Arts & Culture

‘A Constructive Response’ puts women in director’s seat

In one of the earliest artistic responses to the presidential election just past, women will be in charge of a wide swatch of next year’s theatrical performances in the Triangle. It’s part of an initiative called “A Constructive Response.”

Nine area companies have pledged to enlist women as directors for all their main-stage productions for their 2017-2018 seasons. Details about their respective schedules should start rolling out around the end of the year.

The idea came from Jerome Davis, artistic director of Raleigh’s Burning Coal Theatre Company. Davis also spearheaded this past spring’s round-the-clock “Shakespeare Marathon.” He said the idea came to him around 4 a.m. on Nov. 9 after a night spent watching election returns.

“It just felt like a really good time to say to all different groups, ‘You’re welcome, you’re needed, you’re trusted,’ ” Davis said. “But at the same time, we wanted a simple message that wouldn’t be complicated by ticking off all the boxes. Telling the world that we support women in leadership roles seems particularly urgent and important right now.”

Davis initially approached nine smaller companies – six in Raleigh, two in Durham and one in Sanford – and all agreed to participate, with the hope that others in the area would also join in later.

“We try to be as inclusive as we can for all people because it’s who we are,” said Deb Royals, artistic director of Raleigh’s Justice Theater Project. “So it did not seem to be out of step for us to be a part of trying to make a place for women, because it’s something we already do.”

Nevertheless, public response to “A Constructive Response” has not been unanimously favorable. A number of participating companies, including both Burning Coal and Justice Theater, reported that they received an email accusing them of promoting discrimination soon after the initiative was announced.

“It was very accusatory, strong, and kind of hurtful,” Royals said. “Cruel, even. But we’re artists trying to say, ‘There’s a place here for everyone, and it’s true that women have to work really hard to get what we get.’ It’s hurtful that some people would think we’re trying to discriminate against anyone by making a place for everyone.”

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi