"Every place I directed in the late Seventies and the Eighties, I was the first woman to direct on those main stages... If I had won a Tony in 1995 -- I was nominated for Having Our Say -- I would have been the first woman to win the Tony Award for directing a play on Broadway. 1995! It's not very long ago... I remember in the early '80s being on the cover of the New York Times magazine with a bunch of women playwrights... It was me and Marsha Norman and Wendy Wasserstein and Tina Howe... There were six of us and it was a very big deal because we were women who had been produced as playwrights. Thirty years later... It's still a big deal."
So spoke Emily Mann, trailblazing artistic director and resident playwright in her 23rd season at the prestigious McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ, in an entertaining and eye-opening interview with former veteran WINS news anchor Sandi Klein, now hosting her own talk show, available as a podcast: "The 51%: Conversations with Creative Women."
Indeed, recent press reports have lauded the presence of more women theater directors, and there has been progress, as Patrick Healy noted earlier this year in the New York Times, with some women directors emerging as "the new power players Off Broadway." Still, the recognition and representation of women among Broadway directors has been abysmal. Since the inauguration of the Tonys in 1947, a paltry six women have received directorial honors -- Julie Taymor (Lion King), Garry Hynes (Beauty Queen of Leenane), Susan Stroman (The Producers), Mary Zimmerman (Metamorphoses), Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County), and Marianne Elliott (War Horse). And four of those six awards were bestowed after the turn of the current century.
While Mann has never received that particular honor, in 1990, just four years into her current job, the McCarter received a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater. Like other women directors who established relationships with premier playwrights (as Healy reported in his Times piece), Mann's relationship with Edward Albee, noted Klein on her show, "is a long and close one. In the last 20 years, the McCarter has produced several Albee plays, including the world premiere of Me, Myself and I." And then there was Tennessee Williams. "Years ago, Emily directed Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and two productions of The Glass Menagerie, the second of which, staged at the Guthrie in Minnesota, led to a personal relationship with Williams," Klein added. "She was the first woman to direct that play on that stage -- and she was all of 27."
But Mann is not a household name, and that's the real reason Klein nabbed her as one of her first guests on "Conversations with Creative Women." "This show," Klein, my longtime friend, told me, "is not about the average Joe." Nor is the focus, she added with her usual irreverence, on the "you-lost-your-house-in-Oklahoma-and-here's-how-you-came-back" stories. Though Klein is no stranger to the world of celebrity artists -- she co-hosted the WNYC radio show "Arts Alive From the Algonquin" earlier in her career, spending Sunday afternoons with the likes of Kurt Vonnegut and Wynton Marsalis, Colleen Dewhurst, Edward Albee and Anna Quindlen -- the women she wants to focus on in her new show are the "lesser known movers and shakers" who are having an "an enormous impact on the creative landscape."
"Who does the first multi-racial cast of A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway?" asks Klein, referring to one of Mann's most daring directorial feats. "There's a legion of women out there who are doing wonderful things and people are benefitting. But we don't know who they are."
This year, two women are among the contenders for a Tony for directing: Pam MacKinnon for Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? and Diane Paulus for Pippin. And while Mann told Klein how sad she is "that this profession that's supposed to be so open and free as a life is actually very, very conservative and traditional, at least for people of color and for women," she's also heartened.
Acknowledging the progress that has been made, as well as her gratitude for the opportunities she has at the McCarter to influence the theater of tomorrow, Mann said: "A lot of the firsts now have been done, but we need to keep those doors opened, keep on keeping on. I'm mentoring so many brilliant young people... I'm so excited about what the next generation is bringing. I really am."
For more on "The 51%: Conversations with Creative Women," or to listen to Sandi Klein's interview with Emily Mann, go here.