A few days ago I learned of the sudden departure of Julie Crosby, the artistic director of the Women’s Project Theater in New York, the nation’s oldest and largest company dedicated to producing and promoting plays written and directed by women, which I helped to found twenty-five years ago.
Julie served for nine years, rescuing the theatre from near bankruptcy—some of it brought about by our ill-advised decision to buy an old church and convert it into a money-sucking theatre—finding new and younger playwrights and directors from a more diverse community, and creating seasons with some challenging work that actually brought in audiences from the increasingly elderly and conservative New York theatre-going population.
Why did Julie’s abrupt, unexplained firing by the theatre’s board not surprise me?
In the past two decades, I’ve seen the drastic reduction of our representation, not only in theatre, but in all the arts; the big literary prizes still go to white men, the plays produced are written and directed by women, the art galleries and museums, without the prod once provided by the Guerrilla Girls, have reverted to their time-honored programs, honoring those the culture already honors, acknowledging those already honored, supporting work that may be formally challenging but hews closely to prescribed opinions. Three of the last four plays I saw in New York were built on squabbling between mothers and daughters, now central to everything we see there. The old idea (if it can be called an idea) that women don’t get along is as familiar and accepted now as it was when Claire Booth Luce’s mean play, “The Women,” was produced on Broadway in the 1940’s.
Julia did not invite men to join the board, I think, for several reasons: it is unlikely that men, who do not by and large read or look at work by women, will be active, engaged supporters; and, to the women on a board, they represent, inevitably, power and money, which lends weight to their opinions. You can hear that weight in their voices, cutting through the lighter, intermingling strands that are the voices of women.
And there is no way to put together a board of people, whether women or men, from the top of the totem pole and charging them with fundraising that will not have a deleterious impact on the organization’s work. I see this in every gala I have ever attended where the ticket prices, the settings, the clothes, the food and the attendees all represent privilege, and artists are no where to be seen. The foundations that support the artists are made up of the same kind of people who sit on the not-for-profits boards. It’s not comfortable to argue with your peers, or those you think are you peers, or wish they were.
Where are the rebels who have, or can raise, money? I’m not sure they exist. If they are inheritors, they are closely tied to their families’ conservative values and their cash is tied up in trusts designed to avoid inheritance taxes while thwarting, as a byproduct, individual daring. If they have made a lot of money, very unlikely, still, in the case of most women, they are inevitably influenced by corporate culture. You don’t shake the foundations if you are part of the foundation, glued into the cement.
So goodbye, Julie Crosby, who joins the ever-growing ranks of talented women hired until they institute a shake, a shudder, slight but perceptible, in that foundation. And then they are gone.
I tended my resignation from the Advisory Board of the Women’s Project, as have most of its other members. How odd it is to address my resignation to the void—the great vacancy we are offered by the internet.
Update: The Cat’s Out of The Bag
The theatre I helped to found in New York thirty-six years ago failed to understand the uproar its board would cause when it fired its long term, highly successful artistic director, Julie Crosby, with no explanation and no news release. How bitterly unfortunate that a theatre that exists for women playwrights and directors should find itself blighted in this way. Behavior on the part of a board, as I know only too well, cannot be veiled; news of unfair firings will leak out, sooner or later. I hope that the information in the link provided below will help Julie Crosby to find the work in theatre that she deserves.
Howard Sherman: Under-The-Radar Transition at Women’s Project Theater
“Off record tip: Wondering if you’ve noticed that there’s someone missing from the Women’s Project masthead on their website.”
That’s the direct messaged tweet I received yesterday morning. Another one with essentially the same content, came in the early afternoon, from a separate individual. Of course, by that time, I’d already perused the Women’s Project Theater masthead.
It was readily apparent what I was being led to discover. The name that was missing was that of Julie Crosby, who had been named the company’s managing director in November 2005 and became the company’s producing artistic director in 2007. Her name was gone from the staff list, as was her biography.