I came across a Tumblr post questioning the appropriateness of the all-male creative team of the opera, Anna Nicole, which will be playing at BAM this fall. The show is ostensibly about Anna Nicole Smith. The writer, Jeffrey Cranor, complains:
So the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the NYC Opera are putting on ANNA NICOLE the opera this September. It features a male composer, a male librettist, a male director, and a male conductor artistically exhuming the body of a strange, complicated, and ultimately tragic woman. Good to know we gave so few shits that no one thought a woman should be involved in creating this show.
I dunno. As a man, I feel weird complaining about that, like it’s not my place. But, look, I find it boring at best (dudes riffing on famous blondes!) and misogynist at worst (dudes thinking dudes are better at making art than ladies).
Maybe it feels to you like tokenism to seek out a woman specifically to work with. Maybe you feel weird bypassing a talented man to say “let’s see if there are talented women to work on this show about a woman,” but that isn’t tokenism. It’s logic. You wouldn’t hire four white guys to write a Flava Flav opera. You wouldn’t hire four straight guys to do an opera about Divine. Why would you write a show about a woman, and have no women in the primary creative credits?
Instead you have an opera about a woman who began her career being judged and stared at and by men, and whose death will apparently be spent in the same way on the stage at BAM.
I have not seen Anna Nicole yet. I did see Jerry Springer: The Opera (by the Anna Nicole librettist Richard Thomas, twice--once at the Edinburgh Fringe and once on the West End) which I found very impressive. In any event, I'm not terribly comfortable with the idea of "requiring" men or women on creative teams.* I think you can certainly criticize the actual content of the work if you think the perspective was abusive or weak because the creative team failed to consider other perspectives which you thought would be critical to the subject matter. But as a "rule" for creativity I'm a little troubled by this. I'd like to think we have the creative freedom to express things outside our immediate life experience.
I recall thinking that Chacun Cherche Son Chat (When the Cat's Away), a film directed and written by a straight French man (Cédric Klapisch), was one of the best executions of the female gaze I had seen in cinema. I thought Klapisch's work was akin to Jane Campion who I think happens to excel at that (see recently her miniseries Top of the Lake or previously Portrait of a Lady for a feminine perspective on filmmaking that is subtle, powerful and unsettling because of how rare we actually see it in cinema--or at least until 2002 when I stopped going to the movies). Not all female filmmakers concern themselves with it. Nor should they HAVE to if they aren't interested in it.
Some men write great female characters. Some don't. Some women write great male characters. Some don't. Some people might connect to this public figure, Anna Nicole Smith--men, women, gay, straight, white, black--based on the work as it is. Or they might find it lacking.
Price Walden, having seen the opera, has criticized the work based on reasons other than those that Cantor raised. But at this point I have not seen the show. And I reserve the right to criticize the final work when I see it for what angle they take on this material and how Anna Nicole is portrayed. But I'm not particularly troubled at this juncture. My pitchfork remains in the closet and I'm not practicing my "storming the castle" routine anytime soon.
I'm not going to boycott a work because the creative team is all men and I sure as hell don't believe in just seeing works because a female creative team is employed by it.
The work has to be good regardless of what's happening in your nether-regions. I will criticize Diane Paulus when I don't like her work. I will celebrate Annie Baker when I do. I will not just be happy when a female playwright writes a bad play about feminism. I want women to have voices in the theater but when we start setting mandates for who is "entitled" to make art based on gender I feel like the "problem" and the "solution" are misguided and we are focused on the wrong thing.
*Are we talking about the institutional lack of women in opera? Sorry theater is more my field and I statistically there are fewer female directors and composers in theater. Certainly an overall lack of women in opera is worth pointing out. And a discussion of the lack of women in the field and the institutional problems that that engenders is a worthwhile discussion topic. If we cannot create viable pipeline for female artists to work, get support for their work, and get their work out there, we won't have the diversity of perspectives we want to see BUT again not sure how that impacts this particular work until we see it. Cantor did not seem to be focused on institutional sexism but that this team should not have had the right to make this work merely because of the all penises.