A friend and I both saw a show and he mentioned that the show was popular because it was so political. I snapped.
This is the plot of a play I recently saw:
A person was feeling a little lost and then finds a passion that shakes up their boring life and helps them rediscover who they are.
This is a pretty common plot line, it is not groundbreaking, it is not revolutionary, it has nothing to do with politics. That being said, the show really was unique, innovative, and original.
This was For the Love Of (Or, The Roller Derby Play) by Gina Femia produced by Theatre of Note.
What made this show political?
Well, the main character, Joy, is a black lesbian woman. Who is surrounded by other women of various ethnicities and sexualities because she joins a roller derby team in Brooklyn. The entire creative team for this production was also women.
My actual reaction: STORIES ABOUT WOMEN ARE NOT POLITICAL. THE SHOW WAS JUST ACTUALLY REALLY GOOD. AND HAPPENED TO BE CREATED BY A BUNCH OF WOMEN.
There was nothing inherently political about this show, the struggles of the show did not revolve around race, gender, class, or sexuality. They were every day problems that everyone faces. Overall, the he biggest struggle of the show was Joy redefining herself as a person after feeling empowered through her new passion for roller derby. While I don’t know anything about roller derby, I could easily understand the overarching messages and themes of figuring out who you are and finding something you’re passionate about.
Assuming that this show was popular because it was produced by women and featured women, tries to undermine the actual artistic excellence of the production.
Giving women the opportunities to tell stories through producing, directing, acting, designing, or writing, is not a political statement, it should be a normal thing. Unfortunately, we aren’t quite there yet and we do need to draw attention and push theatre companies to producing more diverse work, (see: the Kilroys).
It is important to empower these talented individuals who just haven’t been given the same chances, and shows like this provide more opportunities for women to get ahead. It also pushes people to be creative and tell everyday problems in new and creative ways.
There has been decades of theatre where men have the overwhelming voice and agency, and when you are saying women are part of some political opportunity, or are taking advantage of some wave of feminism, it disregards that they are actually talented individuals that deserve a chance to be heard. By saying this show was popular because it is riding some “trend” of diversity ignores how difficult it is to hear stories like this.
When we are telling every day stories, or messages that resonate with everyone, why do they have to come from voices of white men?
It also could be popular because it was a story coming from new voices - because I am personally really bored of hearing white men complain about their lives and trying to find themselves, but somehow hearing it from a roller derby team of diverse women makes it more interesting.
If I wanted to watch a bunch of men complain about their lives I could go read Shakespeare, Miller, Simon, Bretch, all of which are probably currently playing somewhere. I’m just bored.
This story was told by a team of women, but it was not a women-centric story. There was almost no discussion of how hard it was to be a woman, there was no overcoming judgement or barriers due to anyone’s sexuality or race. And if we had more stories about the above, I wouldn’t complain either.
If one of the reasons we all love theatre is because it takes every day stories and makes them extraordinary, why do we have to have those stories told by the same people over and over again.
Of course we should celebrate that it was produced by women, and we should celebrate that all of these women had a chance to play amazing characters that had real depth to them (which can be hard to find as an actress), but that wasn’t the message of the play. My final point is that if you are picking plays by women or people of color because you think it will make your theatre more popular, you are kind of missing the point, and the problem.