The Problems that Come with the Lack of Men in My Theatre Community

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  • Holly Edwards

Starting a new show is always an exciting time for an actor/ actress, and it’s an excitement I live for whether I’m doing tech on the show or acting in it myself. But I’ve noticed something particular happening in my theatre community.  There is inherent sexism that is prevailing over every single theatre group in my hometown.  We have about 12 different groups, and we all run into the same problem - the shortage of men.

Men in theater are rare and wonderful- or should be. But what is happening in my groups is that they have a plethora of bad habits- all derived from being “that one guy that does theater.” This manifests in the form of just sheer bad theater etiquette. 

As a woman in theater, I’m expected to act, sing, dance, be thin and/or traditionally attractive.  I am not to be too old, and I can be replaced in a second if anyone in the process does not believe I’m a “reasonable” pair for my male counterpart in a piece.  There is always a general air of being “gifted” a part, regardless of how talented I might be or the energy I might bring to a piece.  My replacement is always a phone call away, should I become more trouble than I am worth.

As a man in theater, my local groups have put “show up for the shows” as the highest priority. That is the end of the list. 

To illustrate my point, let’s review the last few shows I did for some comparisons. I did a show where I was supposed to manhandle and be manhandled by my male co-star. He was cast in 3 other shows and was consistently late to our limited rehearsals. He made a giant deal about how he was excited to be in the chorus of the other projects and used rehearsal time to talk about his time at those rehearsals.  He never got off book. During the part of the scenes (staged on a staircase, no less) where he needed to physically be moved by my character or move me forcibly- he did not bother to check his movements. The result was it looked and felt dangerous.  The director attempted to correct his behavior multiple times, and his response was, “I’m just a big dude.”  Now, as a larger woman myself, I cannot even imagine using this as an excuse to actually attack a co-star. Part of rehearsing is to learn how to do the movements in a safe way. This person gets cast all the time, and the last three shows I saw him in he was clearly not well rehearsed, behind on picking up his cues, and a solid weak link in the show overall. To have him work with me and bring all of those into the project, put us all at risk, and jeopardized the overall look of the show. 

I have two other individuals who evoke the same type of feeling when I work with them or see them in a show.  I have done shows recently with both of them, and they were both wildly unreliable as well. During a summer show, one of them felt the need to lord over the female cast members and make comments about him having a “Casting couch” when he directs shows.  During a winter show, the second makes comments about how he can write his own ticket to anything, and he shouldn’t even need to be at any rehearsals because he’s “seasoned, unlike the rest of you.”  They have both been cast five times since then.

It would seem that there are no limits as to what men can get away with in theatre here.  The way they talk and respond to their co-stars ranges from disrespectful to harassment.  No amount of correction from directors seems to correct their behaviors either; they tend to react by becoming angry and threatening the entire life of the project. They know they are safe in that situation, and it forces the directors into terrible positions they should never be in in the first place. And they wouldn’t be if manners were upheld by these entitled men. Perhaps the most disturbing fact about this local trend is that the younger men in our theatre community have no one to look up to that don’t have lousy theater manners.  It’s a whole generation of young and talented men who are looking up and seeing the disrespect their elders get away with on a daily basis and picking up their cues from them.  It is a poison on the face of our local theater, and I’m not naïve enough to think that this problem is limited to my theatre community only. 

As a hardworking woman in theatre, who has to bring ALL her skills to anything theatre-related- I would urge my male counterparts to take a good long look at how they act and ask themselves if their female co-stars would get away with it. Sit down and ask yourselves if missing 75% of rehearsals for a project would mean she was still involved? Would they be able to go up to the director and choreographer and tell them they don’t dance, so they need to cut a significant and iconic number? Could a woman tell the other cast members they are above the rules set forth in a contract, in any situation?  I’m sure you would find the answer is a solid and resounding- NO.