Women Center Stage – An Interview With Tracy Bersley

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Tracy Bersley directs For Immediate (and timely) Release, By Daniel Piper Kublick, Dorothy Abrahams and Bersley.

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What inspired you to do this play?

Dan and Dorothy (the 2 D’s of DDT) have been long time collaborators of mine. We function in the spirit of spontaneity and a palpable reaction to what is happening in our current inner and outer landscape. When we received the information about what the director’s weekend focused on, we were stirred to make something dangerous and live (meaning part of out play is improvised very night) but also potentially funny and satirical. We don’t fancy ourselves to be political per se, but we like the idea of challenging theatre audiences to question the way the receive information.

How did you get involved in Women Center Stage?

It was one of those fortuitous friend-of-a-friend situations that introduced me to Alex Mallory. But I have also worked at the Culture Project before, years ago and am so pleased to be back and part of the theatrical dialogue that is happening here.

What drew you to this subject?

We are interested in why people do what they do or perhaps the better question is why they don’t do what they want to do. In other words, what holds us back (particularly from having an authentic response to our environment, our inner desires or another human being)? When I received the questions/prompt from Alex, it spurred further questions: are we manipulated in day to day life and if so, by whom; do things like media, advertising, technology and other people’s opinions really control the amount of freewill we have and how can we function more honestly and spontaneously in this climate of being bombarded by others’ thoughts.

Please share your thoughts/philosophy regarding the information technology and data.

Well, I am fascinated by how information gets disseminated and dissembled. Our up-to-date age of instant updates, socially and politically, rocks me on a regular basis. It has made me a kind of current event hermit. (And while I do have a Facebook account, I never look at it). It connects us, sure, but simultaneously contains us in a very insular world of self and screen. It encourages us to live in thought rather than being/doing and in seeing ourselves via others. It also asks us to blindly accept the information handed to us without a whole lot of research or citation. Wikipedia is the source of all Truth, for Pete’s sake. I think this is potentially pretty deadly. Not that all technology is bad, but it certainly doesn’t support a sense of active engagement with the world.

So many plays and stories are told by men. What do you think prevents women from telling their stories?

Hmmm. This can be a hot button issue for a feminist–which in many ways, I am, but I don’t personally feel prevented from telling my story. I feel stuck sometimes with breaking into higher echelons professionally, which of course, would allow me to tell my story to more people, but I truly believe that some of that is the climate of theatre and some of that is just me not pushing harder against the boundaries, real or imagined.

If more women could tell their stories, what do you think would change?

We would be allowed into another perspective. We would perhaps, see a side of the world that is not normally exposed.

Two women just won Best Director at the Tony Awards – only the second time a woman has won Best Director of a Musical. Why do you think that is the current state of things?

I think, traditionally, people–usually the hiring people–trust their work in the hands of men. Perhaps this is due to a series of general assumptions: men can control a room better; handle difficult situations with ease and authority; and are perceived (at times) to be smarter. Slowly, I think these general assumptions are changing and women are given much more clout about having the same skills. It will take a lot more time before it has shifted radically, but I acknowledge and appreciate the baby steps.

That being said, I am director/choreographer and I can tell you that I am much more likely to be hired as a choreographer than a director, and I feel strongly this is because I’m a woman. Sad.

We see so many more plays written by men than by women onstage. Why do you think that is the current state of things?

Who knows. Ego? Easier for a man to navigate the uncertain waters of a ‘career in the theatre’? I really don’t know. But I do think this, too, is changing.

How do you think the current state of things can continue to change?

It IS changing and it will continue to change. Woman have a foothold in the professional realm in way they’ve ever had before. Once you make that kind of headway, it is very hard to slip back. It encourages more and more women to take the risk and push to be regarded as equal creative artists. But in my experience with the women who are truly great leaders in the arts, (Leigh Silverman, Lear deBessonet,Emily Mann, Marcia Milgrom-Dodge, Pam McKinnon, Anne Bogart to name a few) they made their way because they are great at what they do–smart, strong, creative but without pushing. They didn’t necessarily set out to function differently in order to succeed in a male dominated field. They just did what they do and excelled.

Please tell me your thoughts about the roles women currently play in theatre and the roles you hope to see them play in the future.

It is great to find plays that are heavier on female roles than male. Women dominate the actor pool and there are simply not enough roles for them. Playwrights can lead the charge with this. Having women in high powered arts administrative positions could also help turn the tide as they aim to support women artists, taking risks with equally qualified female directors who may not have had the chance to be ‘proven’.

Please tell me anything else about your play or women in theatre that you would like to share.

Our play is less about women exclusively and more about the collective at large reassessing how we take in information and how we engage with it, what we chose to believe and what do we happily rebel against. This is for humanity not just women.

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