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DGA Says ‘No’ to Women

Word has come to me that the Dramatists Guild is not allowing its members’ Women’s Initiative to become an official part of the Dramatists Guild. Or, as the Guild’s president, Stephen Schwartz, put it in a March 27 e-mail for the Conveners of the Women’s Initiative,

“While we have several small committees directly formed and overseen by members of the Council, there are no separate groups of members from the organization that have Council committee status. I hope you can appreciate that were we to make an exception in the case of the Women’s Initiative, we would have to do so for groups wishing to address other valid issues such as bias based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, etc. The Guild is a grouping of many different voices, and while we greatly appreciate the fine work you’re doing, we have to be sure to balance the needs and concerns of our entire membership.”

All of which sounds really nice and polite, until you begin to scratch the surface of Mr. Schwartz’s words.  Indeed, at a May 2, 2011 meeting between the Conveners and the Guild’s Council, Schwartz and other Council members were considerably blunter. They essentially told the Women’s Initiative to form an organization outside the Guild. They could say they were “from” the Dramatists Guild – but that was it.

What is the problem here? The Women’s Initiative is not some fly-by-night cause proposed by a paltry group of Guild members. The Initiative has been growing since 2009, when Gary Garrison, Executive Director of Creative Affairs, called a meeting that included Cindy Cooper, Catherine Gropper, Andy Landis, and Barbara Masry (later joined by Janice Maffei) — each understandably distressed by the lack of gender equity that they and other women have experienced in the American theater.

Two years and at least 10 meetings later, the DG 4 have grown to 450 – women mostly but also some men – who passionately believe that gender equity is a serious issue, not only for Guild members but also for everyone in U.S. theater. They ask, quite rightly, that the Council recognize this Initiative as a permanent fixture of the Guild. After all, women make up 40 percent of the Guild’s membership, but they author only about 17 percent or so of the plays produced on US stages. Isn’t that a discrepancy the Guild should care to do something about?

Mr. Schwartz’s demurral, that one group receiving committee status will just open the floodgates to others, is, with all due respect, a tired stance. And even if it turned out to be so – well, what of it? Actors Equity Association (AEA) has survived with an Equal Employment Opportunity Committee, The Performers with Disabilities Committee, The Seniors Committee, and – lo and behold – The Women’s Committee, whose mission as “to encourage increased employment opportunities for women Actors.”

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) has an American Indian Task Force, the LGBT Actors Committee, a committee for Performers with Disabilities, a Spanish Language Media Task Force, a committee for Senior Performers and – guess what? — the National Women’s Committee!

The Writers Guild of America West’s Diversity department has the Asian-American Writers Committee, the Committee of Black Writers, the Latino Writers Committee, the Committee of Women Writers, the Age Awareness Committee, the American Indian Writers Committee, the Writers with Disabilities Committee, and the Gay & Lesbian Writers Committee.

It seems to me that the Women’s Initiative is helping the Guild get with the program. Sounds like an offer the Guild shouldn’t refuse.


Alexis Greene is a New York-based writer, editor and publicist.

10 comments on “DGA Says ‘No’ to Women

  1. Cheryl King
    May 11, 2011

    Alexis makes several very valid points – challenging the status quo, when the status quo is so uneven (and unfairly so) seems to me to be a worthy cause. Why shouldn’t the Dramatists Guild join these other organizations to fight what we all know is a stupid and pointless inequity?

  2. From 1979 to 89 there was a women’s committee of the Dramatists Guild organized by Gretchen Cryer. I am not sure why it stopped meeting but in 1997 a group of DG members tried to revive this committee with the same results — then executive Director Richard Garmise wrote us a letter denying the request for the very same reasons listed by Mr. Schwartz. It’s time that the Dramatists Guild entered the 21st century.

  3. Janice Maffei
    May 11, 2011

    WAIT A MINUTE – I WAS THERE – HERE’S THE BIGGER STORY: Stephen Schwartz and his Council colleagues (Marsha Norman, Julia Jordan and Gretchen Cryer) were genuinely enraged and concerned about the fate of the woman playwright. Here’s what Stephen offered to do – to send letters to every theatre on DG stationery – with his signature – giving them a record of their production history with women playwrights and inviting their feedback. THIS IS HUGE. Let’s not major in the minors here. Committee status WON”T necessarily lead to greater equity for women – in fact, as he and Julia pointed out – it will lead to bureaucracy. Having every note reviewed by committee, every e-mail, etc. LET’S KEEP OUR EYE ON THE PRIZE HERE. If we can raise the awareness of Artistic Directors/GMs – stuff can and will change.

    • Alexlis Greene
      May 11, 2011

      In a way you’re missing the point. The Dramatists Guild should welcome the committee — or the caucus, or whatever they want to call themselves — into the Guild.

      If the Guild, on its own, wants to send out letters – great. If they want to do a survey — great. Will the Guild do a survey every year for the next 10? Because that’s what is really needed — an ongoing commitment so that stats about women playwrights on US stages can be compared year-to-year.

      It’s not a whim on the part of the Women’s Initiative to be part of the Guild. After all, they are members. This is the organization that represents them. And if the Initiative becomes a permanent part of the Guild, then it can work on reaching gender equity in an on-going way. Because trust me, it’s going to take more than gestures. It’s going to take a lot of time.

