Why a Boston Director Said She "Will Never Produce Another All-Female Outdoor Show Again"

News   Why a Boston Director Said She "Will Never Produce Another All-Female Outdoor Show Again"
Boston director Erin Butcher has written a column for the HowlRound website entitled "Why I Will Never Produce Another All-Female Outdoor Show Again," which raises compelling issues of gender in the arts and homelessness.

Butcher's troupe, the Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company, staged an all-female, outdoor production of William Shakespeare's The Winter’s Tale in a municipal park in the Boston suburb of Somerville, MA.

During the course of the production, the cast and crew felt menaced by "men who frequented the park (and I say 'men' not to point fingers but because every single one of them was, in fact, a man) [who] were often homeless and almost always drunk or high."

The show got on, but Butcher wrote, "I know one thing for sure: I am never producing another outdoor all-female show again. Ever. And neither should you."

She said, "Actors...were being leered at and approached by strange, often intoxicated, men. The few times I approached these men to ask them to move, not touch the set, or sit with the rest of the audience while the show was going on, I was met with a level of aggression I was not prepared for."

When she asked them to desist, "These gentlemen did not appreciate a freckle-faced little lady telling them what to do in anything resembling an authoritative voice. They would yell back at my request and I would immediately back down. I learned to quickly change to the safest possible tactic: flirting. And it was awful. It felt gross... Engaging them at their level of aggression would not end well. For however strong, and smart, and capable I feel on the inside, I was still 5’6” and 120 lbs on the outside up against a man twice my size who was getting angry and already in an altered state of mind." When she complained to police, she was told "there was nothing legally I could do. It was a public park and as long as these men were not physically doing anything wrong, they were allowed to stay. Simply making us all uncomfortable was not a reason to ask the police to remove them. Having to deal with men, under the influence, by myself, in a park was not something, as Artistic Director, I was prepared for."

She solved the problem in a way she found equally distasteful: She got her boyfriend to be present during performances. "The second he appeared, the [intoxicated man] scampered off in a hurry. And that just proved to me these men know what they’re doing. They know that this behavior is not acceptable, but they believe they have a right to my attention, to my time, and to look at my body as much as they want, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me."

Butcher expressed anger that "in 2015, it is still not safe—even in broad daylight—to be female in public…unless your boyfriend is there."

For the future, she wrote, "The more we stand up in front of the world, do the work, and speak the speech, the faster things will change. I will not be silenced. I may not do another outdoor all-female show, but I’m not through fighting yet to make women’s stories more visible."

Read Butcher's entire column and the responses.

Contacted by Playbill.com for comment about the reactions to her piece Butcher wrote, "I have received all kinds of feedback on the piece — the vast majority of it positive. This article was written as a post on my company's Facebook page which has only about 650 followers so I am truly AMAZED about how far it has traveled. I can only assume that it has been seen by so many because there is something in there that a lot of people relate to."

Butcher said, "There has been some negative feedback — some of it useful, others less so. Depending on the group discussing they seem to focus on different issues. On American Theatre [magazine's]'s page the major criticism seems to be that I should have known this would be an issue and should have had better security. My response to that is: I don't think its clear in the article that we are a very small company. This was only our second show and our first outdoor show. I have also done shows outdoors before and none of them ever once had a security guard on site, so perhaps I was naive about it, but I don't know too many fringe company's that hire out security. The budget for the piece was only $5,000. In hindsight I definitely should have hired security, I was given the option to hire an officer, but the cost of that officer, to work nights and weekends for three weeks would have been almost as much as the budget of the entire production. And it is an expense that I would not have to incur if I simply had men in the cast and crew. That, I think, speaks to the extra costs that women generally incur to keep themselves safe in public spaces (taking a taxi home instead of public transit for instance). And that is something we need to keep bringing attention to and working on. I could also have had my male friends volunteer to be our security — but it comes to the same conclusion — that the only way to be safe as a woman in public is to have men around."

Butcher continued, "Some have responded that the article is defeatist and I am a quitter — I disagree —we did another all-female show right after this and it was perfectly fine. I will continue to do this work — but not outdoors — unless someone feels like donating an extra 5,000 bucks to my non-profit company. And if I did have an extra 5,000 to add to the budget, I would much rather do the show indoors and use that to pay my actors and designers more as opposed to hiring one professional security guard."

She said, "Other comments have been critical of what it seems to say about homelessness, drug addiction, and the police. To be clear, the piece is not intended to criticize law inforcement in any way — I really don't think there was much they could do, had I called them to remove someone there would be nothing stopping that person from coming back later. It could have escalated the situation. I wish there had been a stronger general police presence but you know — I'm sure they do their best. And as for homelessness and drug addiction. I do not blame people for their circumstances, only for their behavior. These two problems are incredibly complex, and I do not seek to solve them in this article — I merely want people to be aware of what our experience was."

Butcher concluded, "If nothing else, what I HOPE people get from the piece is more awareness about the issues women face on a daily basis. I truly believe that the only way to change something is to shine a light on it, speak about it, make people aware of it – then slowly work toward a solution. But, honestly, if people have suggestions and input, I am open to that. We are a very young company and have a lot to learn. There have been a few genuinely angry trolls but nothing too serious — I do worry that as this article spreads more to wider, less sympathetic circles I will be become a target, but can't let fear keep you down."

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