The Girls on the Go: Everybody Tries
As theatre people know far too well, all good things must come to an end.
Today, I have to say goodbye to you, composers and screlters and writers and geeks of The Green Room. Thank you for being a part of my favorite art form, and thanks for listening to me talk about it so much.
Before I go, I’d like to leave you with some thoughts about activism and musical theatre in general, so I can tie up loose ends and give a little more clarity:
1. Activism doesn’t have to equal anger. There is a prevalent stereotype that feminists or other advocates are militant or ‘scary.’ I think that idea keeps so many caring people from turning their concern into action.
You can be an activist through your art.
When you write or perform characters, think of it as a way to advocate for them. Whether you’re a composer or an actor, you can do research by listening to the stories of real-life people who have endured similar experiences to your character.If you can incorporate truth and humanity to what you bring onstage, you will enlighten your company and your audience.
2. You are allowed to like problematic musicals sometimes. Is Millie Dillmount’s plan to work her way up to marrying a rich dude really the best example of female empowerment? …No, but, dammit, did I love playing her when I was sixteen!
Also, let’s talk about the fact that the Stockholm-Syndrome-y Phantom of the Opera was running over twenty years on Broadway before they actually cast a black actor in the title role – about time! …But it’s still okay to sing “Think of Me” in the shower. I won’t judge you too harshly for it.
Like whatever musicals you want, as long as you are at least aware of what messages they send.
3. Social impact doesn’t have to be serious all the time. Sweeney Todd is a musical hinged on class disparity and revenge, yet it is one of the wittiest pieces written for musical theatre.Urinetown tackles totalitarianism with pee jokes and Fosse-esque moments.
The Book of Mormon forces us to think about faith, mission work, and The White Savior Complex, while making us laugh unlike any other show running on Broadway.
Musical theatre is a fun, playful genre. Engage your audience by employing lighthearted conventions paired with thought so that your message can come through in a palatable way.
4. Encourage new voices. As I mentioned in my first installment of The Girls on the Go, the vast majority of musical theatre writers are white, cisgender men.I’m not anti-men by any means, but if we need to champion the works of diverse writers. This is one of many reasons why NewMusicalTheatre.com is one of my all-time favorite resources, because it actively promotes new works.Inclusion and openness allow art to progress. Listen to some of my favorite newer voices, such as Shaina Taub, Jamen Nanthakumar , and (not a musical theatre writer, but still super-important) Maggie Keenan-Bolger.
5. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. The worlds of musical theatre and feminism have a toxic insistence upon perfection.You don’t have to have one required set of beliefs and actions to be an adequate feminist, and you don’t have to be a certain type of performer or writer to be good enough.Sometimes, when you grow, you will stumble. Sometimes you will fail. It’s okay as long as you learn something from it.
I know there have to be some of you who have come across this column and said “Ugh, this is why got a BFA instead of doing Gender Studies.” I’m not saying that all contemporary musical theatre artists should become gung-ho activists who can never take a joke or have fun. That’s unrealistic and not exactly the best use of your talents. You can, however, use your natural talents and your learned skills to bring greater meaning to your work.
We don’t do musical theatre for prestige or money. We do it for love. Chances are, there are people who you love who have great stories that absolutely should be told. I’m sure there are people you love who could use advocacy and support.
You can stand up for the people and the things you care about with your art.