BWW Exclusive: What Does It Mean to Be a Woman in Theatre?

We asked the ladies of Broadway to share what it means to them being a woman in theatre.

By: Mar. 08, 2021
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BroadwayWorld is celebrating Women's History Month and International Women's Day by asking the question, 'what does being a woman in theatre mean to you?'

Read responses from actresses across the Broadway realm, from newcomers to mothers, and more.

Nikki Renee Daniels

Being a woman in the theater can mean a lot of different things. At this time in my life, it's more about juggling being a mom of two young kids while still feeling like I'm giving as much as I can, as an artist. Unfortunately it's impossible to give 100% as a mom, a wife and an artist, so we play the juggling game. One thing that I have learned is that living a full will automatically make you a better, more experienced actor. I also find that the less time in the day that I have to worry about my performance at night, the better I am as a performer. I'm finding that it's ok not to be so solely focused on career and giving a "perfect" performance. I guess I could apply that last sentence to my roles at home as well!

Kelli O'Hara

It means that sometimes I'm a teacher and sometimes a fraud. I'm on the curb one day and the "belle of the ball" the next. A stranger in a new land or the leader of the pack. A dancer, an accidental thief, a wife, a guilty mother, and even a child, but always fighting for my voice. Always searching. And then there are my on-stage characters.

Stephanie J. Block

"As wise women [and men] in every culture tell us: The art of life is not controlling what happens to us, but using what happens to us." -Gloria Steinem

On stage, in film, through poetry, on a canvas or in any realm of the creative arts, women are invited... even encouraged to express our deepest selves. Our emotions, experiences, pain, passions and desires are welcomed and honored when woven into our art form. Theatre has always been the marriage of my personal being expressed while dressed up as my professional. I get to use what has happened to me as a woman and create, heal, grow, teach and share these emotional truths with other women. You can be sure after this wild time in history, women will be returning to the stage in a more amplified voice and heart. And it will be thrilling!

Jennifer Ashley Tepper

For me, being a woman in the theatre means reflecting on the women in theatre history who came before us. It means celebrating women who have forged their own paths and inspired others. In each of my Untold Stories of Broadway books, I specifically strive to shine light on women who have created meaningful and exciting work on Broadway but have been forgotten. I am forever influenced by the late great Wendy Wasserstein and how she asked questions about women supporting each other, and elevated other women in art in her masterwork, The Heidi Chronicles.

In my newest book, one woman I write about is Rosalie Stewart. Rosalie Stewart was a Broadway producer who produced seven shows during the 1920s, at a time when theatre producing was not a job considered open to women. Part of chronicling women in theatre history is examining exactly how they were treated in the press and seen in the public eye during their era. In 1925, the Brooklyn Eagle wrote a piece on Stewart's singular place in the industry:

"Miss Rosalie Stewart holds a unique place in the theatrical world, for not only is she the youngest woman producer on Broadway but she is also the most successful. Miss Stewart's place in the center of the feminine limelight is unassailable. For is she not responsible for the tremendously fine comedy, The Show-Off, and that drab human drama, Craig's Wife, to say nothing of Torchbearer and Meet the Wife?

The advent of the woman producer in the theatrical world in the last five years has caused much comment. Producing plays has always been regarded as essentially a man's business. At best, it was gambling on long shots, investing between $20,000 and $30,000 with a chance that the play might last anywhere from two weeks to two years. As a sex, women have always been notoriously poor gambles. They're afraid to take chances.

So, the success which has attended the ventures of Rosalie Stewart has been viewed with more than the ordinary amount of surprise. Particularly since she has done something that few producers ever are able to do-she has won the commendation of the critics for the fine type of plays which she has presented and at the same time she has piled up a financial balance which makes even bank presidents treat her with respect. The plays which she has sponsored are ample refutation of the old, old cry that the public is a raucous-voiced, unappreciative rabble, interested only in legs, jazz and low comedians, and that nothing truly artistic and fine can make money."

Thinking of Rosalie Stewart this Women's History Month! I hope everyone digs into theatre history to discover other women in the arts who they may not know yet, and celebrate their work and legacies.

Andrea Macasaet

Being a *filipino* woman in theatre means that I get to claim my space and represent my culture. I have the great honor and privilege to show other Filipino girls and women that a career in theatre IS possible and that there IS space for us here.

