Jill Dolan: A Patron's Perspective
Playwrights Horizons asked Patron Program member Jill Dolan why she has supported the organization for the past three seasons. This is what she had to say:
I’ve been writing about and advocating for women in American theater for several decades now, since the problem of women’s inequality as playwrights and directors persists. Women playwrights tend to be underrepresented in regional and New York theater seasons, and women directors too often don’t get the opportunities they deserve to ply their trade.
You’d never know this by looking at Playwrights Horizons’ past and present productions. When I receive the theater’s annual season announcements, I’m always delighted by the gender and racial diversity of the plays on offer. This season alone includes four out of six plays by women, three of which are also directed by women. But for PH, this is nothing special; no press release heralds this pattern as something special because frankly, it’s not. Fair representation for artists who usually have to fight their way onto a stage is business as usual here.
Playwrights Horizons produces plays by women and hires women directors not as tokens, but as artists who see both the specific and the universal in our common experience, as does any artist worth his or her salt. Too many theaters remain wary of spending their resources on women because they wrongly presume that only straight white men can tell widely relevant stories. This tired canard has never been true, even though it’s still trotted out way too often by many of our most respected New York and regional theaters.
I subscribe and donate to Playwrights each year confident that I’ll be engaged by ideas about a full range of human experience. I know I’ll see work by women playwrights and directors not because they appeal only to women, but because they have something important to say, and perhaps an inventive way of theatricalizing their stories. The artists showcased at Playwrights, across gender and race, will renovate not just which stories are told but how they’re told. As in last season’s The Big Meal, maybe a production will suggest how its characters change across generations, even as the actors’ bodies—across gender and age—stay relatively the same. And as in last season’s Rapture, Blister, Burn, maybe a story about a successful person’s restless ambivalence will be told against the backdrop of American history and ideas – which, in that case happened to be American feminism. These choices would be part of a tapestry of theatrical images, narrative styles, and social preoccupations that Playwrights keeps constantly under construction.
Sometimes, when I’m fantasizing about the end of inequality, I picture what theater in America would look like if every artistic director followed Tim Sanford’s lead. If all theaters believed that social diversity is artistically necessary, a multitude of stories and happily competing perspectives would circulate in our national imagination. We would hear ever-new stories about people who aren’t often represented on stage (like the characters in last season’s Milk Like Sugar, written by Kristen Greenidge and directed by Rebecca Taichman). We would delight in new perspectives and experiences, seen through innovative narrative and visual techniques. We would come to the theater not just to affirm what we know, but to expand our repertoire of knowledge about American society. We could practice different ways to engage a more extensive human community.
I’m so grateful that Playwrights Horizons guarantees me those opportunities six times each year.
Jill Dolan is the Annan Professor of English at Princeton University, where she is also a professor of theater and director of the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. In addition, she is the author of The Feminist Spectator, her George Jean Nathan Award-winning blog, which may be found at www.TheFeministSpectator.com.