I thought it was really impressive. Like “wow, IndyFringe is so great to make these awesome opportunities for female playwrights that they can’t get anywhere else, because 30% is greater than 19% right?” So I thought that a great idea for a blog post would be to do a Q and A with two of our female writers, asking them about the challenges of being outnumbered by the other sex.
While I wish I had time to talk to every female author in the festival, I had to narrow it down a bit. The reason I picked KT and Casey was not only because of their incredibly interesting shows in the festival – Mr. Boniface, the Wise and Hell’s Fourth Ring: The Mall Musical, respectively – but also because they have very different amounts of experience with IndyFringe (Casey’s been doing shows at the Festival since 2007, while this is KT’s first go around with IndyFringe).
The answers I got to my questions were not what I expected. What did I expect? Something along the lines of “it’s hard for playwrights in general, not to mention for women” or things like “people aren’t as interested in reading plays written by women” or other comments that one would assume by looking at that one statistic mentioned above.
But the impression of the issue that I got from these playwrights had less to do with the struggle of being a female playwright and more to do with being a playwright in general. KT Peterson described it as, “absurd to look at someone like Albee or Letts and say ‘look, a male playwright!’ I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me.”
The stigma with being called a “feminine” playwright is that because they’re female, they’re expected to write a certain way, like a stereotype. Casey Ross’s writing style doesn’t fit this mold. She describes her writing as more “crass” and that after seeing her shows and reading her name, people tend to think that she is a guy. “I’m certainly not writing lady-like plays at all,” says Casey.
Casey went on to talk more about female playwriting contests where submissions are closed only to female authors. Since the subject matter for submissions is still centered around this “lady-like” stereotype, it’s challenging for playwrights like Casey to take advantage of the opportunity. She comments, “I am a female writer and I take pride in that, but I don’t want to prepack in the vaginal monologues for every single contest I submit to just because I am a female playwright.”
And she shouldn’t have to. We shouldn’t be restricting female playwrights by grouping them into some category. Being a female playwright is an occupation, not a genre. KT writes, “The fastest kid in the class wants to win the race because he’s fast, not because everyone else was told not to compete that day.”
So why do we think we have to treat these women like they can’t compete with the rest of the playwrights in the industry? I’ll tell you why, it’s because of stats like this:
Nationally, only 19% of plays are written by women.
and phrases like:
female playwright (which I’ve used maybe 20+ times in this article).
I’m not trying to say that there shouldn’t be pride in being a female playwright. Nor am I trying to say that creating opportunities specifically for female playwrights shouldn’t happen. Female playwrights should still be supported, but should be in a way that doesn’t prejudge the content. I just want people to think more about the art, and less about the sex of the person that’s writing it.
But that’s what the Fringe Festival is. Casey Ross described Fringe as her “home base” and where she got her start. KT Peterson talks about her excitement to work with so many great artists in one festival. And what did KT and Casey have to do to get involved? Be one of the first 64 to submit a show. It didn’t matter if they were boys, girls, black, white, aliens or anything. Fringe is still the place where they can create anything they want and perform it in 60 minutes.
The Full Q&A is below.
Q: How would you describe IndyFringe as an outlet for you as a playwright?
KT: Being a part of and supporting the Indy Arts community is like paying taxes–in the end, everyone benefits. There are a lot of talented people here, and it is my pleasure to work with them and to invest in showing them off. Selfishly, Boniface is my oldest and probably favorite play, so I jumped at the chance to spend time with it again and see what else I could find.
CR: I kinda describe it like home base because it’s really where I got my start and it’s where my company got its start because everyone I work with and everyone I know has been a Fringe participant with me. Without Fringe, I probably wouldn’t still be doing this. It’s been an easy way to get your work produced.
What do you think makes a show stand out at Fringe?
KT: Actors. They are magical creatures. An actor will rip his own heart out of his chest and show it to you—all under sixty minutes! It’s vulnerable, and that is why Fringe is good because sometimes it doesn’t work–and that’s okay. Authenticity (and ingenuity) stand out, and it is appreciated.
CR: I think I’m still trying to figure that out, honestly. I’ve had some that have sold tremendously well, and I’m not entirely sure what I did differently between those shows and the ones that didn’t sell well. I would say that good and interesting promotional art helps. I would say a catchy title helps. This year I’m going the whole musical route, so I hope that helps. I think it’s kind of being boundary-less, because it’s really the only place that’s uncensored, unadjudicated theatre.
Q: What do you do outside of Fringe artistically?
KT: I have writing partners in Baltimore and Los Angeles. I am also working on a book–god knows when I’ll have time to finish it–and a handful of new plays.
