It’s a good day, friends.
The sun is shining, the snow is melting, and with one more minor tweak and a couple of songs to orchestrate, my company wrote another musical.
Depending on how you count, it’s number three or four. Personally, I’ll say four: “Liberal Arts” (full length), “Grind” (one-act), “Spa Fire” (short one-act), and now, “Pr0ne.” We’ve got a couple of readings coming up, then the show mounts in August.
Drafting a show is a slog. Brendan reminded me that it was Christmas of 2011 that he started trying to draft one of our character’s opening songs. The real, concentrated effort of drafting and revising amped up only after October of this year. Three days a week of three-hour (or longer!) meetings to plan, experiment, argue, and rack our brains for rhymes. Occasional disagreements and confrontations. Somehow, we’re all still speaking to each other. Better than that. Still excited to see each other.
I want to give some props to my fellow writers, who are, along with being some of my closest friends, all male. Because we’ve managed something that I really don’t think is that easy to do: a collaborative work environment where, even though one gender outnumbers the other pretty handily, the gender dynamic remains healthy.
The guys (hi guys!) might be sick of hearing me talk about this kind of thing, but it remains really important. Especially to me, as the person in the minority. As the person trained to keep my voice down, to compromise readily, and to sacrifice my ideas rather than risk hurting someone’s feelings. It’s tempting to ignore gender altogether and say, “Hey, Laura, it’s just that you as a person were disposed this way, by genetics and the situations of your life.” Unfortunately, we’re never going to get away from the fact that one of the “situations of my life” is that I’m a woman in a world that has some messed up ideas about women versus men.
We didn’t magically fall into “great gender dynamic” mode. It felt like we did, a little, when the group, minus one writer, first wrote “Liberal Arts.” We were young, in college, trying something for the very first time, managing a big group of actors and writers and musicians and trying to look like we knew what we were doing. There wasn’t really time for gender politics. If I didn’t like the way a character was behaving or thought it was unlikely, I’d talk to two other people who were busy overseeing other parts of the process, all in a 10-week time crunch, and we’d change it and immediately move on to the next thing that needed fixing. With three people, one group member is going to be in the gender minority, unless someone is androgynous or intersexed or, like, Richard O’Brien.
It turns out that that third guy is the Critical Gender Mass.
Adding Brendan to the team was a no-brainer. He’d been our good friend for longer than we’d been producing; he’d been in “Liberal Arts” and had contributed as much as, if not more than, my team of auxiliary writers; he was on staff at Underscore, was planning to assistant direct with us, and obviously had a lot to contribute. But suddenly, I was realizing that I was thinking of my collaborators more as “male writers” than just as “writers.” I was noticing that I had gotten a lot quieter in the writing room, feeling like I wasn’t sure of myself in speaking up or tossing around ideas. There were more people trying to talk at once, and I wasn’t holding my own.
Unsurprisingly, the effective solution was twofold: I noticed behavior in myself that I tried to change (feeling reluctant to speak up) and I talked to the group about how I was feeling.
It wasn’t my favorite conversation to have–it’s not fun telling your friends that they are in whatever small way, however unconsciously, making you uncomfortable, and a natural first reaction to hearing that can easily be “It’s your problem, not mine, toughen up and change.” Thankfully, that’s not how the guys reacted. They recognized that the best work happens when everyone feels comfortable, and if I was suddenly having more trouble than previously, there was probably something that could be done about it. And that’s really all it took. The two-fold acknowledgment: first, that I needed to notice when I was shooting myself in the foot and try to assert myself, and second, that it wasn’t just in my head and that the guys should be aware of it too and try not to steamroll me. It worked like a charm.
Sure, sometimes I still take a breath and explain that I’m pretty sure that I was using my rational-argument tone of voice and not some irrational, defensive, emotional lady-voice, and sometimes we flatly disagree with each other and have to go take the air until we reach a solution. But we’re equals in the writer’s room, with equal authority to speak our minds and to make our cases. And what’s more, that’s not just on paper. It’s the way things actually feel when we’re working together.
So thank you, my friends, my collaborators, my co-conspirators. When I think about feminism, quite honestly, I think of you. Because I know how great it is to be a part of something based on who I am as a whole person, and not as a “token” or a junior partner or even, to the other extreme, someone power-tripping and vilifying “the other side” or “the oppressor.” What we do makes me happy and gives me hope.
Thank you for helping me do what I’m honestly looking forward to continue doing as I grow up: “Not change, only become more so.”