Women’s Futures Month

Welcome to the Future.

To say it’s been a busy ten weeks since I announced the launch of my SLAM spinoff project, The Future Is Female Festival, would be an understatement. So for anyone wondering why there’s been so much radio silence from me as a writer, a Tweeter, a friend, a human—here’s why:

On March 1st, the Future will arrive in the form of an amazing, more-than-I-ever-could’ve-dreamed-of, fierce, loud, unstoppable festival of new work by over 140 women that will reach 2,000 audience members. The momentum and the excitement is palpable. With twenty-seven festival outposts in eighteen cities from coast to coast and Canada, the future is looking pretty darn female indeed. (Even Hillary still says so.)

It’s so exciting that I want to say it all again and end every sentence with exclamation points, or put the little clapping emoji between each word.

But getting to the point where we’re ready for clapping emojis has not been easy, and here is the singular biggest lesson I have learned in the process: Be the Hot Dog Princess you want to see in the world.

No, really.

tfif-fest-map
The Future Is Female Festival Outposts Nationwide

In case you don’t remember it from last summer, the Hot Dog Princess was the viral photo of a young girl who dressed up for “Princess Day” at dance class as…you guessed it…a hot dog. Shedding all convention, while the other girls portrayed variations on Disney movies, one little girl did what her heart told her to do, and came as a hot dog.

Being the Hot Dog Princess you want to see in the world is more than just being the change you want to see in the world—it’s an extra level of bravery, boldness, and commitment. And in a world where women are 51 percent of the population but only make up about 20 percent of produced work in theatre and TV, and where even the most qualified and dedicated of women still cannot shatter glass ceilings, producing this festival has reinforced to me that indeed, the best way to create the type of change you want is to roll up your sleeves and make it happen. In life, you will be offered lots of princess outfits, but if you want the hot dog costume, you have to bring it yourself.


Being the Hot Dog Princess you want to see in the world is more than just being the change you want to see in the world—it’s an extra level of bravery, boldness, and commitment. In life, you will be offered lots of princess outfits, but if you want the hot dog costume, you have to bring it yourself.


In creating this festival, one of my goals was to do something that would reach beyond the echo chamber of my big liberal city’s theatre scene. I feared at the outset that we wouldn’t succeed, but I was pleased to find that I was quickly proven wrong. In fact, it was primarily small towns and “red states” that signed up first. My team and I ended up having to scout for participants in most of the major theatre enclaves, but the opposite was true for the more remote locations, who mostly signed up quickly and without hesitation, making up a full third of the total outposts. What’s more, many of the groups in smaller towns were artists who were coming together to make this their very first show or a part of an inaugural season, showing me it’s true that if you build it, they will come.

I also learned it’s true that if you build it, it will be hard and it will not make you like producing any more than you already do, which is to say, not very much. I produced a few short play showcases here in NYC with friends through a school club while we were undergrads. And that was hard, and taught me that I don’t love producing. And I’ve self-produced a handful of my own works within larger festivals, and that was hard too, and reaffirmed to me that I don’t love producing.

This project was each of those experiences times twenty-seven, and I knew full well going into it that I probably was not going to uncover a lost passion for being a producer. It helped a lot that behind this particular endeavor was a cause that meant a great deal to me, and I certainly could not have put together a festival of this scale on a volunteer basis for something I didn’t care about deeply. And despite the challenges and daunting To Do Lists, it definitely has brought me satisfaction and a needed sense of purpose in a time of fear and uncertainty, and ultimately I am grateful for it. You know how some people respond to a breakup by busying themselves with three days a week at spinning class and crocheting blankets for all their friends? I respond to a fascist, racist, sexist, xenophobic demagogue becoming president by busying myself with producing a nationwide theatre festival.


You know how some people respond to a breakup by busying themselves with three days a week at spinning class and crocheting blankets for all their friends? I respond to a fascist, racist, sexist, xenophobic demagogue becoming president by busying myself with producing a nationwide theatre festival.


