The notion of “community” is an inherent part of the communication strategy displayed on theaters’ websites. This term is mostly used in a positive and inclusive way in order to create a link between the theatrical world and the audience and serves as a promotional tool for a specific activity: theater. However, creating an exclusive community focusing on a smaller portion of the population, such as women, can also be part of a communication strategy.
Women in the Theater: a Minority?
The census conducted in 2005 by the American Community Survey shows that 57 % of writers and authors (including advertising writers, biographers, copy writers, cross-puzzle creators, film writers, magazine writers, novelists and playwrights) are women. However, the majority of plays performed and showcased in theaters are written by men. And this season makes no exception considering the programs of the Bay Area theaters and on the American stage in general. Some theaters of the Bay Area have taken on that cause though theyhave handled it differently.
Five theaters of the San Francisco Bay Area have either a strong representation of women as artists or put an emphasis on the promotion and support of playwrights: Shotgun Players, Brava Theater Center, The Magic Theater, Golden Thread Productions and The Playwrights Foundation. However, if these theaters seem to share a certain point of view on the place of women in the theatrical world, the use of the notion of “community” can greatly differ from one theater to another, either referring to different categories of people, or denoting different communication strategies.
The Great Family of Theater
The staff or companies are very often presented as local occupational communities. They work in a common space, the theater being their work-place, and promote common values through their websites. They convey the idea that they are not only working for a community (their neighborhood, and the potential audience among the Bay area inhabitants) but that they are working as a community. Using words like “home” and “family” when talking about the theater’s staff conveys the idea of a certain proximity with the potential audience and allows them to distinguish themselves from other more “formal” organizations.
Theater organizations consider artists, and more particularly playwrights, as a community of people whose work they have to promote to another community: the audience. Here the theater professionals as a whole are considered as constituting a community. They are not bound by a specific place but by common interests. The concept of occupational community applies to the vision of community theaters display as it matches the expectations that can be found in all artistic fields: a total commitment to one’s passion, thus making more permeable the delimitation between work and leisure. The representation of a certain artistic occupation as a community is also an inherent part of the communication strategy developed on the theater’s websites: it helps theaters to place themselves among the larger artistic community in general, and the American stage in particular. Many theaters also mention the American theatrical world as a community, usually to emphasize their own importance or impact in the “theater world”.
Female playwrights and community politics
As for the specific category of female playwrights, there is a double aspect that has to be accounted for: first of all the profession of ‘playwrights’, which can be considered as a cosmopolitan occupational community as seen earlier, and the category of women, which would be more associated to a »natural category » and should not be mistaken with the notion of community. Actually few theaters really fully represent female playwrights as a community. The way Shotgun Players’ website emphasizes the community-like aspect of female playwrights through its visual and textual narrative displays the fact that communities are not only created through a ‘natural process’ of common interests or inter-personal relationships but can be artificially created to shake up the ecology of the theatrical community and tackle social issues like gender equality.
The Magic Theater, which is the only other theater to propose a season with plays written exclusively by women has a totally different approach on the matter. In the text she wrote for the Howlround blog Loretta Greco explains the details of the process of play programming and makes sure to emphasize the quality of the plays she chose more than the gender of the playwright. By doing so Loretta Greco wants to avoid any cleavage among the artistic community and the audience.
The two very different ways Shotgun Players and The Magic Theater are dealing with the category “female players” exemplify the fact that Shotgun Players is creating a community which belongs to “community politics” and in doing so plays on the trope of the underdog by celebrating a category of people as a community to underline the lack of representation or consideration of said community in other theaters. Here, the theater uses the “community” of female playwrights not as an inclusive concept but as an exclusive one in order to give a polemical edge to its programming for the upcoming season. Shotgun Players’ communication strategy is to stand out among the theatrical community, and thus creates the specific community of female playwrights where other theaters tend to create or emphasize on communities as an inclusive and non-discriminatory concept to enhance the possible identification of a potential audience.
The case of the female playwrights of the San Francisco Bay Area and their representation on theater’s websites helps us question the common view that communities are shaped and delimitated by a natural process. The term « community », as applied here to women playwrights, would therefore be first and foremost a social, cultural and political construct.