Letter from the Editor: September 2018

September 27th, 2018


I am now doing a Letter from the Editor (in other words, letters from me, the editor) at the end of every month. They’ll be a mix of providing some context for our current features, some thoughts on issues affecting theatre, and some behind the scenes glimpses into The Interval, which mainly consists of waiting for people to answer my e-mails and texts (on truly exciting days sometimes there are so many people not answering my e-mails/texts that I can only come to the logical conclusion that they are all working together to plan a surprise party for me). Oh and lastly to solicit invitations to lunch at Le Grenouille. After reading Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair Diaries last winter I decided that people should be taking me to business lunches at Le Grenouille, made it my New Year’s resolution, and am still at a grand total of zero lunches. Plus, My Therapist says I should allow myself to be more self-involved. (She did not say that. But I trust that she will not read this as I’ve spoken to her about how I think boundaries are very important in our relationship.)

All of this will be done while attempting to maintain journalistic integrity and trying to avoid a lawsuit, as I always imagined my first lawsuit would involve something really glamorous like accidentally ending up at the center of an international conspiracy to infect the population with an alien virus or for insider trading, and that’s not a dream I am ready to let die.

When I was eight, I loved a Julia Roberts movie called I Love Trouble, which I have just learned, courtesy of Wikipedia, was widely derided and where co-stars Roberts and Nick Nolte played rival reporters and in real life loathed each other (like truly loathed each other). But it did feature an “escape from criminals by running through Las Vegas” sequence, which, in my eight year old brain, connected it to my absolute favorite film Sister Act—okay, technically that was Reno—and I tell you these things, to paraphrase Joan Didion, just so you know who you are reading. I came to Pretty Woman later thanks to repeated airings on TBS throughout my childhood. It never occurred to me that it was in any way romantic. When people say it’s a romantic comedy it makes me feel sad and uncomfortable for them in the same way as when 45-year-olds boast about how wasted they got last night. What it did make clear was that Julia Roberts was a star. In The New York Times review of the inexcusable musical adaptation, I was pleasantly surprised to see Ben Brantley credit the success of the movie entirely to Julia Roberts. And what a success it was, not only in terms of its eternal life on TBS and TNT, but that Roberts’ work was able to make a sexist and poorly written film memorable.

I like things where women get to be the stars. It’s one of the reasons I always liked musical theatre—it can give women the chance to be loud and bold and command attention. Earlier this year, while writing about Bernadette Peters, I was reminded that one of the things that, as a kid, was so great about seeing her on stage was that she got to be a star, not in the vapid sense of the word, but in the way her presence was so necessary to the genetic makeup of the experience. I loved seeing her in Annie Get Your Gun because of how much space she took up while doing it. She got to belt and be funny and go after what she wanted and to dare the audience to think about anything else besides her while she was on stage—and then she got to be applauded for it.

I was a kid who was obsessed with Hollywood and my two main areas of interest were the Golden Age and television. I read biographies, I watched the DVD extras, and I kept an alphabetized accordion folder with cut out magazine articles about all of my favorite actresses. I was also usually able to separate between the actor and the character. I was able to imagine a rich inner life and further adventures for Carrie Bradshaw that extended well beyond the end credits. Separately, I was able to imagine Sarah Jessica Parker as a person with a life distinct from her TV role who would be a perfect candidate for the role of my best friend (I now live roughly four blocks away from SJP so no doubt this friendship is imminent due to geography and my belief that boundaries are a bourgeoisie construct). Yet, thinking back to my thirteen-year-old self watching and loving Annie Get Your Gun, I never gave a second thought to what happened to Annie Oakley once the curtain came down. I don’t recall ever giving much thought that way to any of the characters in musical productions that I loved growing up. This stems from the difference in form, but I fear this might sound pejorative, as if in some way the actors weren’t doing a good enough job. I don’t think that’s the case at all. It was simply how I experienced it and, for me, added to the appeal of the theatrical form. I liked the bold displays of ambition by women—that not only could she belt that note, she was going to. It seemed like one of the few places where female ambition was applauded, literally.

I think about this a lot. Not only because of how little that’s translated to the actresses’, whose names are blazed on the marquees, ability to have creative control or power in theatre or how little that’s translated into women heading creative teams on Broadway, but because for an industry that touts unique voices on 90% of its marketing materials, it has an extreme discomfort with women’s individuality and ambition. Perhaps part of it is the nature of the industry in general, where shows have to outlast the people who make them—contracts end, shows go on tour, there’s a regional production, there’s a revival. You have to rely on individuals just enough, but not too much. But it is the people who make shows; they don’t exist without them.

Then there’s the part that I think is specific to women. The theatre community is so much more comfortable with the idea of women as a group than with women as people. It’s seen in the way female writers and directors are almost always seen as a group, and asked to behave that way, rather than being allowed to talk about the uniqueness of their work, their achievements, and their thought process. And, more and more, I notice how frequently there’s an expectation of altruism placed on women—if she’s going to do creative work, surely it must be for the public good, as if women need some sort of justification for their existence in the field beyond their own abilities and interests. Personally, I would like to hear a woman say that one of the reasons she wants to be in a creative career is because she is good at it, she finds it fulfilling, and she is passionate about it. Not just because a project needs a woman’s voice, but because it needs her voice. I would like it even better if people then had to clap for this statement.

And that is part of the reason why The Interval lets women talk about themselves as individuals. Because although most things happen with some sort of support, at the end of the day, it will be one woman who writes something or stars in something or directs something or stands up and says, “No, that is not right. Stop it.” And the thing about trying to stand up for all women is that, so often, it has been used to free people from the responsibility of ever having to stand up for any one individual woman.

This past month we’ve profiled a range of women working in theatre. Sarah Rebell interviewed emerging writers Geraldine Inoa and Gracie Gardner about their lives as young writers and splitting their time between theatre and television; Shoshana Greenberg continued her series of Women of Theatre History You Should Know, a project that writes women back into the narrative of theatre history; I interviewed director Lila Neugebauer about making her Broadway debut; and I interviewed Heidi Schreck who is doing for the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment what that one episode of The West Wing did for the U.S. census.

I hope you’ll check out these pieces and if you do, I hope you’re able to hear the individual voices.

(And if you happen to know Sarah Jessica Parker, please tell her that I am still available for friendship. And lunch at Le Grenouille.)

— Victoria Myers, Editor

P.S. Shortly after writing this letter, I wrote about Adam Guettel and silence and fear. I debated including it here as I was not sure if it was in keeping with the overall theme of this month’s letter. I have decided that it absolutely is.