Samantha Pauly

It means the opportunity to tell stories that reflect the experiences of women today. To be in a show like SIX the musical, and to play Katherine Howard specifically, gives me the chance to show how important it is to believe women - believe what they've been through. It means being able to connect with individuals who have experienced something similar to Katherine Howard's story. And it also means being unapologetically myself, and never making myself smaller to accommodate others.

Laura Bell Bundy

It means that I have an opportunity to make sure that the portrayal of women is accurate and empowering. That I can give and have the responsibility to give my characters substance and goals. It means that I can influence public opinion about who women are by how I portray them... and it means I get to tell great stories about women.

The theater has long been a place where issues are explored in personal ways. Women's equality and their struggle to survive in a man's world can be told in a personal human way so that an audience can understand. The theater is the place the audience goes to be entertained but leaves having their hearts stirred and their minds changed. I look to change the collective consciousness about the role of women through my work in the theater.

Adrianna Hicks

To me, being not only a woman, but a black woman in the theatre industry, means that I have the amazing opportunity to represent the beauty of womanhood, and express how powerful the voice of a woman truly is. Anytime I get the chance to perform onstage, it is a blessing to know that I'm partaking in the representation of women, who not only look like me, but have experienced the same highs and lows that all of humanity shares. I hope that I can inspire black women, and all women to take the industry head on with grace and poise, knowing that who they are and what they represent matters.

Eva Noblezada

It's a power. It's a journey. It's a struggle. It's a learning experience. It's a spiritual awakening. It's a catalyst. It's medicine. It's terrifying. I can go on and on. I am so proud to be where I am. And looking back at my journey and all of the marvelous, beautiful and radiant women who I've met and who has crossed paths with me along the way: Thank you. And to those I'm yet to meet and work with and be inspired by; thank you too!

I recommend everyone to read Women who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes! Here's a wonderful quote from her book that explains how I feel about being a woman in theatre... 'I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories from your life-not someone else's life. Water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom. That is the work. The only work'.

Betty Buckley

It is an honor, a privilege to be a woman in the Theatre, of the Theatre. I love the Theatre. I especially love the Musical Theatre. I love being part of a team of collaborators who work together to create special magic for each and every audience. It is always a thrill! There is nothing quite like it. In particular, there is nothing like a Broadway Opening Night! Nothing.

It's been strange to be away from live performance for over a year. Really strange. And in some ways it's been a blessing, a kind of gift of time of quiet and contemplation. The pressure of needing to know the next gig, the pressure of staying up on everything has taken a hiatus for now. And, accordingly, I have had the time to feel so much love for all of my colleagues in every aspect of the Theatre.

I have also spent time consciously letting go of slights and pettiness I have felt from some of the men, entrenched in patriarchal entitlement, that I've encountered in the years of my career. We're all just doing the best we can, I guess.Thankfully, there are, also, many of the most wonderful, generous men in this business with whom I've worked and been blessed to know. I've been taught through the years to temper, to tone down my Texas brashness, to use more care with some of the extraordinarily sensitive egos of some of the men I have encountered in the work place. It's a hard thing. Learning and finding acceptance for "The Way Things Are" to quote the mice from the film "Babe", has been a difficult lesson for me. On any given day, I fantasize telling some dudes... how it has been and needs to be. But, oh, well...

My practice is to remember my Guardian Angel Elaine Stritch and think "What would Elaine say?" And to soften that inspiration, my other "go to" is to think about the great Ms. Angela Lansbury. One of my main mantras in this "Business of Show" is "What would Angela do?" I even have a little gold bracelet that has "WWALD" engraved on it, given to me by my friend Susan Eisenbeil. That always helps. Thanks, Susie. I am most grateful to be a "Woman of the Theatre." Happy International Woman's Day!

Joaquina Kalukango

A woman in the theatre Boldly takes up space, fiercely advocates for her friends and colleagues while doing soul bearing work 8 times a week. She is the ultimate badass. Running households, nurturing babies, and changing lives. I love being a woman in the theatre.

Kathryn Gallagher

I daydream about how she would speak about herself if she was growing up now, in a culture far from perfect, but one that allows little girls to believe that their brains hold their power, not their measurements. Would she claim her intelligence with pride? Or would she still apologize for it? But then, of course, her tenacity and persistence through her insecurities are what paved the way for me to believe that I could live the life I chose to live.

Read Kathryn's full essay about the impact of her grandmother, Miss Paulette, here.