A lot has been said about the Guthrie’s season announcement, and probably a lot more will be. I want to focus on one part of it. But first, I want to say that while I don’t disagree with most of the criticism the Guthrie has worked hard over the last decade or so to foster –I’ve yet to hear anyone I’ve known from Minnesota stand up for Dowling—it should be clearly stated that the Guthrie is not alone.
That was on my mind as I read the transcript from this All Things Considered interview with Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling.
There’s a lot in Dowling’s interview that can be dissected but this paragraph in particular, struck me as patently absurd.
“But I think diversity is a very big issue and I’m not certain that we’re all addressing it in a sort of responsible way. The question that’s risen specifically in regards to our season has been about women directors (Tom Crann: and playwrights). Let me address the playwrights first. We’re largely a classics theater – that’s what we do and I may be reading the wrong books but I find it difficult to see – because of social history in the 17th, 18th, 19th and indeed early 20th century – which are termed ‘classic plays’ – women playwrights emerged who would be able to fill large theaters.
“Now that’s changing and it’s changed quite dramatically in the last couple of years and there are now a lot more valuable women playwrights…”
It’s telling that Dowling responds to questions of diversity by primarily focusing on women, or that he doesn’t mention, the name of the “second of the Tarell Alvin pieces.” Or the playwright’s last name. (The Brothers Size and McCraney, respectively.) Even so, his argument about lacking plays, the idea that he can’t find any classic plays by women is ludicrous; there are centuries worth of great plays by men and women from across the globe.
There is no way any argument could be made that a classical theatre can’t find plays to broaden their season beyond exclusively white men–other than he didn’t bother to try.
I stopped and thought about it for a couple minutes. Two. I set a timer for one-hundred twenty seconds. I was curious to see if I could come up with a possible twelve play season, without consulting google or my bookshelf. Here’s what I came up with.
1. Of Śakuntalā… Kālidāsa
2. Dog in the Manger – Lope de Vega
3. Autumn in Han Palace – Ma Zhiyuan
4. De Monfort – Johanna Baillie
5. Las Hijas de Las Flores – Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda
6. Georgia Douglas Johnson’s one-act cycle
7. A Bold Stroke for a Wife – Susanna Centlivre
8. Rachel- Angela W. Grimke
9. A Solid Home – Elena Garro
10. Wine in the Wilderness – Alice Childress
11. Sacrifice – Rabindranath Tagore
12. Emperor of the Moon – Aphra Behn
Now, upon greater reflection, I very well might change some of these plays in a hypothetical season. I don’t expect everyone to know the plays I do. In addition to curating our annual Alcyone Festival, I admittedly have a very different reading list than most. However, I do expect anyone who runs a theatre to have a broad knowledge of classic works. And while salaries are often irrelevant to these types of conversation, I can’t help but mention that Joe Dowling is extraordinarily well compensated for running the Guthrie. At that level of stature and compensation, I do expect a broader knowledge than a general audience, or even most of the field. But that’s not the point.
The point is, I spent one-hundred twenty seconds and came up with twelve plays, none of which are by white dudes. (Okay, maybe one, depending on how you view de Vega.) Surely over the course of season planning Dowling could find one, if he tried. And if he’s not trying, why is he running a classical theatre?