Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Raising the Curtain on Emily Glassberg Sands, Part IV: Questions for Julia Jordan

Playwright Adam Szymkowicz has an interesting interview with playwright Julia Jordan (at left), the true begetter of the Emily Glassberg Sands study, up at his blog. The "interview" is all softballs - and essentially an impromptu soapbox - so I couldn't resist leaving the following comment:

This isn't so much an interview as it is an advertisement. Here are some follow-up's you might have asked Julia, Adam:

Q: Given that the Sands study found no evidence for your claims of male sexism in theatre, one might expect you to revise or adjust your opinions on the subject. Yet you seem to be digging in your heels. Indeed, you insist that not finding evidence for your assertions "means little or nothing." So I'm curious - what sort of evidence could dissuade you from your current beliefs? Would anything less than exact parity between men and women in terms of theatrical production (which is nearly what Sands found anyway, outside of Broadway) do the trick?

Q: And as a follow-up, I'm wondering if you're concerned about the widespread perception that your advocacy of women playwrights is also an indirect form of self-promotion. If more female playwrights reached Broadway, but you weren't one of them, would there be a new socio-economic explanation for that gap?

Q: Do you worry that your "sponsorship" of Sands might have compromised the objectivity she should have had as a researcher? In particular, I find it odd that she called you in the middle of the night (according to NPR) when the results of her survey didn't work out as planned, and I even wonder if pressure from you might have influenced her decision to fudge her data in her final chapter. Many people feel that Sands wouldn't have made the erroneous statements she's on record as having made without some sort of pressure coming from someone. Can you assure us that you didn't pressure her in that way?

Q: And btw - did you understand the statistical issues in Sands's paper? And if so, did you ignore them on purpose? And if so, why?

Q) I'm also confused by the strange contradiction between two of your contentions. On the one hand, you say that female artistic directors believe "that audiences wouldn't buy tickets [to plays by women] . . . and that the theater would suffer financially if they produced scripts by women." Yet at the same time you declare that it's a "simple fact that though less that 20% of the productions are by women, around 40% of the most successful plays in the past ten years were by women." Why are female artistic directors unaware of this "simple fact" (because it would allay any fears about the financial success of plays by women)? Also, could you cite a source for that statistic?

Q: I also wonder about your implied contention that the quality of a play can be judged by its box office. For example, you state that the statistic above could be evidence that women are "vastly better playwrights than men." But this kind of thinking should be problematic, it seems to me, for anyone fighting prejudice of any kind. If, for example, plays by women were indeed not selling as well as those by men (but were of equal quality), wouldn't your seeming position be an argument for keeping that bigotry in place, as long as it sold tickets?

Q: Finally, I'm wondering how you parse the interesting issue of artistic quality vs. political equity. Do political values trump artistic values for you, at least as far as your own gender is concerned? For instance, if a male and a female playwright were both in contention for a single production spot, and the man's script happened to be of higher quality, would you advocate producing the lesser play anyway, for political reasons? And just to push this hypothetical a bit further, if the male playwright were African-American, would you still feel the same way? Just wondering.

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