“A theater that is missing women is missing half the story, half the canon, half the life of our time.” That quote from playwright Marsha Norman sits atop the home page of Age & Gender Equity in the Arts, a young and thriving organization based in Portland that promotes equal opportunity in the theater in age, gender, race, and identity. And it’s putting its money where its mouth is: At this year’s Drammy theater-awards celebration in the Newmark Theatre on Monday evening, June 27, AGE will present $30,000 in awards to theater companies taking steps to achieve equity. That’s a significant commitment. ArtsWatch asked actor and activist Jane Vogel, who founded AGE in 2014 and is its board president, to write about the group and its goals.
By JANE VOGEL
Women make up 51 percent of the United States population, yet women are significantly underrepresented in the arts. Women of color, women with disabilities, trans women, and older women experience added layers of marginalization and discrimination.
To help the performing arts reflect the actual makeup of the culture and break through longstanding barriers, I founded Age & Gender Equity in the Arts (AGE) as a nonprofit organization in 2014. AGE advocates for equity, diversity, and inclusion. Our mission is to promote the visibility of women across the lifespan in the performing arts, effecting a paradigm shift in the culture. Veteran actor Karla Mason Smith is our executive director and Lorelei Culbertson is our operations associate. We have an active advisory council and cadre of volunteers.
As an actor, a clinical psychologist, an immigrant, and an activist, I have always been an advocate for social justice. I fought equity battles as a young woman in the 1970s. But the progress my generation made in the ’60s and ’70s has lost ground. The objectification of younger women and the marginalization of older women is still commonplace in theater and across industries.
Stella Adler said that theater is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation. The current theater landscape is rife with gender and age bias, and thus is lacking in truth. My passion and determination are even greater than they were in the 1970s. The stakes are higher now that I’m in my sixties. I want the generations that follow to be the beneficiaries of our work. I believe that together we can create conditions where a woman’s opportunities to achieve her full potential are not compromised because of her gender or her age. I am proud of Portland theater for embracing AGE’s efforts to make this happen.
AGE is offering annual awards to recognize professional theater companies in Portland that demonstrate a commitment to achieving gender equity for women of all ages. This inaugural year, the AGE in the Arts Awards will total $30,000 and be awarded to two or three theater companies. Thirteen reviewers from across the country serve on the awards selection committee. They include 11 women and 2 men of diverse race and ethnicity, including African American, Native American, Latino and Anglo American. The AGE in the Arts Awards will be presented at the Drammys on June 27, at the Newmark Theater.
AGE aspires to raise $40,000 for the 2017 awards. Founding board member Peter Platt will host a private dinner at Andina Restaurant on Sunday, September 18, to help achieve that goal. The Andina AGE benefit dinner will feature an intimate evening of fine dining, art, music, and stories. Guests will have an opportunity to honor a woman who has influenced them. Anyone interested in attending can email Jane@ageinthearts.org.
AGE is also organizing a conference, Unconscious Bias: Achieving Gender Equity, on March 3-4, 2017 at Portland State University. Theater leaders, artists, students of theatre, and advocates for equity are encouraged to attend.
AGE has flourished since its public launch at Portland Center Stage in May 2015. In addition to offering the annual awards and the conference, AGE is offering workshops and events that empower and promote women in the arts. For more information, please check out our website, ageinthearts.org, and like us on Facebook. And look for us at the Drammys – we’d love to talk.