Day 17 — The Truth About Women
This Thursday is the opening night reception and first performance of this year’s Women of Musical Theatre Festival. Today we rehearsed Broadway Divas: A History In Revue and Moving Day. (www.womenofmusicaltheatre.com)
Inspired by the fabulous talent I got to work with today, I’d like to share my take on what’s happening to women in musical theatre right now. I can’t speak for straight theatre and/or TV/Film, but sadly, I’m sure it’s a similar situation.
There aren’t enough roles for women.
Any stats I found online were not Canada specific, however the numbers range from 2:1 to 3:1 — as in, for every two or three roles given to a male artist, one is given to a female artist. One.
There are more women than men in this business.
I always joke ‘you’re not involved in a true community theatre production until you’ve put out the call for a few more men for the ensemble’. For whatever reason, there are just more women than men striving to work in musical theatre. And graduating from musical theatre programs.
So you have not very many roles, sought after by lots of female artists.
And that part of it is brutal to observe.
Stratford, Shaw, Drayton, Mirvish, Musical Stage Company — all great employers of musical theatre artists. But with their need to give priority to artists they’ve worked with before (totally valid!) they may only end up with 4 to 6 roles for female artists every season or new show.
4 to 6.
Then there’s the Equity problem.
Many women can’t get seen at auditions because they’re not Equity. They’re not Equity because they’ve not been hired for an Equity contract. They’ve not been hired for an Equity contract because they can’t get seen for an audition. They can’t get seen for an audition because they’re not Equity. And ‘round and ‘round it goes.
So we have this surplus of women, unable to get seen for the handful of jobs available. Or, they’re lucky enough to get an audition time, but again, with so many women and not so many roles …
But not only that, they can’t enough stage time to build up/maintain their skills in the meantime.
With the venue crisis that’s happening in Toronto (yes, I’ve decided to start referring to it as a crisis), the amount of opportunities for all musical theatre artists seem to shrink year by year. Yes, performance school is valuable and provides great training and experience. But there’s something to be said for ‘treading the boards’. In order to become truly great at performing, you’ve got to do it and do it and do it again, and again, and again. So where can women get that kind of solid performance experience?
Then there’s the age factor for women.
As a female, in your twenties, and part of your thirties, you’re likely to be considered for ensemble or ingenue roles. But once you hit your forties, the span of possible roles shrinks. And just when you have more to tell due to life experience alone, you’re often told to ‘sit out’ until you look old enough to play the ‘old lady’ roles. So these fabulous female artists in their 40s/50s are having to wait until they’re old enough to play old.
Thankfully, in musical theatre, the body image factor isn’t AS intense as it is in Film and TV but don’t kid yourself — it’s another stressful aspect of the industry. You can be ‘curvy’, but it’s best if you’re curvy enough for character roles, or slim enough for ‘attractive ensemble’ or the ingenue — but ‘in between’ is rarely cast, no matter how talented the artist.
The resulting effects of this situation are disheartening to witness.
Discouragement. Anxiety. Depression, as a result of not feeling valued for their talents and skill set.
Eating disorders, caused by the stress of having to compete so fiercely for work.
Insecurity and defeat as submission after submission goes unnoticed.
Yes, there are exceptions. Yes, some women jump from performance school graduation day, right into one solid contract after another. But those exceptions are rare.
So what’s to be done about this mess of a scenario?
I’m not sure. But I know that this little festival is a step in the right direction.
To all the female musical theatre artists out there — you are recognized, you are valued, you are awesome. Hang in there, while we try to provide more work. We are trying. I promise.
Scores Rehearsed: 2
Hours Spent On The Piano Bench: 8.5
Times I Got Goosebumps Just Listening To Fabulous Singing: 5
Times I Almost Fell Off The Piano Bench Laughing: 2
Female Artists I Worked With Today: 22
Shots Of Rye Consumed: 0
Fudgesicles Consumed: 1 #SelfCare