So what a monumental Tony Awards we’ve just witnessed eh? For most people in the UK that watched the live streaming last night, or indeed caught up online this morning they’ll be focussed on ‘how the Brits did’…as that’s just what we’re like in our ‘Island world’. Of course, there’ll be a few people who just watched to comment on this year’s hosts and to compare (usually unfavourably) compere(s) X with compere(s) Y. However, the 2015 Tony Awards should be remembered for one thing above all others. It was the night that a female writing team won the awards. For the first time in the Tony’s history the girls took home the prize for best writing – composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Lisa Kron won the much coveted Best Score Award and the hopefully box office lucrative, Best Musical award, for Fun Home.
But does it matter the gender of the writer? Surely a good show, a good piece of work is just that, so why does gender matter? Jeanine though gave the answer in her acceptance speech when she said: “I didn’t realise that a career in music was available to women… For girls you have to see it to be it”
Back in October last year I wrote a blog in response to Mark Shenton’s article, which asked why there was a paucity of female writers in musical theatre? I spoke about a FB group that had been formed as a direct result of his blog; at the time of writing this blog there are 329 women in that group. It’s already struck me this morning how many of them are celebrating last night’s win.
Of course, somebody else’s win doesn’t bring you personally closer to an award. Hell I’m not deluded, I know that my writing will never win anything, indeed who does write to win awards?…but if reading the listings allow young girls/women to see that it’s even possible then that’s a good thing right? Strong women are no doubt indirectly responsible for the majority of Musical Theatre anyway(all those gay men have been influenced by someone right?)…but this is about being permitted to think about possibilities.
I commented this morning on my FB (having quoted Jeanine’s great speech) that my own mother had never been sent the memo of what women could and couldn’t do. She 100% lived in the world of ‘anything is possible’. When I turned to her while studying at college to say that I had changed my mind, and that I was no longer planning on training to be a teacher, but instead I’d try my luck in theatre, she just said OK? My mum had absolutely no knowledge of theatre (other than volunteering to do FOH for a local am dram group). She didn’t harbour any secret ambition to be up on that stage (which was handy given her awful tuning issues, and quite shocking sense of rhythm). She’d left school at 14 and worked in a host of blue collar jobs. She’d often comment on how uneducated she was, and while she’d prefer us to study to ‘not be like her’, she would never force myself and my siblings to study. We just had to do what we felt like was right for us…her only stipulation was that we should find happiness in our lives.
However, I was lucky – as somewhere today or tomorrow, there will be a parent, telling their daughter that they can’t be a composer because there’s no precedent (just as they used to say you couldn’t be a doctor or a pilot or a…you name it really), so they should make a different decision. Their future will be based on our past.
So today there is just so much to celebrate for female writers of Musical Theatre. We’re OK…we’re already doing it, but today the door opened for the next generation, and that is the future being rewritten right now.
On a personal note, June always will be my mum’s month. She was named after her ‘birthday’ month, and some 70 years later died in the same month. This ‘uneducated’ woman taught me everything I know about life, humanity, passion and indeed the world. It’s been her knowledge that has informed every word and every note that I’ve gone on to write in my ‘day job’; her sense of injustice that no doubt inspired me to open The MTA. How fitting then that June will also now be the month that will go down as monumental for all female writers of musical theatre. What was it that Jeanine said…’you have to see it to be it’…how lucky was I to have lived with ‘it’ and seen it.
The full speech can be found here: