Game of Crones: Reign of the Drama Queens

Imagine you are a parent working two or three jobs to pay for your daughter’s tuition and college expenses. When she announces she is not going to major in gender studies, you breathe a sigh of relief. Then she says she’s decided to major in theater arts! Geez, why not just drop out and take a vow of poverty.

Well, four years from now all those unemployed or underemployed theater majors may get a break…assuming they are women or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

You see, the 2020-2021 American theater season has been proposed as a Jubilee year. As you may recall from Sunday school, the Jubilee is an old biblical term in which the slate is wiped clean, e.g., slaves are freed, and debts are forgiven. The theatrical Jubilee concept comes with a twist: it’s about extinguishing men, not debt; purportedly it stands foursquare for the manumission of women, as well as other aggrieved groups.

For the record, here’s the manifesto from Howl Round, a website which pertains to all things theatrical:

We can envision a near future in which all American Theatre seasons are overflowing with works written and directed by women.

We can conceive of the myriad outstanding plays by people of color and Native artists being produced nationwide.

We can foresee LBGTQIA creators hired to write, direct, and choreograph in every theater in the United States of America.

We can anticipate artists with disabilities in every role the theater has to offer, onstage and off.

We plan to celebrate this vision with a Jubilee year in 2020, in which every theater in the United States of America produces only works by women, people of color, artists of varied physical and cognitive ability, and/or LGBTQA artists.

Interesting to note that even these people are confused by the proliferation of gender identities, as they first say LBGTQIA, and then LGBTQA. Thanks to Urban Dictionary for bringing me up to date by defining “I” and “A” as “intersexual” and “asexual.”  “Intersexual” was a new one on me, but it seems to be a neologism meaning hermaphroditism. Nothing like old wine in new bottles for seeing through a glass darkly. Of course, by the time 2020 gets here, that LBGTQIA acronym will surely be larger. (Guinness, take note: the result should occur in the world’s longest horizontal eye chart!)

This SJW-oriented Jubilee is the brainchild of Kirk Lynn, one of the artistic directors at the Rude Mechs theater group in Austin. He is if you’re wondering, a heterosexual, middle-aged white male, so he is doing some pretty heavy virtue signaling/white knighting. According to the Rude Mechs website, the group’s mission statement includes “fostering confidence and creativity in young women through the power of performance.” Geez, are we ever going to get done with empowering these females?  Whoops! Pardon me; I keep forgetting…we still have a long way to go.

Of course, leaning to the left is nothing new in the arts. During the 1930s proletarian and anti-fascist plays were fashionable, and in the late 1950s, kitchen-sink dramas were popular in England. Then there was the 1960s radical chic movement (so ably chronicled by Tom Wolfe) in which highbrow artsy types hobnobbed with leftists and espoused fashionably radical politics.

In a sense, the proposed theatrical Jubilee is just the culmination of longstanding progressive trends. Non-traditional or color-blind casting, for example, has been around for decades. The goal was to provide work for minority actors even when they were obviously not suitable for certain roles. For example, Victorian London was 99.99% white, but you wouldn’t know it if you attended the annual productions of “A Christmas Carol” at the Dallas Theater Center and observed the multicultural roulette casting of Tiny Tim. The Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon couldn’t offer a broader rainbow coalition of juvenile gimps.

To be sure, the theater is still concerned about minorities (the Howl Round website also has an article on the pressing issue of lack of diversity in a deaf theater), but now women’s issues have been moved to the front burner. Again, this is not a concept that just got off the boat but has been around for years. For example, in Los Angeles, there is a group called the Kilroys, a henhouse of female playwrights and producers who turn out an annual list of plays by women that otherwise might escape notice.

In New York, the Women’s Project (interesting to note that the artistic director is Lisa McNulty, former “wife” of Norah Vincent, author of the renowned Self-Made Man), founded in 1978, has produced hundreds of plays by and about women.

Same goes for the Moxie Theater in San Diego. Men aren’t entirely excluded, but the group provides “primarily female playwrights” and looks for plays that “defy female stereotypes.”

Flyover country is not exempt either. For example, in Dallas, we have the EchoTheater, which has been producing nothing but plays by women for the last 15 years. Then there is the Bishop Arts Theater, which has been doing black-oriented material since day one, but recently genuflected to the gynocracy by hosting a festival of six one-act plays by women.

And this movement isn’t restricted to North America. Across the pond, a movement called “Waking the Feminists” arose in Ireland in response to the productions of Dublin’s famed Abbey Theater during a festival of plays in honor of the 100th anniversary of Irish independence. It seems of the ten plays performed, only one was written by a woman, and only three were directed by women! Such an outrage!

Well, the Abbey Theater got the message and formed a sub-committee on gender balance. Predictably, they pledged allegiance to gender equity without ever defining the term. The Abbey Theater may be world-famous, but it still depends on a government subsidy, so something resembling a quota system will probably result, even if the word quota is never uttered.