  4. Andy Landis
    May 11, 2011

    I was there. Firstly, the “other council members” present on May 2nd who your source is saying were blunt were Julia Jordan, Gretchen Cryer and Marsha Norman. These women, along with Stephen Schwartz, gave us honest and logical reasons as to why forming an official committee at this time would not be the most productive use of our efforts. More importantly, it makes no sense to believe these women would have stood in the way of anything that would gain equity in the theatre for women.

    Secondly, all four of our council members could not have been more informative, supportive and excited about our work, Stephen Schwartz being chief among them.

    Lastly, committee status was not even on our agenda. We’d agreed that this first meeting with these particular council members was not about that. Having the efforts of both the council and the WI being summed up as a ‘no’ is incorrect and misleading. We, in fact, made plans together to raise awareness with an effective course of action for female playwrights everywhere.

    Since I was there, I can say with confidence that Stephen Schwartz recognizes and is troubled by the inequality for women in theatre and that he is ready and eager to put his pen to paper to do something about it.

  5. Lou Sandler
    May 12, 2011

    Thanks for this info. I am so sad to learn of these developments. Why is the DGA so closed to requests of its women members? And, worse yet, why won’t these powerful women [and men] open their hearts to other women, and provide a space and home? On many levels, it’s upsetting. Perhaps we really are in an age when “sisterhood” is a term for the dust bins.

  6. Gary Garrison
    May 12, 2011

    Since Ms. Greene was not at the meeting of May 2, and because a good deal of the information shared at the meeting has been misrepresented (though not entirely surprising, given what I’m sure is the source of that information), I feel compelled to respond to some of the more egregious omissions or misrepresentations.

    To be clear, when Ms. Green eludes to “other Council members” at the May 2 meeting, it might best represent the meeting to know that those “others” were Marsha Norman, Julia Jordan and Gretchen Cryer – women who’ve worked tirelessly in support of the rights of women dramatists everywhere. It’s a curious omission.

    All of the members of the WI (Women’s Iniative) were offered a number of suggestions, well beyond the characterization of “They [members of the Council] essentially told the Women’s Initiative to form an organization outside the Guild.” In fact this suggestion was offered as a solution to not have to work with the strict guidelines (and structure) of the Guild’s committees; a solution that would allow much more freedom than any committee has while operating within the Guild’s purview. In a meeting that lasted over two hours, many, many productive suggestions and solutions were discussed.

    Ms. Green notes, “ . . . women make up 40 percent of the Guild’s membership, but they author only about 17 percent or so of the plays produced on US stages. Isn’t that a discrepancy the Guild should care to do something about?” In fact the Guild cares a great deal about this discrepancy by, in part, sponsoring the Lilly Awards last year and this year, by giving a forum for Julia Jordan to speak at our first national conference on gender equity, by teaming with The DG Fund to support an action to limit funding to theatres not in an increasing compliant posture, and perhaps more importantly, agreeing to work together (the Guild and the Women’s Initiative) towards researching the producing practices of our country’s theatres in an effort to raise consciousness and elicit change.

    Finally, to suggest that the Guild is being offered something from the Women’s Initiative that allows us to “get with the program,” is a gross mischaracterization of the meeting and the efforts of both the Women’s Initiative and the Guild.

  7. Rebecca Jones
    May 13, 2011

    The important thing is to increase the opportunities for women and to even up the playing field so that artists can make their art. It’s really a shame that the Dramatists Guild doesn’t understand the value in embracing the ideas and enthusiasm of the Women’s Initiative — silencing women’s voices yet again. With that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder that so little has changed.

  8. charlotte porter
    May 13, 2011

    The Dramatists Guild said virtually the identical things in 2003 when women came together at New Dramatists and met with Marsha Norman and Ralph Sevush — a whole different event from GGirls comment above. When asked directly, Ralph and Marsha refused to permit a Women’s Committee to start up again (there was one in the 1980s that Gretchen Cryer headed and which gave women hope, community, some type of interconnection that they needed.) Marsha and Ralph flatly said no — and, like the above, with no reason or rhyme. You would think after all these years, something might change.

    Clearly the Dramatists Guild hasn’t, and the reason is apparent — if circular. Nothing can change without involving directly those who are most affected. Theater will never survive if it doesn’t open itself up to the whole community. The Dramatist Guild needs to shed its inbred, old-school and elitist culture of top-down ‘we know best’ attitudes. Only then will they “get it.”

  9. Cindy Cooper
    May 14, 2011

    I withdrew from the “Women’s Initiative” after the May 2 meeting, although my passion for gender equity is unabated. Those of us who had coordinated activities initially came together at the request of the Dramatists Guild to address gender questions. The enthusiasm was tremendous.

    Participants said they felt less isolated, more supported, validated and strengthened, and when the Dramatists Guild unilaterally decided to eliminate the women’s initiative, they were confused, shocked and hurt. In February, participants voted unanimously to call for the Guild to create a women’s committee for members.

    It is astonishing that the DG would tell its members to form their own group rather than offer an open hand. Even more so than in the past, people yearn for a sense of belonging; the Dramatists Guild is truly missing the boat.

    I would like to clarify one thing in the posts here – Gretchen Cryer, who has consistently been supportive – left the May meeting early and was not part of the discussion when the DG rejected a women’s initiative/committee.

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