This post was written back in 2005 on Blogger where I first started MindLib. Given the current climate, I thought it was worth a re-post here.
September 21, 2005
So I kind of went off on the guys at work. I’m the only woman in the production office and therefore privy to the sort of raunchiness normally reserved for locker rooms. I was naïve enough to believe that since we share an office environment there would be some limits set on sexual innuendo. But the film industry is a notorious boys club and I learn this more each day. At first I tried to ignore it, though I certainly couldn’t laugh at it. A crude joke or two doesn’t get to me but it’s the constant and degrading critique of women’s bodies that pushes me over the edge. Mind you these are men who, appearance-wise, are in no position to judge other people.
None of the remarks were directed towards me and I get along quite well with these men. Most of the time they are smart and funny. I thought that I should set a subtle example with my refusal to participate in the sexual gauntlet or maybe say a few words aimed at balancing the scales. But it’s gotten to the point where even my opinion is shot down as being without merit. I’m still not used to the discrepancy between the environment I create with my own work and the environment I have to deal with in order to make money. I’m used to being the producer/director and to having people treat me with respect. But in my daily routine of earning of living I have to put up with men who condescend to me for no apparent reason other than my sex.
When I first started the job I had a whole debate with the production coordinator about how the female nudity in the film and all dialogue directed towards or about the female characters was degrading. I understood the object of the film was to make money but I felt badly that any actress would subject herself to it simply to get a job. We agreed to disagree and the coordinator tries to keep his mouth shut around me. But then the dailies came in and the men in office watched a barely 18-year-old girl bare her breasts, and another girl shower nude, and then proceeded to evaluate the girls on breast size, butt size, etc. There has been a barrage of remarks about the four women in this cast- all of whom were chosen for their sex appeal.
Today someone made a remark about how Tyra Banks proved on her show that her breasts were real. The producer then commented, “It doesn’t matter because she has cellulite.” I said, “Why do we have to judge a woman on something over which she has no control?” The producer promptly shot me down by saying that any woman could eliminate cellulite by changing her diet and exercising. This is the same producer who likes the skeletal, drug-addicted look on women. While diet and exercise play a part in cellulite, that’s not all there is to it. Sometimes it has nothing to do with that and thin women have cellulite too. He refused to even hear my opinion until I suddenly crumpled a piece of paper in frustration and snapped, “Forget it.” Then they were all ears and I couldn’t help venting over the completely inappropriate conversation I had been subjected to for the last two months. The producer said that he didn’t condone it but that it happened because “they were human.” I said, “Well, I’m human too, but I don’t come in here and talk about the size of your c— because that would be disrespectful to you.” That shut him up. Now the men are gently tiptoeing around with golf jokes and it’s the first relaxed afternoon I’ve had in a while.
After I vented I wondered if it would cost me future work. Maybe guys don’t want to restrain themselves and having a woman around is cramping their style. Maybe they won’t call me for the next gig because I’m too sensitive or emotional. But hang it, I’m much older and wiser now. We women have an uphill battle in this industry and why is it ever okay to listen to and accept the way men speak about us? How will it change if we don’t raise our voices? It’s interesting though…the producer treated me better today than he has all month. Yes, I do have a brain and breasts all at the same time. Astounding, isn’t it?
Growing up within close proximity to Chicago, the Steppenwolf production of True West was an important play for me and probably my introduction to the world of Sam Shepard. I recorded the PBS airing (on a VCR) and wore out the tape, virtually memorizing Gary Sinise and John Malkovich’s definitive performances. None of my community theater experience had exposed me to anything so real, so raw, or so close to home. It was the kind of acting I wanted to see and wished that I could do. In college, I recall many hours sitting on the floor of the library, pouring over Curse of the Starving Class, A Lie of the Mind and Buried Child. If I wanted to lose myself, that was how I did it. Sam wrote about things that shocked me…not because they were unfamiliar but because of how deeply and intimately I understood the secrets he brought into the light.
Sam also tapped into a restlessness that seemed to overtake me on a regular basis, especially when I was younger. There were many nights when I had to talk myself out of walking out of my shared house, getting in the beater car that probably wouldn’t have made it to the state line, and just driving west without stopping or telling anyone where I was going. I craved the wild deserts and gritty, open spaces that he constructed…knowing, somehow, that space had an intangible quality that could fill me up inside.
My first directing effort was a production of Waiting for Godot that, in my mind, was an homage to Sam’s world of weary cowboys and empty landscapes. I still feel that it’s a perfect marriage of playwrights. One of my only rewarding acting experiences in college was a production of Fourteen Hundred Thousand, directed by a close friend. It felt like a breakthrough in many respects: I was afforded a rare opportunity to perform, I finally got to experience some growth as an actor, and the material was something that resonated with me.
The summer I battled those incessant urges to flee west, I directed my own version of True West in a found church space. To this day, I don’t know how I did everything I was doing at time: working full-time as a live-in nanny for two pre-schoolers, working open-to-close on Saturdays and Sundays at a physically exhausting car wash, taking a semester of French and a semester of Algebra (with tutoring on the side) and directing that demanding play. I remember combing through antique shops for beautiful electric typewriters that got destroyed (along with my heart) with a golf club during every performance. And there’s a story that lives in infamy among my circle of friends: The guys in the show were goofing around with said golf club one night after I’d left rehearsal. It slipped out of someone’s hand, flew through the air, and smashed a hole in one of the upper-story stained glass windows. The guys spent frantic midnight hours running to the store, cutting up milk jugs (I believe), painting the plastic with watercolors and trying to patch up and hide their mistake. I didn’t learn about the mishap until years later, and the church never allowed another theater group to use their space after they must have discovered the secret. But it seems so darkly funny and appropriate that it happened in Sam’s creative territory.
Years later, I was in L.A., at the start of my attempt to return to acting. I was terrified to try–yet unable to stay away from–the thing I loved most in the world. I didn’t know if I could do it; I had never known if I could. I found a class with a teacher who was the first person in my professional life to tell me that it was possible. And one of my earliest breakthroughs as an actor came in a scene from Fool for Love. There was a moment when active listening took over, when I fell into the unknown, and when I allowed that powerful beast of a play to have it’s way with me. I had never before felt that kind of energy take me over, and it was a light-bulb moment that laid a foundation I was able to build upon in the years to come. I don’t know if anyone but Sam could have facilitated such a creative surrender during that time of my life.
And now, present day, I’m in development on my own feature film. The very first conversations I had with my screenwriter contained multiple references to Sam. I knew I could trust this writer’s taste because she loved him, too, and understood the tone of the story I wanted to tell, which remains profoundly under Sam’s influence.
If I’d known Sam Shepard personally, I’m sure I would have known an imperfect and complicated man. He wrote about the kind of world so many of us have struggled to grow up in…a world of secrets, shame, aimless wandering, confusion and desire. He defined the human condition on his own unique yet universal terms. I know that so many of us must feel less alone, less freakish, because of his singular and achingly beautiful art. I will miss knowing that he’s out there in that world with us.