Now as the call for Jubilee jihad spreads to theater groups across America (indeed, “Waking the Feminists” has already spread to New York), you can guess how this will work out. The pressure to jump on the bandwagon will be enormous, and the moral posturing will be unending. Any theater manager’s refusal, no matter how carefully thought out and sensibly worded, will be tantamount to wearing a “Trump for President” button.

I predict that the Jubilee season if it comes to pass, will not be a financial success. This is hardly going out on a limb, as theater in America doesn’t come close to paying its own way. This is one reason the dreaded dead white male playwrights are so popular. Shakespeare gets no royalties, so it is cheaper to produce one of his plays as opposed to one written by a living, breathing playwright who is due royalties.

In days of old, theater troupes had to put butts in the seats in to survive. Today, without subsidies, most theater companies would be out of business, and they know it. Consequently, they are always begging for grants from wealthy donors, government arts funds, and foundations. In a bread-and-circuses society with an over-supply of leisure time activities, live theater (especially with progressive themes) just can’t compete with sports, movies, TV, pornography, pop music, and video games. Oh, your local newspaper still dutifully reviews local productions, but if budget cutbacks eliminated the theater reviewer’s position, it’s doubtful if the readership would notice.

For sure the lively arts folks will be rattling their tin cups overtime to make the Jubilee happen.  And if you’re an individual, foundation, or corporation that usually donates to the arts, and you turn this one down, then it must be institutionalized misogyny or homophobia or pangender phobia or…well, as you can see, the Urban Dictionary will have to come up with some new words to cover all the contingencies.

The excuse for this all this trendy pro-female bias is that theater has traditionally muffled if not gagged women’s voices.  Unfortunately, that complaint doesn’t hold up in theater any more than it does in society at large.  In the world of the theater, the white heterosexual male has made major contributions, but he is not running the show. The majority of plays produced may well be written by white male playwrights, but, as shown above, women often run theater groups, direct plays, or are at least highly influential in selecting the plays that the group puts on.

In society at large, while men earn more money, women control the purse strings. To a large degree, the art world involves well-to-do ladies of leisure (usually blessed with rich husbands) raising money and deciding which artists, male or female, starving or otherwise, are awarded the booty.

Of course, booty may be what all this Jubilee stuff is really about. Go down any rabbit hole you want, but don’t ignore the money trail. The Jubilee may be an attempt to corner the market and put more money into the hands of women. If people aren’t going to see the female-friendly plays that the theater groups are offering now, then let’s remove all the competition so theatergoers have nothing but female-friendly plays to choose from.

Women supporting their local theater groups makes perfect sense since women are born actresses (there is a movement afoot to turn “actor” into a gender-neutral term and to jettison the word “actress”). In the theater world, the vaginalized are hardly marginalized. Indeed, one might argue the opposite.  According to Richard Burton, “An actor is something less than a man while an actress is something more than a woman.” That may be one reason why homosexual males have made goddesses out of flamboyant, over-the-top actresses.

I think Richard Burton meant that acting is central to female identity; if a man wants to tread the boards, well and good, but if he wants to gain respect, he needs to perform in real life. He must be a “hero” in life; playing one on stage is not enough. Deep down, even a leading man harbors the suspicion that he’s a humbug. I don’t think leading ladies harbor such self-doubts.

Most feminists act as though nothing has changed since Shakespeare’s day when roles for women were played by men. You’d think they’d be lionizing all those 17th Century actors and their gender fluidity, but no! Even all those cross-dressing roles in Shakespeare’s comedies can’t make up for that dastardly phallocratic Elizabethan stage. True, Lady Macbeth may be a strong woman, but ultimately she could be interpreted as a product of the author’s misogyny.  And don’t even mention The Taming of the Shrew!

Truth to tell, I don’t know how they kept women off the stage, since emoting, putting on makeup and playing dress-up is regularly exhibited by females of the tenderest years. For teenage girls, it is but a small step from drama queen to dramaturgy. That’s why the drama club at your local high school is more than likely top-heavy with females.  In fact, I recall reading more than a few biographies of actors who, when asked why they first took an interest in theater, replied that it was a good way to meet chicks.

At least that’s what the heterosexuals said. Homosexual males have long been a staple of theater, from playwrights (e.g., Edward Albee, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Terence McNally, Oscar Wilde) to actors (e.g., John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Ian McKellen), not to mention dancers and singers. Spot the Homo is hardly a challenging game when it comes to the world of theater. Those mentioned above, however, did not achieve prominence because of any affirmative action program for homosexuals; they were just good at what they did.

So methinks the marginalized doth protest too much. There is an insightful line In the Mel Brooks movie To Be or Not to Be (actually a remake of a 1940 Ernst Lubitsch comedy), in which he plays the manager of a Polish theatrical troupe that is putting on Hamlet in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. When informed that the Nazis are putting Jews, homosexuals, and Gypsies in concentration camps, he laments “Without Jews, fags, and gypsies, there is no theater.”

Well, if the Jubilee gets off the ground, there will be theater, but white heterosexual men will be relegated to the wings. As Shakespeare put it in As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII), “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances.”

So, men, you can exit stage right, or you can stage left. Don’t go away mad, just go away.

Until we need you.

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