Aphra’s note: As a guest blogger on Girldrive this week, I’ll share an interview I did with three young women that I met at our last Guerrilla GALa – the annual networking event for women in theatre in New York City. They are playwright Mariah MacCarthy; actress and producer Chance Parker; and performer and director Drae Campbell.
APHRA: I’d like to get a sense of your background – Do you have a degree in theatre and if so, do you think having a degree helps?
MARIAH: I have a BS in theater from Skidmore College. A degree in theater isn’t a must, but pretty much everything I’ve done in New York was as a result of the connections I made at Skidmore (mostly with alumni who graduated long before I attended) and my training definitely affected my style – for the better, I think. Also, most of the plays I’ve had professionally produced started as projects at Skidmore. I think college is important for theater as long as it gives you an environment to take risks without the monetary/time constrictions of professional theater. But not many people will give a crap about your theater degree once you’re out, so if you’re just doing it for your resume, don’t bother (unless you’re going to Yale or something).
CHANCE: I have an advanced diploma in acting and theater from The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Washington, DC. I don’t know if a degree is 100% necessary, but having a strong foundation is.
DRAE: I have a BFA from the University Of The Arts in Philadelphia. I don’t think a degree is a must if you’re serious about learning, listening and paying your dues. But I think some kind of degree is practical and helpful.APHRA: When did you move to New York City? Why did you come here…was it to work in theatre?
CHANCE: I moved to NYC in 2003. I moved here to “make it” as an actor.
DRAE: I came to New York to perform, yes. I moved here in 1996.
MARIAH: I moved here in September 2007. I came here for theater, and because I always kind of knew I’d live here at some point.
APHRA: What’s been the hardest thing about theatre in New York City for you so far?
DRAE: Not getting paid. Having to do everything yourself has been good and bad. It’s exhausting, but you learn a lot and have more control over what you’re doing.
MARIAH: #1 = NYC is expensive. #2 = Networking. If you’re doing it to the fullest it’s practically a full-time job. #3 is really #1 + #2. I mean there is no time to actually do the work I came here to do (write). I’m too busy seeing my friends’ plays, emailing people about my plays, and making a living.
CHANCE: For me the hardest thing has been finding roles as an artist of color. It has been very difficult. Making myself take all of the necessary steps to get those few roles (i.e. – mailings, workshops, etc.) hasn’t been easy either.
APHRA: I’d like to hear about some surprising successes or failures since you’ve been here.
DRAE: I had a bad experience with a theater company once, but most of the people I’ve met have been my trusted collaborators and artistic community.
CHANCE: I got a chance to tour the US for 3 months with a show and that was amazing. It’s a little unfortunate to say, but failures, or setbacks, are part of the game, so they really aren’t that surprising.
MARIAH: I was shocked at how well my full-length NYC debut, THE ALL-AMERICAN GENDERF*CK CABARET, went. We sold out every show, and even with only a two-week run got several rave reviews. I think the short run/small space allowed us to sell out and we had an awesome PR rep (Morgan Lindsey Tachco). Also, people like sex and shows with bad words in them. I knew most of this ahead of time, but still didn’t expect the response we got.
APHRA: The annual Tony Awards are coming up (on June 13th) so let’s talk about Broadway for a moment. What do you think about Broadway with regards to women? Do you think women are well represented on Broadway?
MARIAH: As far as parity in number of female playwrights/ directors/ designers/ composers, no, women are absolutely NOT represented on Broadway. Yes, the men who dominate Broadway write good roles for women from time to time for which I thank them. But we’re plenty capable of writing those good roles ourselves and it’s a shame we aren’t given the chance to do so more often.
CHANCE: For the most part, no, women are not well represented on Broadway. As actors they are but in all other areas they are not. And that’s sad, because we are the one’s buying the tickets.
DRAE: Not enough women are really represented in most of the arts on a large scale. I tire of seeing women raped, violated and oppressed…There are just too many other stories for those to be so prevalent. Obviously, there are important stories about women being oppressed, but well…. you know? I’d like to see more women of color being produced and represented.
APHRA: Are any of you going to watch the TONY awards?
DRAE: I tend to miss them. I usually read about them the next day.
MARIAH: I don’t have a TV and since Broadway isn’t affordable, I often haven’t seen most of the nominees.
