About Me

My photo
I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Wasserstein Debacle

I have mixed feelings on the whole Wasserstein prize scandal business.

The latest news is that they are re-opening the competition by considering other works by the 19 original nominees. And I am, oh, 75% in favor of this decision.

But part of me - the 25% voice of dissent - is worried. There's been an enormous outcry in response to this decision and, as a result, a tremendous amount of pressure on TDF to award that prize. And this worries me. It begs the oft-asked question: is it appropriate to lower the bar in order to encourage equal-opportunity and diversity? And when it comes to theater, my art form, about which I have uncompromisingly idealistic standards, my answer is an emphatic no. No, the bar should not be lowered, and if we women aren't reaching that bar then by God we are just going to have to work harder.

And doesn't it say something significant that the group tasked with awarding this prize, which is Ms. Wasserstein's legacy, has enough respect for Wasserstein and the new generation of women playwrights to hold the work up to a specific and fixed standard of excellence? It would be easy for one to award the prize to a sub-par play and, amidst undeserved accolades, pat oneself on the back for promoting the cause. And in reality, giving the award to a play which, when we're being honest, doesn't hold a candle to the works being produced in the male-dominated professional arena, would be a terrible disservice; it would say, this is the best we've got, so don't bother to take us seriously.

(And - it should be noted here - that I am arguing the decision process itself, not the relative merits of any of the nominated playwrights. I don't know anything about the plays or the playwrights themselves and this is NOT an indictment of the work. For all I know, many - or all - were amazing plays and unfairly passed over. But, for the sake of argument, I'm giving the TDF committee the benefit of the doubt and assuming that withholding the prize was not a decision that was come to lightly.)

On the other hand, I wonder, I feel withholding the prize this year is downright irresponsible. Like everyone else I think: is it really possible that not a single play written by any emerging woman playwright in the United States was that good? No? Not a single one? That CAN'T be right. There has to be one out there. And I think that an award as notable and as financially significant as the Wasserstein prize as a responsibility to find that play. Because if it can't be found by the committee responsible for the preeminent award for new women playwrights then the message it sends is that it can't be found at all. And in a community wherein our incredible female talent is already at such a disadvantage, that message is neither true nor one we can afford to send.

That said, I hope one of those 19 playwrights has something wonderful up her sleeve.

No comments:

Post a Comment