This week it was announced that the 2010 Wasserstein Prize was not awarded because its judges felt that no woman playwright who is 32 or younger in America is worthy of the prize, which is supposed to honor promise in emerging playwrights(newsflash, though, you could have raked in 500 thousand in prize money, commissions, advances, and house sales, be 57, and STILL be considered emerging in this business).
So this being the age it is, I just signed an email petition to let those who decided such a matter that this is absolutely ridiculous. My colleague Michael Lew voiced many of our playwright community's concerns brilliantly in his blog.
And I must admit, when I first clicked on the link to his post, the first thing I thought was: 32? Seriously?
At 32 I think I was only beginning to realize what it means to be a playwright who is also female.
Here is what I thought it meant: when I began to think I wanted to be a playwright, I had no idea women could really do such a thing. I was a senior in high school and had just plowed through TO BE YOUNG, GIFTED, AND BLACK, but Lorraine Hansberry had died young. I did not want to die young. So I pushed her out of my mind and just thought about all the other playwrights I was not like at all: men playwrights, white playwrights. I had not yet met the works of Shange, Nottage, Parks, or Corthron that made me think: OH! I could do this.
I also thought being a female playwright just meant that usually girls don’t do this kind of work. I didn’t realize that they do, and when you look around any given conference, workshop, production experience, or fellowship opportunity and do not see someone who resembles one of your demographics, you should wonder why. You should not always be the only. And if you are, you should not accept that you really ARE the only, but that there are others (female, black, poor, or what have you) who are not there for a reason, not because you are so much more talented than they are.
I had an inkling being a female playwright was considered “different” when I got in to Humana and Marc Masterson said, early on, before I even got into the rehearsal room, ‘be prepared for people to call this the year of the woman, since all the plays are by women this year except one’. I am pretty sure, when there is only one woman in a line up of plays being done, that people do not call it the year of the man.
But then I experienced something that really only women experience.
I had a kid.
While boys have kids, too, I am pretty sure they do not complete commissions for rent money while breastfeeding.
And given how so many developmental programs are geared towards LEAVING your home for weeks on end, I am pretty sure that while most male writers in our modern age are more aware of childcare issues than they were fifty, twenty, even ten years ago, most probably do not lug their kids around the country to work on plays.
All this is to say that, at 32--since I had my daughter at 32--I had no idea what the full extent of being a female playwright could possibly mean.
I had no idea I’d have to place many writerly things on ice while I went about the kinda messy dealings of learning to be a parent.
I had no idea I’d have to say no, at times, to a career I’d spent over a decade and a half creating.
And yet, something continued to burn, something continued to make me need to write, even when my self was at odds with how and who was celebrated as a writer. In this business.
So to those 19 who were rejected: your beginnings are burning. Your need to do what we do is real and right and necessary.
Fold that letter carefully and put it where you will not be tempted to read it or believe it.