APHRA: What advice would you give to young women in theatre coming to New York City for the first time?
DRAE: Don’t be afraid to make your own stuff using whatever resources you have. Encourage talented women that you know, try to avoid the jealousy thing. You’ll probably work together some day. Many people, often men, have a sense of entitlement. Develop that as much as possible. Take risks within reason. Know when to say no – there will be other opportunities. Allow yourself to make mistakes onstage. Change your mind about stuff sometimes.
MARIAH: If you went to college, hit up as many fellow theatre alumni as you can and ask if they need any help with projects. People love free labor. Find theatres that match your style/groove and help with mass mailings, help with load-in and strike, usher (which also means seeing the show for free), offer to read scripts, etc. Eventually you’ll run out of energy and time to offer free labor, so offer as much of it as you can now; you’d be surprised how many connections you can make by just showing up and working for no money. Also, remember that networking is often as simple as making friends. Chat up your fellow minions, because you’ll probably collaborate with them later. Yes, still try to chat up the artistic directors and literary managers, but if they’re too busy/ snobby/ whatever for you, don’t sweat it; go get coffee with a fellow intern and fantasize about the great art you’re going to make together.
CHANCE: Create your own theatre company and be supportive of each other. Write plays and produce plays written by women. Direct plays written by women and attend theater written and directed by women. Also, audition for EVERYTHING! Even if you don’t fit the criteria, audition for it. It helps to break down stereotypes.
APHRA Are there any resources that have been helpful to you in your career?
and the aptly named Playwriting Opportunities
CHANCE: Backstage, of course. Attending the Guerrilla Girls On Tour’s annual Guerrilla GALa was one of the best career moves I ever made.
DRAE: I hate to say it, but Facebook. Also YouTube, nowcasting.com and Myspace back in the day. And Craigslist. I got jobs and interest from all of those. I booked a SAG commercial through Craigslist. But you know you have to be a bit wary too.
APHRA: If you could change one thing about theatre for women in New York what would it be?
DRAE: That if something happens to be about a woman or women, that it’s not ghetto-ized. . I wish that in general there was even more diversity.
CHANCE: I would change the minds of people who believe that women cannot create amazing theater by scheduling a season, on Broadway, of plays created only by women. Who knows? That one season may lead to a gender equal Broadway.
MARIAH: That more of us would be doing it (particularly directors/ designers/ playwrights), and would be treated with the same respect/consideration that our male peers get.
APHRA: How do you feel about the fact that when you get to the highest paying jobs in theatre you find the smallest number of women?
MARIAH: I feel pretty crappy about it, but feeling crappy isn’t going to fix it. For now, I’m so far from the highest paying jobs in theatre that I’m just grateful that at the level where I currently work – indie theatre, that is – there isn’t nearly the same gender disparity, and therefore I’m getting something closely resembling a fair shake. When I get to the point where I can expect, and deserve, one of those highest-paying jobs, I’ll probably pound my fist and gnash my teeth if I don’t get it; but, for the moment, I’m just concentrating on paying my rent.
CHANCE: I think that it’s a shame that we have to work so hard with so little recognition. But every oppressed group of people has had to work extra hard. Unfortunately, the playing field is never level. We have to be that much stronger for it. Patience, positivity, and persistence are key. We have to be supportive of one another, not fight against our sisters. I have hope that there will be equal representation of women (50/50) by the year 2020.
APHRA: Are there any specific things that the theatre has led you to discover about being a woman/feminist/person?
CHANCE: Through theater I have learned how to be less introverted and stand up for what I believe in.
MARIAH: 1. Doing, not whining, makes the biggest impact. The Lilly Awards are a perfect example. 2. Not every feminist has to use her art as a place to make the social change she wants to see in the world, but it’s what I’ve found to be the most gratifying. 3. Yes, there’s a glass ceiling but it’s not impenetrable. While I know it’s not fair that I have to work harder than some men in my field have to I believe strongly enough in my work and in myself to work as hard as it takes to get my work out there; and hopefully I can set some precedents that will make some woman in the future not have to work as hard.
DRAE: That I can use my talent to do all kinds of different things. That being an artist is important and relevant to our culture.
Thanks to Drae Campbell, Chance Parker and Mariah MacCarthy for participating in this article.