BWW Feature: CAROLYN BOWMAN WOMEN IN THEATRE SYMPOSIUM at Roberts Wesleyan College Department Of Music And Performing Arts
When Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, hoisted their Tony's high after accepting the first Tony ever awarded to an all-female writing team, a spark ignited within the theatre, and more specifically Broadway, community. Tesori's resonating and non televised acceptance speech preached that "For girls, you have to see it to be it," and the lack of broadcast coverage for this historic speech brings a whole new level of ironic sexism to the table.
Despite the lack of coverage with the Tesori and Kron's 2015 Tony win, the gender disparity within the theatre community has had significant coverage within the last few years. Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori's "You have to see it to be it" speech has been covered extensively on various theatre news outlets and has over 60,000 views on YouTube; the Broadway community joined the NYC Women's March back in January; and theINTERVAL, an online publication boasting to be "The Smart Girls' Guide to Theatricality," garnered attention from the New York Times (twice) and The Guardian since its launch in 2014.
The gender disparity has thrived in the theatre industry, as well as within the vast majority of all professionAl Fields, yet it feels as though the gender disparity within theatre has had significant coverage within the last few years. Increased coverage and awareness, however, does not equate to increased equality within the industry, (especially in an industry where only 22% of plays being produced in the United States are written by women) making symposiums such as this so inherently important.
The Carolyn Bowman Women in Theatre Institute was a day-long event featuring a powerhouse of women conducting workshops, holding panels, and coming together to advocate for gender equality in an industry where the primary consumers are women, yet the primary producers are men. In attendance were both national and local female theatre artists, Lindsay Warren Baker, Amanda Jacobs, Dawn Kellogg, Esther Winter, Virginia Monte, Mary Tiballi Hoffman, Ruth Childs, Melanie Blood, Diep Tran, Luane Davis Haggerty, Heather Stevenson, Megan Mack, Beth Winslow, Corinne Aquilina, Stephanie Paredes, Annette Ramos, and Lara Ianni.
The all female writing team, Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs, of the Broadway-bound musical, Austen's Pride, delivered the keynote to kick off the symposium, stressing the importance of shifting the paradigm within society, so that the arts are valued, and women's voices within the performing arts are heard.
Following the keynote, a panel of 6 local female theatre artists spoke about their experiences in the theatre industry, and offered advice to young students looking to develop a career in theatre.
"Ladies, take the reins," Virginia Monte of WallByrd Theatre Company urges, during the panel discussion.
As women socialized to seek approval and please others, the common practice of waiting for someone to tell you what to do, to tell you that you're good enough, creates a vicious cycle, not conducive to women in leadership positions. But the barriers, societal and otherwise, that impact women's career trajectory in the theatre industry, can be broKen Down.
"The industry isn't friendly to ambitious women," Diep Tran, of American Theatre says during a workshop geared towards writing about theatre. But despite that unfortunate trend, many women continually break down those barriers, and a day filled with successful female theatre artists, such as the Carolyn Bowman Symposium, proves that.
Other highlights of the day included a variety of educational workshops, such as:
Starting your Own Theatre Company by Stephanie Paredes and Annette Ramos of Rochester Latino Theatre Company
Musical Theatre Audition by Corinne Aquilina of Nazareth College
Physicality for the Actor by Heather Stevenson of Lady Parts Theatre Company
Acting Audition by Luane Davis Haggerty of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Improvisation by Megan Mack and Beth Winslow, local Rochester-based actresses, and improv artists.
Fight Choreography by Lara Ianni, a NYC based actress.
Theatre should not be reduced to an escapist art form, not when one looks at the power of live performance. Theatrical performance allows for a deeper connection of ideas, than would a discussion. At its best, theatre should spur an audience into action, using inherent dramatization to reflect the problems afflicting our society - and, unfortunately, gender inequality is a problem that continues to plague society on all levels.
Celebrating women in theatre will forever be important until true gender equality has been achieved, and while advocating for coverage nationally is crucial, holding local events that commemorate the achievements of women are critical first steps.