For those who are still interested in getting involved, you can sign up at almost any time throughout March to host an informal “pop-up” outpost of the festival using a provided folder of submitted plays, to create a reading of any scale. Wanna invite over five friends, crack open a bottle of wine, and read some plays aloud about women’s futures? Congrats! You just amplified the message of this festival. (Quick shout out to my mom, who loves “girl power” and was the very first person to sign up. Heart explosion.)

You can also, of course, go support one of the twenty-seven amazing shows. Check out the Festival Calendar and Festival Map to find one near you. Most benefit a charity, or offer free or pay-what-you-can tickets. A few even include or will feature the work of young women, teens, or college students; perhaps truly the most “future” of all.

Those in NYC can also join us for the festival kick off on Friday, March 3rd at our celebratory Flagship Outpost, featuring short work by incredible, award-winning women: Sara Cooper, Georgina Escobar, Amina Henry, Geraldine Inoa, Winter Miller, Riti Sachdeva, Caridad Svich, and myself, humbly offered alongside these awesome women.

Lastly, my profound thanks are owed to two truly indispensible women who have made this all possible by volunteering with me these last few months: My Co-Producer Lauren Orkus, and Social Media Manager Sarah Cosgrove. Their unwavering dedication to making this festival a huge success tells me that women undoubtedly are the key if you want to get shit done.

In this dark age we have entered into, in which facts can be “alternative,” and families are separated from each other at airports, and walls threaten to divide neighbors, I hope you will join us for this glimmer of hope. See a show in your area, host a pop-up outpost, spread the word, and hashtag with us on Facebook and Twitter: #TheFutureIsFemaleFestival #WomensFuturesMonth.

Onwards!

Originally published on HowlRound.

Advertisements

Submitting Like the Future Is Female

In the weeks since the election, I’ve found myself struggling, like many of us, to go back to business as usual. In the face of the heightened number of hate crimes, the president-elect’s conflicts of interest and corruption (ahem, crookedness?), the bold resurgence of white supremacy, and so much else, how can I go back to tweeting about gender bias in the entertainment industry? I’m not saying it’s lost all importance, but it certainly feels like it’s lost its urgency.

At the same time, though, I also feel like fighting for equality for women, minorities, LGBT people, immigrants—these things are more important than ever, because the rights and sheer humanness of these groups is being questioned and threatened in a more profound and public way.

futureAnd that’s why today, I am launching a new project, a spinoff of the work I am doing with SLAM (which will continue onwards itself, too), in which I hope to further the voice and visibility of women from all backgrounds in a new way. Until now, Submitting Like A Man has been a project that aims to create change through awareness. It is, as I’ve said many times, a “lens” for examining an experience, and I have truly cherished the discussions it’s inspired and the support it’s received. Now, with the changed circumstances in the world around us, I feel that it’s time to have a branch of the project that is more actionable; something that doesn’t just “evaluate” women’s role in theatre, but which actually champions it, advancing our perception of women theatre artists and of women themselves.

Welcome to The Future Is Female Festival.

You may know the history of the saying “the future is female” (full disclosure, I had to look it up), which has recently resurfaced and evolved, with many women recontextualizing it and bringing to it their own modern interpretation. My personal one is that it’s a way of saying the future contains better opportunities for women. It was a saying that, for obvious reasons, took on significance during the election (on the day I volunteered at Hillary Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters, at least three women were wearing the shirt). And among the many crushing things about the election results, the sentiment of this phrase—that the future holds greater, brighter, more equal opportunities for women of all backgrounds—felt like one of the things we had truly lost.


I am ready more than ever to envision a future that is female. And I want to see and hear how other women envision it too, and to amplify those messages. 


But that loss is one that I am not willing to accept, and I am ready more than ever to envision a future that is female. And I want to see and hear how other women envision it too, and to amplify those messages. So I am inviting individuals and theatre companies across the US to host productions or readings this March of ten-minute plays written by women of all backgrounds on the subject of “The Future Is Female.” What better way to ensure that the future is female than to ask women writers to create it? And in an industry dominated by men, what better way to help them achieve it than by giving them this experience, which will hopefully lead to new connections, new visibility, new audience members eager to see their work again?

The whole undertaking will fall under an umbrella that I’m spearheading, so that numerous theatres and theatre companies across the country can simultaneously participate in this one unified endeavor about the future of women. By all participating as individual groups within a joint venture, our voices are magnified, much like the amplify concept famously used by the women in the Obama administration to support and further each other.

