The petition will ask the current board to resign, with a public apology. We expect that finally there will be press coverage, although I doubt if that will happen because some of these board members are probably well connected which will cause press cowering.
If the petition is ignored by the current board, which seems likely, there will be a move to end the life of the theatre. The founder, Julia Miles said long ago that if the theatre outlived or betrayed its purpose, it should end.
Of course untangling all the threads that bind any business, even a not-for-profit one like this theatre, into the structure of capitalism, will be difficult, and it is not clear to me how it could be done.
There’s a connection between this turmoil and an event that took place a hundred years ago, on July 4, 1914, in New York City. After the Ludlow Massacre the previous April, during which armed guards machine gunned twelve people, the wives and children of strikers, at the Rockefeller-owned mine in Ludlow, Colorado, a bomb was prepared in the apartment building at 1626 Lexington Avenue, near 103rd Street, that wrecked three floors and killed three people who were making the bomb.
The National Industrial Relations board had called the behavior of mine-owner John D. Rockefeller in authorizing the killings at Ludlow as showing “perversion of and contempt for government, disregard of public welfare and defiance of public opinion”—a judgement hard to imagine coming from a U.S. government agency today.
In response, John D. Rockefeller began to develop The Rockefeller Foundation with its now well-known and vast philanthropy program. Apparently this had the desired effect, not only in helping non-profits but in cleaning up the Rockefeller reputation. Certainly few people today remember the connection with the Ludlow Massacre.The connection with what is going on at the Women’s Project may seem tenuous, but it is real. There is a belief in this country that art can bring about social change through affecting hearts, souls and minds. It is a belief, shaky at best, that can never be proved, since change is so hard to analyze. Why do we all now wear seat belts? Why has smoking declined? We could point to many possible reasons but none would have a direct link to anyone’s heart, soul or mind.
When I started the Kentucky Foundation for Women, twenty-five years ago, I believed or at least hoped that supporting women artists in that state might being about some degree of social change. Many at that time urged me to direct the foundation toward what are always more pressing concerns for women: housing, employment, health care—but it seemed to me unlikely that any small private foundation could succeed where so many large government programs had failed. Art that might affect ingrained attitudes about women seemed a better way to go.
And that is, I believe, what the Women’s Project was trying to do for the past twenty-five years, possibly with some success. But commitment to this kind of work, edgy, daunting, representing visions seldom seen on our stages, demands a commitment over the course of two generations that may be simply too hard to come by. When the original founders die or depart, the forces of entropy take over, and the institution that once defined what it is to be a woman in the theatre, as playwright and director, became blurred.
So perhaps it is time for the theatre to go. A glance at the listing page in the New York Times reveals that there are, currently, two plays by women being produced off-off-Broadway; Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., is commissioning four plays by women. Can it be that our work is done?
For more on the topic of Julie Crosby’s firing, read my post Goodbye to the Women’s Project.