CR: I just started my own company this year. We did our first season at the Grove’s House. We did some shows that had actually been Fringe shows previously. I actually did a piece that was a sequel to another Fringe show and we did it in repertory as a part of our season. Fringe is definitely my guaranteed show a year.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a female playwright?
KT: This may take a minute to answer. It is true: there is a disparity between produced female to male playwrights on the stage, but there is a great deal of effort being done across the country to encourage, welcome, and make room for female writers as well as writers of other diverse backgrounds and circumstances. There can always be more effort, but it’s an exciting time to write for the theater because there are new opportunities with these challenges. What is my greatest challenge as a female playwright? To find a way to ignore that label, because it’s absurd to look at someone like Albee or Letts and say “look, a male playwright!” I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me. The fastest kid in the class wants to win the race because he’s fast, not because everyone else was told not to compete that day. I steal from Caroline McHugh to say I am “untragically woman” while being a card-carrying feminist. Toeing that line is a harder challenge than it may sound and it’s all about perspective.
*The rest of KT’s response to this question can be found at the bottom of the post.
CR: My biggest challenge is a lot of times because my name is kind of gender generic and it’s spelled the guy way. People tend to think I am a guy until they meet me and I don’t think my writing helps because I write mostly male characters and I can be kind of crass and I’m certainly not writing some ladylike plays at all. I guess some of the things I hit for like writing contests for women and institutions that support female playwrights is that they really want you to be writing from a female perspective and a feminist outlook and it’s just not the type of stuff I write. That’s been my catch-22 where it’s like I am a female writer and I pride that, but I don’t want to prepack in the vaginal monologues for every single contest I submit to just because I am a female playwright. I don’t quite fit in on either side.
Q: How does Fringe help you as a female playwright (if it does)?
KT: (See above…)
CR: It really is an unadjudicated festival. There not selecting shows based on any demographic other than first come first serve. If you want to get your work done, there is no stigma. There is no face of the Fringe really. I think the fact that the shows are blindly selected really helps that.
Q: What would you say to get people to come to your show, what are you excited for most about it?
KT: Psychic goats! People fall down a lot–get a little joy in your life! Love conquers some! We have free stickers!
CR: It’s silly. It’s very very silly. I think a lot of artists are going to enjoy it because it is about working in retail, a mall is sucking out the soul of it’s employees. It’s just a good time, it’s not that deep. We just want to make people laugh with it.
*Casey’s interview was done in person and recorded, while KT’s was written and sent.
There are so many versions of ourselves we are now quite adept at presenting to the world at any given moment, and I think women have had the shorter end of the stick–ha ha–for a long time in terms of being taken seriously independent of our sexuality. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I listed here all the stupid things I have been asked or told in relation to me being a writer and a woman—there are plenty of amusing and palm-to-forehead stories out there, I won’t bore you with mine. We live in a world of incessant marketing of oneself, and this is a subject that endlessly fascinates me because we are more capable today of writing our history in real time than ever before, and that fact—perhaps rightly so—scares the shit out of us. It’s tough to market authenticity. It’s like you gotta jump into a camp to get your boat out the dock. If you think about the self-marketing that happens as an artist persona-wise and then the marketing that takes hold of whatever new piece you’re working on–because of course “know your audience”, we want people seeing these things–it can get dangerous. For one, it certainly smooths down some of the rough edges of the piece being created—the un-selfconscious stuff—the authenticity that gives it that whiff of bravery people can smell from a mile away. Secondly: what mystery is there if I’ve already told you how I want you to receive my play? Writers are getting really good at telling you what we want you to think of us, and it tends to shave off the more interesting, rough edges of our work and ourselves in relation to it. What is theatre if not risking that voyeuristic journey into the center of somebody else’s reality? You could just as easily apply the same conundrum to people selecting a new profile picture on facebook—if the kids still even use that these days—sexy, fun, or concerned citizen? Work account, professional account, or free-wheeling “secret friend” account? The new frontier of our artistic culture and indeed our regular every-day reality will be the opposite of what well-meaning modern art institutions are recommending all the young artists be: marketers and businesspeople. Bring on the true weirdos who have no choice but to be authentic. I realize this flies in the face of what many are saying is the ugly reality of being an artist today, but we need weird, because weird is the future, man. We don’t need to keep breeding artists who immediately become professional marketers to cleverly sell us things we don’t want or need, or to make me cry when I’m watching an insurance commercial. There may be less of us in number and we may be a bit less world-wary, if not aware, but we have got to stop comparing ourselves to everybody else. Confidence in the fact that telling your side of the story is really all you need to do certainly offers an ease of purpose when you wake up every day. Do you, go to sleep, wake up, do it again.
Please support KT’s and Casey’s shows at #IndyFringe15.