For the kickoff of the Women Influencing the Arts speaker series, we were honored to have the co-founders of Bechdel Project, Maria Maloney and Kimberly Faith Hickman, share their stories and experiences as women in the field. They spoke about Celebrating Success: Inspirations, Creations and Explorations. Below is a recap of their visit.
What is Bechdel Project and what do they do?
According to their website, “Bechdel Project is a marriage of art and activism, education and economics,” whose mission is to “tell stories on stage and screen that pass the Bechdel Test.”
The Bechdel Test is named after American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, in whose comic strip series Dykes to Watch Out it first appeared in 1985. Ms. Bechdel credits the idea to her friend, Liz Wallace. Alison is also known for her graphic novel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which has gone on to be adapted into a very successful Broadway Musical, and her most recent work, Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama.
In theory, the Bechdel Test is simple. In order for a story to pass it, it must meet the following criteria:
- The story must have at least 2 women.
- They must talk to each other.
- About something besides a man.
The reality is that, unfortunately, the majority of stories told whether on stage, on screen, or in literature do not pass the Bechdel Test.
Kimberly, who initiated the creation of Bechdel Project, told us of her supportive family who encouraged her and never made her feel as though she couldn’t do something for the simple fact she was a girl. She spoke of how her work with Women’s Project Theatre opened her eyes to the struggles women deal with in the field and how important it is to tell those stories as well as support the growth of other fellow women.
After years of directing in, Kimberly saw the need for stronger female narratives told by female playwrights. Kimberly explained, “A lot of it has to do with what we see in film and on tv. Rarely are women presented as something more than the damsel in distress or the girls who’s just wanting the guy. And rarely do female characters talk about something else other than a guy,” which was the impetus for creating Bechdel Project.
What did we talk about?
Maria opened up the discussion on challenges women face by stating, “being a female in this industry, you are forced to confront some realities that you really didn’t expect. So it’s about being prepared for what you’re going to be confronted with.”
Maria went on to share some of her own experiences in the field which address these realities, which I have outlined below.
It’s okay to honor yourself
Maria shared the story of having a callback for an audition where she had to act out a kissing scene. She was very uncomfortable with the situation and instead suggested a change that still incorporated the kiss, just using a different approach. The male actor she was partnered with for the audition reluctantly agreed, but not without calling attention to it to the audition panel beforehand. Maria shared that when the male actor “called her out” she felt embarrassed and more nervous about the audition. But, the audition went on and the adjustment Maria had come up with was well received.
Afterward, Maria went to the bathroom to give herself a “pep talk” where she ran into the music assistant who gave her these words of encouragement, “more female actors need to take care of themselves and honor the way they feel and I wish more female actors did that.” Rocking the boat and disagreeing is okay when it comes to being authentic to oneself. It will only aid you in navigating the different choices in your career.
It’s okay to follow all of your passions
As artists, when we take jobs outside of our field to provide for ourselves we often beat ourselves up for not pursuing our craft all of the time. Maria explains how she discovered a new passion, real estate, doing this very thing. Maria expresses the importance of keeping yourself happy first and foremost and if that means following other passions other than art, it is okay.
The effect of a lack of stories for featuring strong female characters
Maria tells the story of The Paper Bag Princess, a princess who discovers her own strength and realizes she doesn’t need a prince to live happily ever after. In the telling of Maria’s story she shares that a four year old girl, after hearing the story instead of exclaiming, “yeah, I can do that too,” is instead more concerned about the prince’s bravery! The impact of the stories we tell is profound and it is important we change them to reflect the true complexities of women.
As many women actors can attest, finding a monologue that represents a complex female character can be difficult. Maria shared her struggles with this and how she overcame it. She suggests searching “The Best of Craigslist” for material to use to create your own monologue.
To hear more of the conversation, be sure to watch the full video here. We would love to hear from you! Share your story!