She Has A Name: Casually Diminishing Women In Theatre

November 1st, 2015 § 1 comment

A few weeks ago, the headline of a review rubbed me the wrong way.

I didn’t have an issue with the review itself, by Charles McNulty for The Los Angeles Times. But the headline for the piece, which covered the new Broadway productions of Old Times and Fool For Love, read as follows, “Clive Owen and Sam Rockwell hit Broadway in ‘Old Times’ and ‘Fool for Love’ with different results.”

Why was the headline only about men, I thought. Admittedly, I hadn’t seen either production at that point, but I was familiar with the plays, and knew that the character Rockwell plays in Fool is at least evenly matched with the role played by Nina Arianda, and Owen shares the stage in a triangle with characters played by Eve Best and Kelly Reilly. My theatre-centric brain took this headline as gender inequity.

Thinking on it, I can see why the men might have gotten the headline mentions, since both have done television and film work, with Owen currently in the second season of The Knick. But neither are exactly bankable stars who “open” movies. Best and Arianda are “only” Tony Award winners, which may mean less in the entertainment hierarchy these days than electronic media work, especially in the major paper of the city that is the center of television and film business.

That said, Best appeared in 51 episodes of Nurse Jackie, though she’s not the lead, as Owen is on The Knick, but she did that series for much longer on Showtime than Owen has been doctoring on Cinemax. Admittedly, Owen was making his Broadway debut, and Rockwell was only making his second appearance, making their gigs slightly rarer than Arianda and Best each taking their third Broadway turns. I decided this wasn’t a clear cut case of advancing men over women, despite my own perception of implied unequal worth among the players along gender lines.

But this male favoritism sprang to mind again just this morning, when I saw this headline on a theatre story on, a website that includes coverage from The Record and other New Jersey outlets: “The woman directing Al Pacino in David Mamet’s new play.”

Headline from The Record

Now I knew instantly that the piece was about Pam MacKinnon because it’s my business to know who’s working on what show, but also because Pam has quickly become one of New York’s most recognized female directors, for such works as Clybourne Park (for which she had received an Obie) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (for which she won a Tony). Yet the headline was all about the big, male names, even though neither of them had spoken to The Record’s Robert Feldberg. Only Pam had done so.

Pam MacKinnon

Pam MacKinnon

Sure, you can chalk it up to celebrity, to what might get the most clicks online, but once again it was a case of choosing male names over female, and in this case the article was about “the woman.” I don’t fault the writer, but an editor and perhaps someone at the copy desk, who figured they’d go with male fame, rather than the female subject of the story.

Obviously it’s not possible to say from the two headlines I’ve cited to say that there’s a widespread pattern here, but I would suggest to readers who care about this issue that they should be on the lookout for such casual disregard of women in the theatre and call it out (or let me know; I’m starting a list) whenever it appears. Yes, it’s a very small-bore, incremental game of standing vigilant, but if indeed there’s a pattern, then it has to be broken at every opportunity.

Before I wrote this post, I called out The Record on its headline on Twitter as follows, at 10:30 am:

Now I can’t know for certain there’s any cause and effect, but 25 minutes later, after multiple favorites and retweets of my message, The Record altered its headline to “Director’s hard work on ‘China Doll’ pays off.” It appears they got the message – though presumably the original headline is what’s in the print edition. It’s also worth noting that the headline was changed without any acknowledgement, so in the long memory of the internet, the male-centric headline never happened. That’s dishonest.

Revised headline in The RecordBut even in an effort to ameliorate their insensitivity, it seems The Record still can’t bring itself to give the “Director” a name. So I’ll say it once again: it’s Pam MacKinnon. Remember it and use it, because without it, the record is incomplete and the paper’s bias is showing.

Howard Sherman is director of the Arts Integrity Initiative at The New School College of Performing Arts School of Drama.


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