If you’re an actor, you know of the famous “set” – that fateful pair of monologues that shows a casting director who you are, as an actor and as a person. It is meant to demonstrate your text analysis skills, as well as your “type” and range. In just a couple minutes it says, “This is what I can do; this is who I can play.” No biggie, right? The thing is, there is a dearth of material available for women, especially in the realm of comedy.

If you’re an actor, you are probably also familiar with the history of theater – specifically the fact that women were banned from performing for centuries, from the inception of theater in Ancient Greece, well into the Renaissance. Throughout that time, men filled women’s parts, telling their stories through their own lens, rather than through an actual woman’s perspective. The history of female playwrights has been even more scarce. Today, only 30 percent of plays being produced in the United States were written by women. The meaning behind these statistics goes far beyond the numbers themselves. This inequality of representation has resulted in a lack of understanding of women’s stories and perspectives. It has allowed the voices of men to dominate the narrative and proclaim what is true for women. It has produced a significant number of shallow, one-dimensional female characters for aspiring and professional actresses to vie for. Women have so few opportunities to exercise their range and ability in comparison to men, and the material available to them is a significant root cause.

There is something that irks me about finding suitable audition material: the “overdone” list. If you are in musical theater, you have probably heard of some songs that are no-no’s for women: “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Mis, “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, “All that Jazz” from Chicago… the list goes on. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that it can be frustrating to casting directors who have to hear these songs over and over again. It gets repetitive and tiresome. The problem is that there isn’t a whole lot else to choose from that suits the average female voice or that has any amount of depth or complexity. Theater is rife with female plot devices that seem to only serve to move the male protagonist’s story forward. This applies to so-called “straight” plays, too.  The vast majority of material available to women does not pass the Bechdel Test. That is to say, the woman is either talking to a man, or about a man. I, for one, have better things to talk about. Most of my days are spent discussing ideas and inspiration, not lamenting my troubles in romance. My “main objective” revolves around building a better life for myself and my family – one that is more equitable and free from patriarchal structures. Even more contemporary plays do not do justice to the complexity of a woman’s life, and when they do, they are pounced upon so quickly by women hungry for something of substance, that the material quickly becomes taboo. It is suddenly considered “overdone,” even though people have been demanding Shakespeare for centuries and somehow we still haven’t gotten over that.

There are two solutions that I propose to fill the void where women’s voices currently reside: produce more works by and for women, and consider women for historically male roles. I live in Seattle, WA and there are several companies that are actively engaged in this kind of shift, including Macha Theatre Works, Upstart Crow Collective, and Hedgebrook, among others. They have recognized how vital it is to include women’s voices in the representation of our past, present, and future, and are recruiting more and more women to be a part of their initiative. They are re-imagining the way that we view women in the world by handing them the mic and encouraging them to speak their truth.

My truth is that my life as a young woman is far more complex than the roles I see as available for me to play.

The way our audition system is set up perpetuates a gendered standard of how men and women are expected to behave. We demand that actors prepare material that represents “who they are,” and yet I rarely see myself represented in the material I find. How, then, am I to understand myself as a human being and how I fit into this seemingly crystallized system?

I went to an audition a few days ago where we were told we could prepare anything we wanted. A monologue, a scene, a song, dance, or story. This, of course, led to some pretty interesting presentations. But it split open the bubble of expectation that we, as actors, have been conditioned to protect. I initially planned on pulling out one of my (already tired) monologues – those faithful words that provide some modicum of female empowerment in the audition room – a privilege so seldom granted. But then I realized: I can do whatever I want. And I have never felt more empowered onstage than when I performed my solo show, A Pyrate’s Life: Anne Bonny. I decided to perform a scene that I myself had crafted – a scene that breaks the convention of how women “should” act and puts Anne’s future in her own hands. It is a moment where she takes a leap of faith and changes the course of her life forever. Now, I don’t think my fate is tied up in this audition, but it did offer me a new perspective on the possibilities of auditioning.

We should not let ourselves be restricted by the standards laid before us. We should feel free to take a risk and explore our options. I, for one, will continue to seek out empowering female monologues, but I will also not be limited by gender. I will find material that really speaks to me and resonates with me, rather than that which is defined as “Female, Early 20’s, Comedic.” I hope you will break out the walls of your own prison and continue to challenge the status quo that tells you where you “fit.” Don’t let yourself be boxed in anywhere. Define yourself and who you want to be as a person and an artist. Revolution is the only path toward evolution. Keep rising up.

When you take on other characters

You risk losing yourself.

You worry:

Will I adopt their ugliness?

Will I shine too brightly?

I’m used to feeling plain,

So why should I feel

Excitement,

Joy,

And freedom in my body?

What if I lose control?

 

What if?

Would that be the end of it all?

Or would it open new realms

Of possibility,

Ways of being,

Of inhabiting the world?

What if you could set your

Mind-

Body-

Spirit

Free

By throwing caution to the wind,

By turning off your “internal editor,”

By daring to be bigger than your

Own small sphere of existence?

 

Acting is empathizing

With another’s plight;

It’s taking on their story

And living it fully –

In all its messiness,

Ugliness,

And Glory.

We don’t live to be nice

And look nice all the time;

We live for experiences,

Relationships,

And love.

We live for the complexity

That each day holds –

Shouldn’t our characters carry this capacity, too?

 

To live is to take a risk

Every day of your life

To be better than you were

The day before.

To grow up

And into yourself;

To learn

About yourself and the world;

To deepen

Your connections

And tune into the collective pulse

That breathes life

Into every being

On the planet.

Anne Bonny

The lure of comfort is like a string

Pulling me inside-out.

It exposes my insides,

Making me vulnerable

And susceptible to the harsh winds

Of the outside world.

Every gust knocks me over

And each soft ripple

Brushes against my heart,

Stirring it

Until it dissolves.

I’ve built walls to protect

My insides –

Those squishy, malleable

Organs of life.

They guard me from feeling too deeply –

Until the clever wind

Creeps through the cracks,

And creates a wind tunnel.

Then it all bursts open

And comes pouring out,

And I’m left with the shattered pieces

Of my safe house.

I’m left to pick them up again,

Desperately trying to rebuild

What’s been lost.

 

But what if I lived

More on edge?

Not quick to anger,

But quick to action –

That same string pulling me forward,

Into life –

A visceral experience

That draws forth the

Guttural,

Wild,

Exuberant

Part of me.

What if my safe house didn’t need to exist,

Because I felt safe with myself?

What if I felt comfortable enough

In my own body,

That I didn’t need to seek

External sources of comfort?

The lure of comfort

Is what holds me back

From living life to its fullest,

From expressing my full potential.

Comfort tells me to stay complacent,

To deny the possibility

Of a more radiant,

Colorful,

And fantastical experience.

It could be dangerous,

But that rush of wind,

Standing at the edge of the cliff,

Would carry me up and out,

Into the world.

The longing wind inside

Threatens to destroy me,

To keep me wanting

With no real manifestation.

On the edge,

Something is bound to happen.

On Top