On the Importance of Women Directors

As some of you know, I'm currently finishing up my summer at the School at Steppenwolf in Chicago. It's been amazing and frustrating and life changing and challenging and eye opening - and today was an especially eye opening day that got me thinking.
  1. Today in a scene study class, I watched a run through of a scene from the play Doubt by John Patrick Shanley.
  2. It's a play about the possible molestation of the first student of color at a catholic parish in the Bronx in 1964.
  3. It's an important play, exceptionally well crafted to encapsulate an ambiguous situation, questioning the concepts of guilt and goodness and certainty.
  4. This is a play I've been working on in a different class and have fallen completely out of love with.
  5. Until this afternoon I probably would have said I hated this play.
  6. I'd been working on a scene between a young nun and the accused priest.
  7. This class is taught by a very well known and incredibly talented Chicago actor who happens to be straight and white and male and middle aged and one of his former students, a younger actress.
  8. I have nothing against this teacher. I think he is incredibly smart not only in teaching the work and in doing it.
  9. However, working this scene under his direction has been an overwhelmingly negative experience.
  10. I have felt that I only have one choice in playing this scene if I am to do it "right" and it is to be on the side of the priest and turn the older nun accusing him into a villain.
  11. I have been told that because of my character's connection to God, I have to believe him and demonize the nun accusing him.
  12. I have been told to turn off any recognition I have of the coercive tactics and revealing slip ups I see in my scene partner.
  13. I have been told to "turn down the volume" on any opinion I have other than that of a hope for this priest's innocence.
  14. I have cried in every class because of how shut down and controlled and manipulated I have felt as the character and the actor in this process.
  15. Because of this, I am not acting well in this scene. I am not doing satisfying work. I am not growing or expanding my reaches as an actor. I'm not feeling anything.
  16. I'm playing this teacher's idea of how the scene is supposed to be played. I'm doing what he wants to please him so I can get through to scene/class without an emotional breakdown and so I won't seem "difficult".
  17. It's made me really fucking angry.
  18. And it's made me hate the class and the play.
  19. Today, however, I watched a different scene from the same play directed by a woman.
  20. And I saw the play I had read and enjoyed.
  21. I saw the play I was initially excited to work on.
  22. I saw a scene filled with ambiguity and determination and guilt and innocence and connection and isolation and certainty and (funnily enough) doubt.
  23. I saw the priest who was eccentric and different and suspicious but not clearly evil. I saw his guilt but it was equally possible for him to be innocent.
  24. I saw the established nun accusing him fighting to keep hold of her school, to protect the children the only way she knows how. She was aggressive and formal but driven from the heart so you saw her motives were pure even if her actions were misguided.
  25. And I saw the young nun, Sister James, struggle to make sense of it all. I saw her fight to own her voice, her fight to find the truth, her fight to find out where she stands between these two extreme forces pulling her in either direction. I saw choices I was told I shouldn't make and they were beautiful and compelling.
  26. Above all I saw a scene that made me lean in. A scene that left me with more questions than answers. A scene that made me feel and think.
  27. And as I watched it, I couldn't help but see the gender difference in the direction.
  28. This scene was curves and questions instead of lines and answers.
  29. By looking at this scene as a woman who has been forced to question her whole life and who has had to be wary of male authority, this director captured the struggle to balance the questions of innocence and culpability that create doubt.
  30. The male director comes at it from a different standpoint.
  31. His perspective and therefore his direction of the scene is fueled by some deep seated internalized misogyny which causes him to vilify the accusing nun.
  32. It's fueled by the fact that his is in the most powerful class in the world and has the luxury of being presumed innocent until proven guilty.
  33. His version of the play is the version of the patriarchy. And it may make me really angry and hurt and uncomfortable but it is a valid version and one we see a lot of in the theatre.
  34. But seeing the scene today done completely differently reinforced the importance of other versions.
  35. Versions directed by women and other marginalized groups.
  36. Because who knows what is possible when you look at a play from a different perspective.
  37. Because a play can be more than the hegemonic idea of it.
  38. Because theatre needs to be about all kinds of people and relationships and connections and questions.
  39. And if the only theatre we get has been shaped and cultivated and edited by those born into the most basic privilege, a privilege that says "I have all the answers", those questions may never be asked.
  40. And that would be a damn shame.