In this case, we will amplify each other’s shows and the messages about our future contained within them. One of the struggles I’ve experienced following the unexpected results of this election is how to use creativity and art to create change. Art, of course, has always been a vehicle for change and progress. But sometimes, when you’re dealing with low-budget theatre that is only seen and heard by fellow artists in your deeply blue liberal city, it feels a little like screaming into an echo chamber. And so it’s my hope that by joining together in this project, we’ll have a larger impact. Strength in numbers—or, you might say, Stronger Together. Individually we may still end up echoing, but with enough participants reverberating the sound, the volume will be heard.


By joining together, we’ll have a larger impact. Strength in numbers—or, you might say, Stronger Together. This March, instead of celebrating women’s history, we can celebrate women’s futures.


There are a lot of details still to be worked out, and some details I’ve already started working on. If you want to read more, check out TheFutureIsFemaleFestival.com, and if you want to get involved as either an individual or an organization, I’ve made a quick Google Form for you to sign up. One of my major goals is for the festival to have a presence in as many places as possible, so don’t be shy—I’m going to need help from everyone. As the creator of this project, I am also looking to produce a “flagship” production here in New York, so if your theatre company wants to partner or you want to be involved in that, fill out the Google Form. Lastly, I’m hoping this can function as part-fundraiser for causes related to women and equality, with each outpost of the festival donating a portion of their proceeds or asking audience members for small donations at the show.

As you can see, there is much work to be done, and I hope you will join me in giving visibility and voice to women from all backgrounds, so that this March, instead of celebrating women’s history, we can celebrate women’s futures.

Originally published on HowlRound.

The Plot Thickens

Today, I’m ready to say something a lot of people have been asking me while simultaneously hoping-and-not-hoping I would say: Based on my experience in SLAM, I think it’s more advantageous to be a man.

That, of course, is my opinion, and it’s related solely to my undertaking of resubmitting my previously-rejected work under a male pseudonym. I consider this project to be not a science experiment, but an art project—a lens through which I am examining the world. And this conclusion, that there’s a male advantage, is one I’ve been reluctant to make, having waited to say it until I felt “sure.” But I’m saying it today because what I’m seeing through my lens tells me more and more that people are kinder and more encouraging to men, and more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. As a “man,” I have seen that my work and I come with an automatic level of authority and prowess, the type of credit that, as a woman, I have to fight to be given.

reading

Until recently, I had only received one differing result to Max’s work, in which Max was named a finalist and sent a kind, encouraging letter, while I’d received a template rejection for the exact same submission a few years prior. Today, I add two similar responses to the list.

The first is an opportunity that has asked Max to advance to the next stage, with the winners still to be determined. When I originally applied, I was not invited to the next stage, which involves submitting some basic additional materials, so seemingly Max’s status is something quite different.

I say “seemingly” because with Max’s successes, it’s my instinct to weigh all the factors in an attempt to assess whether there has been bias or differing treatment. And certainly that scrutiny is a part of administering this project. But at the same time if I, as Mya, applied two years in a row to the same competition, and advanced to the next stage the second year but not the first, I wouldn’t doubt whether I accomplished something or make a What If list (What if the competition opened up its second stage to a larger number of people this year? What if there were different readers? What if zombies ate the brains of this organization’s staff?)—I’d just do a little happy dance, and be excited about making the cut. And so it’s after a year of seeing all these nuanced ways in which Max fares better than me that I’m ready to just say, I think there was some bias here.

The other factor in the Bias Column is that the plays for this particular opportunity all have to fit a certain theme, which is the same now as it was when I applied. But the play that Max and I each respectively sent is a play I’ve always thought was a bit of a stretch for the theme. So for Max to still be in the running seems slightly more significant in light of that, because there are all sorts of numbers about how women will only apply to jobs if they’re 100 percent qualified, while men will give it a shot even if they’re only 60 percent qualified. But maybe there’s a degree to which a man who meets 60 percent of the criteria is still considered quite qualified, while a woman is not extended that same courtesy unless she meets 100 percent of it. And if that were true, then maybe Max fared better because his submission can speak to a portion of the theme and still remain in the running, while mine cannot.


