Things We Love: A Boy in a Man’s Theater by Polly Carl
Polly Carl's latest essay on HowlRound.com is a beautiful read:
As we make our way into a very ugly and gendered political season, and as I look at the seasons of many of our regional theater stages, the most egregious being the one just announced by the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, well, I am compelled to talk some truth about finding yourself “other” in a white man’s world—about the importance of insisting on being seen. I didn’t want to be the one to take this on, but as I’ve been searching for other voices to jump into this discussion, I realize I’m asking them to perhaps risk their own livelihoods down the line—I’m asking them to risk what I haven’t wanted to risk myself.
Seeing Yourself on Stage
In my career in the theater I have mostly decided not to think about this problem of my gender dysphoria. I’ve always survived my otherness through stories, through imagining I could be anyone and anything—it was Spiderman for a long time. I’ve been so lucky to work in the theater and submerge myself into the stories of others, constantly lost in the possibilities of what I could imagine versus staying stuck in the limitations of the present moment. In other words, I didn’t want to focus on some of the painful realities of my own story, but have preferred instead to dramaturg and produce many other very compelling stories.
I’ve been supportive of, but not super involved in, all the talk of women’s discrimination in the theater. I didn’t feel I was quite the right choice to be a spokeswoman for the cause, though the lack of women’s voices on our stages enrages me. I’ve kept quiet about that subject because in accentuating my otherness, I feared exacerbating it. And honestly, I didn’t want to ever be dismissed as someone with a chip on my shoulder, a victim of my own circumstances. I want to be taken seriously in this business, fit in to the degree that I can, and make good stories for the stage.
So, I’ve made my way as a boy in a man’s theater—in a theater dominated by men’s voices, predominantly white, both straight and gay. And I like men, I identify with them. They are my best friends and I like making theater with them. And had god forced me to choose, I’m certain I’d have compared wardrobe choices and decided to be a man.
But that said, I believe the transformative power of art rests in undiscovered stories, and if large not-for-profit theaters don’t lead the way in developing and producing those stories, then who will? And if we give the leaders of those theaters a pass because it might cost us something later, then we’re not being nearly imaginative enough about the possibilities for a new future for ourselves and our field.
Read the entire essay here.