I have never had the burning desire to write a play. Much like poetry, it’s just not my area of passion with regard to writing it. However, unlike poetry, I have been theatre’s bitch since I started high school and an aficionado since well before then. I bring this up only to say flat out that I adore theatre, and this article about how theatre should challenge and elevate not just mirror real life is spot on. Thus, any of the below which may seem as though I’m berating playwrights, especially female ones, is not intended as such. It, like theatre, is meant to take this article one step further and push us to better work. This article not only inspired me to write this response, it’s inspiring me to possibly write a play — which terrifies me, and yet will challenge me to create better work.
So here’s a major issue with the bulk of contemporary female written and driven plays:
They’re like the one person show of fully staged drama. What does exist is saturated with ‘real life’ analogies or scenarios and little else. Trying to show the strength, emotional connectivity, and intelligence of women as equal to any other by exposing the inequalities that exist already. In its drive to fight against misogyny and sexism, it ends up often reducing the drama to hyper realistic encapsulations of the playwright’s own experience.
There’s nothing wrong with this type of drama, per se, but when the goal is to advance — to advance women’s issues, to advance our perceptions, to advance understanding — you need to do more than use real life and/or personal experiences as the backdrop for your drama. You don’t have to go to a high-fantasy place with it (though that could be awesome), but why limit yourself as a writer to what you know? Sure, it’s the supposed ‘first rule.’ Well, guess what? If you’re ambitious enough to embark on the mystic, insane journey of being a playwright you need to break the rules. Steer clear of the bedroom farces, the allegories of childbirth (newsflash: motherhood is not the ultimate goal of every woman) and/or abortion and/or rape and/or discovering your homo-bi-pan-sexuality, and feminist driven dramas where you beat the audience senseless with how self reliant women are and how strength is garnered from breaking free of the patriarchal abuses of society. We, as women, know all this already. We live it. So why demand your actors to play it, or your directors and producers to nurture it, or your audience to truly be affected by it? You want to show women as bold, independent, strong, passionate, brilliant beings who can stand with their male counterparts — or even above them? Then write them as such.
Give us a gun-toting or sword-slinging heroine with the strength of Xena and the depth of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Give us a modern day Mata Hari who seduces corporate secrets and sells them to the highest bidder for buckets of cash which she uses to help starving children in Africa. (I will concede the use of the reproductive system analogies in the event of a female spy obtaining and selling corporate secrets of anti-abortion or anti-sexuality companies and using the money to fund pro causes.)
Give us a female serial killer with a back story and psychology as complex as Hannibal Lecter.
We can write the female-driven equivalents of “Death of a Salesman” and “The Tempest” someday, when plot lines and characterizations for women have become standard after years, decades even, of exposing the most powerful, sensual, assertive aspects of the female experience. We can return to reinterpreting classics by writers like Ibsen and Chopin with seemingly new-found takes on feminism and overcoming patriarchal adversity once we’ve soared over the mundane and gone straight to superheroine for a while. We can settle into a subtle undermining of the status quo once we’ve dropped metaphorical bombs on the existing concepts of how female-driven plays should be written, structured, characterized, and produced.
We have the power, and yet we will not allow ourselves to harness it fully. Until we do, we will remain in the shadows of those who write rock operas, intimate single-location dramas, psyche exploring head trips, and everything in between. If you don’t want your creative voice suppressed by the lack of material out there, then encourage or create material that is edgier, bolder, more empowering, and more intellectual.
The mold doesn’t need reshaping, it needs breaking — so shatter it and build a new one.