As a “man,” I have seen that my work and I come with an automatic level of authority and prowess, the type of credit that, as a woman, I have to fight to be given.



The other recent differing result that Max got is a rejection letter that was distinct in its niceness
. This newest letter was notable because it was even more distinctly encouraging than the other encouraging rejection I mentioned previously.

I have applied to this competition twice as Mya, and both years, I received template rejection letters nearly identical to each other, following the standard three-paragraph form of most rejection letters: (1) Thanks for applying! (2) Sorry, we can’t offer you a spot! (3) It was nifty getting to know your work, so keep in touch, follow us on Twitter, and don’t be mad that we’ve automatically added you to our mailing list!

Max’s letter, however, was different. I pulled up both of my past rejections to compare them to his, and even had a close friend send me the one she got from this organization on the same day Max got his.

Unlike both of my past letters and my friend’s from this year (all three of which were identical save a word or two), Max’s letter was sprinkled with special nuggets of encouragement. Where the usual letter said, “Thank you for submitting your play,” Max’s letter said, “Thank you so much for submitting your play.” Where the usual letter said, “We can’t offer you a spot,” Max’s said, “We can’t offer you a spot because our decisions were really super extra challenging and we had to reject more people than we wanted to.” (“It’s not you, it’s me.”) Where the usual letter said, “Stay in touch,” Max’s said, “Stay closely in touch and be sure to submit again!

But above and beyond those, Max got an entirely new added paragraph whose sole purpose was to let him know how great he was. The paragraph gushed about all the enthusiasm Max’s play had inspired and let him know earnestly about the passionate dialogue the play created among the readers. He had truly enlightened them and hit on something special with his meaningful work, and it was important to them—really important—to let him know it.


To finally get some affirmation, after almost a decade, that I wasn’t totally wrong in feeling like I’d written something special was a real heartbreak. Because I only got that affirmation by being a dude.



What’s further complicated about this situation is that the woman who runs this opportunity and heads the literary department of the organization is an acquaintance of mine. In fact, I know her because she once saw my work and reached out to tell me how much she’d like it. And that’s exactly why I’ve applied to her organization a few times. What’s also interesting is that this organizationa prominent organization that is certainly a household name among theatre artistsis a public supporter of gender parity and diversity in the arts. They’ve even tweeted their support of SLAM on several occasions. And their track record supports their position of encouraging diversity—they’ve had no lack of women and minorities among their writers and artists. So to me this suggests that even those who clearly and measurably support diversity can still be subject to bias.

I’d be lying if I claimed this didn’t hurt, perhaps more than the others. This particular play of mine has always felt like “the one that got away.” It’s had some interest here and there, but it’s never been produced, and I’ve always felt that was a shame; I think it has real substance while being funny and uniquely theatrical. I wrote it almost ten years ago so I’ve mostly given up on shopping it around, but I often think back to it fondly, wondering if maybe there was someone out there who would finally see in it what I saw in it. So to finally get some affirmation, after almost a decade, that I wasn’t totally wrong in feeling like I’d written something special was a real heartbreak. Because I only got that affirmation by being a dude. And further to that, this experience lives alongside a lifetime of sexism: being mansplained about how to stand on a subway platform; being disparagingly called “honey” at the hardware store; being passed over for dream jobs when the all-male hiring team went with the guy. It’s yet again being treated differently because of my gender. And even if all I’ve been denied was encouraging rejection letters, those are still encouraging, and in this business we can all use all the encouragement we can get. And it seems to me that men get more of it.

The final notable thing is that between the three different results Max has received, something that stands out to me is that each of these scenarios involved a different play. So it’s not this one same play that I’ve yearned to see succeed being treated differently over and over, it’s three different plays from my body of work. Meaning it’s not that I have one single script that really shines but has been held back by Big Bad Bias; it shows me that, in fact, a variety of my work is given better consideration when someone thinks it’s been written by a man. It brings me back to a conclusion I’ve made before: It doesn’t necessarily hurt to be a woman, but it does help to be a man.

Originally published on HowlRound.