"She is out there (and she is always a she). I mean in New York, she is. She is always a she. In fact she is always a she across the country. It is a woman, usually between forty-five and fifty. She comes from a reasonably affluent household, and she is interested in the arts, and she has a lot of friends who trust her opinion."
~Nancy Coyne, CEO of largest theatrical ad agency in America, on the average Broadway ticket buyer
Before I introduce you to the additions to the Helen on 86th St. Creative Team, I wanted to share some statistics with you:
- Out of the 47 Broadway productions listed on Playbill.com, 6 have female directors and 7 have female choreographers.
- Only 23% of the individuals or writing teams awarded the Jonathan Larson Award for theatre achievement (since the beginning of the award's history) were women, or had a woman as part of the writing team.
- 83% of produced plays are written by men.
- Women buy 70% of the theatre tickets sold, and make up 60% of the audience.
- Plays about women have won 7 of the last 10 Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.
What's going on here?
Some of these statistics come from my personal research, and many come from a 2009 article written by playwright Marsha Norman for Theatre Communications Group in reaction to this report done by the NYSCA. Why, you ask, with so many obstacles already staring me in the face during this development process would I actively seek out such depressing statistics?
Unfortunately, they found me while I was trying to find some positive female role models who have been through this process before (writing, developing, producing their own work). Not to say that there aren't dynamic women out there in this industry. There are. But for every Daryl Roth, Eve Ensler and Marsha Norman, there are at least 50 men.
That being said, I am happy to officially introduce you to three new additions to the Helen family, and yes, they all happen to be women.
Helen on 86th St. is proud to welcome Alicia Dhyana House, Tracy Bersley and Jen Rudin to the team.
Did I choose them because they were women? No. I chose them because they are all incredibly talented, smart, strong and hard-working. I chose them because they have already contributed so much to this industry and art form and I believe they deserve the opportunity for the world to see their work. I chose them because they are my friends--people who I trust, love and have the deepest of respect for. But I also don't believe it's mere coincidence that they happen to be women, and that I am drawn to their particular sensibilities as I try to build an exceptional creative team for this show about a young girl being raised by a single mom.
So what exactly do they bring to the team that compliments what Robby and I already have going on?
My Co-Director, Alicia Dhyana House, with her diverse Columbia training, brings a keen visual eye (her design concept--a giant sandbox--for her Columbia thesis production of Medea, was so strong, it has been popping up in other productions by well-known directors), a deep connection to the material (she was raised by her mom), an astute ability to bring out the immediacy and humanity in classic and contemporary plays (Chekhov, Euripides and Churchill to name a few), and the gift for making everything that I've seen her direct, feel fresh, coherent and powerful. She also has an enthusiasm for the material that matches mine. Combine all of that with my extensive experience working with young performers in musical theatre and we've got the start of a very solid foundation.
Adding to that foundation is Tracy Bersley as Helen's Choreographer. Miss Bersley, my long time friend, mentor and graduate school advisor, is one of the most talented and artistic women I know. Actually, she is the most talented and artistic woman I know. And if you don't believe me, come visit my apartment someday and you will see my annual holiday presents from Tracy (which she makes each year) showcased in each room. She directs, choreographs, sings, acts, paints, writes poetry, and virtually has creativity seeping out of her pores. Like me, Tracy can go from the absurd to the divine--it's all in a day's work for her. In the morning she can be choreographing dancing bunnies (TheatreworksUSA's Max and Ruby), then run to Princeton to teach a course, then return back to the city to rehearse an experimental piece for Lincoln Center's LC3 with Lear Debessonet. As a former directing student of hers at NYU (more on that later), a frequent collaborator of hers, and the choreographer of the dance that kicked off her wedding ceremony, I can say that Tracy is one of the people I credit most for helping me grow as an artist. Also raised by her mom, she has that connection to the material that is so essential to me, and honestly, we've been waiting for this moment since we first became artistic "soul mates" nine years ago. And her husband, Drew, is one of the best chefs I know, so he will keep us well fed throughout this process.
Sealing the foundation is Jen Rudin, a new addition to this eclectic circle, introduced to me by Robby. Any friend of Robby's is a friend of mine, but there was a special connection with Jen. After seeing the first preview of Helen, she just got it. She got what we were going for, she saw the potential it had, and she understood the way Robby and I wanted to develop it. What more can you ask for in a Casting Director? But, wait, there is more! Jen is smart, passionate, incredibly hard-working and has an vast amount of experience in this field. Oh, and she knows kids--lots of them--from having cast for Disney for years. And she likes kids--and kids like her. And that really matters to me. I am so honored to have her working with us, and so happy to add a new like-minded friend to my inner circle.
As Marsha Norman concludes in the TCG article: "In her book Writing a Women's Life, Carolyn Heilbrun says: 'Power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told.' That's the challenge here. We have to commit to telling all the stories of this country. We need to to make some new rules for ourselves." As you might have noticed, I'm not really one to shy away from a challenge. And if there is one thing that this development process has taught me it's that obstacles equal opportunities.
So, ladies, let's get going. We've got some new rules to make.