If McCarter Theater Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann's acceptance speech at the Tonys for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike as best play was gracious, so also were the circumstances under which she came to give it.
Normally, the author and the producer, generally the Broadway producer, accept the Tony for best play. But Vanya and Sonia's Broadway lead producers, Joey Parnes and Larry Hirschhorn, as well as the play's Lincoln Center Artistic Director Andre Bishop, declined that particular honor, turning it over to Mann. That's because it was Mann who commissioned her long-time colleague and friend Christopher Durang to write the play, and then worked with him on its development at the Princeton-based McCarter Theater, where it premiered. The play then moved "intact" to Lincoln Center on its way to Broadway. "It was a unanimous decision among them and the cast and Chris that they felt I should do it, accept the award on behalf of all the Vanya producers," Mann told me, an experience for her that was "really quite moving, and beautiful."
Mann's Tony that night was one of the blitz of Tonys than landed in women's hands, making it, as she and numerous observers agree, "a great night for women." It was also, though less obviously, "a great night for women artistic directors of not-for profit theaters," Mann points out.
In addition to Mann at McCarter, there was Diane Paulus. Tony-award winner for direction of the musical Pippin, which also took the Tony for best revival of a musical, Paulus is the artistic director at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard, where Pippin premiered. Pam MacKinnon won best director of a play for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which also won for best play revival; that play premiered at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, where Martha Lavey is artistic director. Not-for-profit theaters, Mann explains, have long been the essential training ground for women directors, and they remain the theaters that "create the work."
But while Mann was delighted that this was such a good year for women and for people of color at the Tonys, and while she "couldn't be happier or more honored to be part of that whole group," she's very clear that we're not there yet. "When you look at the premier regional theaters around the country that are being run by women, it's a handful," she says. To Paulus and Lavey she adds Carey Perloff at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, Molly Smith at DC's Arena Stage, and Susan Booth at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. Indeed, according to the Theater Communications Group, with a membership of 500 professional nonprofit theaters nationwide, of the 61 with budgets of $5 million or more, four out of five of their artistic leaders (80 percent) are men.
Mann is also clear about what needs to be done to sustain the momentum. "We have to be mentoring the next generation, or even just the next round of women, to be taking over the theaters as artistic directors and producers."
"I run a theater that does a lot of mentoring and part of our mission is to put on plays by and about women and people of color," she explains. "But we're a boutique theater. We do five main stage shows a year, and sometimes one experimental piece. We need to see more women both mentored to do it and given the opportunity and hired." And the hiring isn't happening at the pace it needs to happen. "I won't name names, but there are a couple of major theaters that just got artistic directors and not one woman was on the short list," she volunteers. "I know who the guys are and I'll tell you these women are as good as, if not better."
The thing Mann wants to stress is that even though you had "kick ass" women directors and theater artistic directors getting this year's Tonys, "it's not as if there isn't a parity problem in the American theater and especially in the Broadway theatre for women. I don't want people to get the wrong takeaway on this. I think we should celebrate how fabulous the work is that we're all doing, and there should be more of us given the opportunity to do it. This will only enrich the American theater, if you let women have their voices and their power to do real work that matters."
Hear Sandi Klein's recent interview with Emily Mann at "The 51%: Conversations with Creative Women"