So, in answer to my grandson’s question, here’s the “well yes” part:
I had become a producing artist and was able to give myself opportunities to grow as a playwright by seeing my work living and breathing on smaller stages. I published a collection of my full-length plays. My shorter works and monologues appear in theatrical anthologies. I pen theatre-related articles for online magazines and blog posts. I have been interviewed on theatre-related podcasts. I have curated and produced events promoting women’s work around the social issues of our time like the brutality and murder of women of color at the hands of the police and the #MeToo movement.
These steps ensure that my grandchildren and future generations of theatre lovers will know I was here and had something to contribute to the American theatre. And finally, although in the minority—not unlike the Black suffragettes and Black feminists who fought for inclusion despite the unrelenting bias they endured—I found community with white women theatre artists fighting for parity.
And, here’s the “… and no” part:
All of these efforts have afforded me the street cred and respect of my peers but not the nationally recognized awards and accolades that garner the attention of regional theatres and Broadway producers. I have failed in balancing my work as an activist with my work as an aspiring playwright in that sense. (In fact, right now, I am sure there is a submission opportunity, or a grant, or residency that I should be applying to as I write this article!) I am “of a certain age”—too old, perhaps, to be the next “hot thing,” “flavor of the month,” or “theatre darling.” I am a recovering “hope-a-holic” who cannot go backwards and recover those “lost years of not doing self-advocacy.”
The icing on the cake came with the Lillys’ most recent findings in the “The Count 3.0” which says, in part: “It’s clear that, although the American theatre has continued to add to the diversity of its playwrights, neither gender nor racial parity has yet been achieved in terms of production. Anecdotally, it appears that women over the age of fifty, especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) women+ who led the push for the diversity we now enjoy, do not appear to have directly benefitted.”
There it was in black and white. I had been fighting all this time for white women to have more opportunities in the industry than women like me. This news was very disheartening. It caused me to call into question the last fifteen years of my life as an activist fighting for parity for women+ theatre artists. What now? Do I keep fighting for those BIPOC women+ under fifty and future generations?
The truth is, now in my sixties, I am tired and ready to turn this particular fight over to those who are younger and stronger. After years of advocacy, I was looking forward to spending more time writing, networking, submitting more consistently, maybe getting an agent, and securing that all-important regional production that may have a future on the Great White Way. I was looking forward to taking my seat at the table.
Knowing I am part of a historic lineage, a continuum of Black women activists on the frontlines of one cause or another who may not see the fruits of their work in their lifetime, I am wondering how to reconcile and be at peace with the findings of “The Count 3.0” while still fighting the good fight. I am wondering what the response to these findings are by other BIPOC women+ playwrights in my shoes, or if they even know. I am wondering, “What happens to a dream deferred,” a question posed by poet, essayist, novelist and playwright, Langston Hughes in his iconic poem, “Harlem”:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I don’t yet have an answer to Hughes’ question because I am still living it. But I can imagine the mountaintop. And as I crest, I see my dream deferred exploding—not in my lifetime but a hundred years from now when women+ playwrights in great numbers explode onto the American theatre scene. In my dream deferred, I see BIPOC women+ having the same opportunities as their white sisters and together as womenkind, they have the same opportunities as white men. In my dream deferred, I see producers discovering the plays of BIPOC women+ over fifty and posthumously dedicating whole seasons to their unsung work. In my dream deferred, I see a seat at the table for all of us. In the words of voting and women’s rights activist, community organizer, and leader in the civil rights movement, Fannie Lou Hamer, “We didn’t come all this way for no two seats when all of us were tired.”