Women strive for equal representation in theater

By Jonathan Edmondson
Arts & Entertainment Editor

The Academy Award nominations, announced on Thursday, Jan. 15, were met with immediate backlash. The biggest uproar came from the acting categories containing no people of color (the first time this has happened since the 1990s). More criticism came from the fact that, once again, no women were nominated for Best Director, despite critically acclaimed work from Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) and Angelina Jolie (“Unbroken”).

Hollywood has classically been a man’s game from the beginning, but take a jump to the East Coast and land on Broadway, and you won’t notice much of a difference here. In fact, theater in general still has a long way to go in giving equal representation (and power) to women.

Some might find this odd, for there are arguably more women involved in theater than men, especially at the regional and collegiate level. Yet more and more men are popping up as directors, stage managers and producers, while women are appearing solely onstage or not at all.

The College has two student-run theater organizations: All College Theater and TCNJ Musical Theater. This year, the two organizations are run by senior music major Shannon McGovern and senior psychology major Mariah-Lynn Black, respectively. They lead their organizations in presidential positions, as well as producing shows.

“When I was a freshman and sophomore especially, there would be moments where my male peers would be recognized for their leadership skills and accomplishments — which were nearly exactly the same as mine — and I would be left in the dust. And it hurt,” McGovern said, addressing her path to becoming president of ACT.

Despite these struggles, McGovern never gave up. In fact, the lack of appraisal and acknowledgement fueled her desire to work harder. In her junior year she served as the publicist for the organization before becoming president in the fall of 2014.

McGovern has starred in multiple shows at the College with ACT and TMT. (Courtney Wirths / Business Manager)
McGovern has starred in multiple shows at the College with ACT and TMT. (Courtney Wirths / Business Manager)

Alexa Logush, senior history and english double major and vice president of ACT, had similar obstacles to overcome on her way to recognition and success.

“It was often difficult and frustrating because everything seemed much more male-centered and a little less accepting,” Logush said, reflecting on her years as an underclassmen in both organizations. “I’ve been a lead set designer for five productions at TCNJ, and my first experience as a lead designer was particularly challenging because the director neglected to recognize that I was the lead designer and not just an assistant.”

Like McGovern, Logush has used this experience as a reason to work harder. She became secretary her junior year before taking over the role of vice president.

While men seem to dominate leadership positions, both women seem to agree that there has been a shift in the way that females are portrayed in plays and musicals.

“I think it’s been a slow mobilization, but (a shift) certainly exists,” Logush said. “I feel like women are aiming to share their stories and situations more so than ever before, and whether that is through acting, designing or writing, it’s a strong effort.”

She’s right — over the past 10 years, there have been a slew of new Broadway shows containing dynamic and complex female roles. These shows, such as “If/Then,” “Wicked” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” contain great stories of female empowerment while also flaunting commercial successes. This is a type of theater that did not grace the stage during most of the 20th century.

“I am hopeful that musicals like this will continue to make it in the Broadway scene and that full, complex female characters will not be such an anomaly in the entertainment side of the industry,” McGovern said. “I think Maggie Gyllenhaal put it so well at the Golden Globes. We’re not searching for … superhero women on screen or on stage; we want an honest portrayal of these women as people, whether they are good, bad or somewhere in between. I think we are moving in that direction, and I’m super excited to see where it will bring us.”

And while women may be carving out defined roles on stage, they are still underrepresented on the production-staff side. In a New York Times article published in 2013, females reportedly make up only 15 to 20 percent of Broadway directors. It’s an increase from previous decades, but still an indication that there is work to be done before equality — and respect — is achieved.

“I just want to stress how important it is to believe in your abilities and the abilities of those around you,” Logush said of leadership in theater. “Being on the executive board of a theater organization for two years has taught me how great it is to be a part of a team. It’s always a team effort, and it’s such a privilege to be a part of it.”

McGovern, who is preparing for her final semester at the College, had similar sentiments while reflecting on her experience.

“I’m really proud of the theater community we have here at the College,” she said. “It’s come a long way since my first year here in 2011. I think we’re doing a good job at making sure that the people leading our organizations are capable, qualified and dedicated people, no matter what their gender is.”