“Women in Downtown Theater: Producing Your Own Work”

Last Sunday Young Jean Lee organized a panel discussion at the Brooklyn Museum about women in downtown theatre and how they get their own work done. Unfortunately, my bus didn’t get in to New York until the discussion was well on its way, but I did receive audio of it and now am kicking myself even harder for missing such a great opportunity. It would have been like a mecca for my quest! But I do have a list now, and some really helpful information.

Due to it being just audio, I couldn’t always attribute what was being said to who was speaking but that was ok. Young Jean Lee said she came up with the idea for this discussion because she wishes something like this has happened when she was starting, and someone told her what to do/ not do. She spoke a lot about the administrative stand point, and how it is important to have people to work with who can manage what you need done to be able to focus on the artistry. She said the beat advice she received on how to continue making theatre came from a mentor who told her “all you have to do is survive.” This went along with one of the other panelists who said the best advice she got was to “just get one thing done each day.” That really resonated with me because if I had things my way, I would do everything myself before I went to bed or ate a meal. But you can’t survive that way.

Another idea from the discussion that was brought up a lot was that you need to have your own reason to do this kind of work, and it needs to be a good strong reason. Even if you are the only one who thinks it is, you have to believe that reason is exceptional. Holding on to that reason will bring people who want to reciprocate your efforts, and work in a collaborative way. Lee said specifically that you should avoid asking anyone for anything, unless you know that you have something they want too. Rejection is tiring, and avoidable. There was much debate about the terminology of ‘ensemble’ or ‘theatre company’ and it was overall decided that they all just wanted to make work that they could call their own.

Many of the women on the panel had their own company’s (despite what they wanted to call it, or felt it actually was) and spoke about the benefits and downfall of how they were structured. Young Jean Lee said that being a 501c3 was really a pain, and hadn’t realized you didn’t have to be one.  Another woman, who i think did more dance type projects, was filed as a TBA which is the most basic small business. It sounded like the more simple you kept the business aspect the easier.

The best advice I got from the entire discussion was early on though. Coming out college it feels like there are a series of steps, and ladders you have to climb up to get to the people you want to work with. They are far away and inaccessible to varying degrees. What one of the women said was that instead of thinking about it as a ladder, imagine it as expanding circles. The largest your circle is, the more people you have to work with, because you need all of them. And you shouldn’t “hope to be good enough” to meet these people, you just have to share what you uniquely have.

IMB UPDATE: You can listen to the raw audio of the panel event HERE.

(Panelist featured as listed on the event were Kelly Copper of Nature Theater of Oklahoma, playwright Sibyl Kempson, Young Jean Lee of Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company, Annie-B Parson of Big Dance Theater, and Tina Satter of Half Straddle.)

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