Genius Awards 2016
A collaboration between performer Erin Pike (right), playwright Courtney Meaker (center), and director HATLO (left).
A national conversation about copyright law and gender equity.
Erin Pike was on the normal actor track. She had her monologues ready. She was gunning for roles. When she wasn't onstage, she was in the audience supporting her friends in their acting endeavors. She enjoyed performing, but she was also "experiencing a lot of frustration, fatigue, and curiosity" about the roles she was getting.
She noticed that there were fewer parts for women in Seattle theater than for men, and that the roles weren't as interesting. She often felt as if she were "a prop for a man" onstage. When she'd see her women friends in plays, even if they were in leading roles, their characters didn't seem to have much agency.
Local playwright and theater reviewer Courtney Meaker agreed with Pike. The two had worked together in the past, and as they sat talking one day at a cafe, Pike and Meaker wondered what would happen if they "isolated the female characters from the context of their plays" and dumped them all into one play. "Would we have enough material for a show?" Pike wondered.
They did. Over the next couple years, Meaker and Pike created That'swhatshesaid. Meaker stitched together the lines of dialogue for women from the most produced plays in the United States, and Pike embodied the roles of dozens of women in channel-flipping fashion. After workshopping and trial running the show a few times, Pike asked HATLO to come on as director for the infamous production in Calamus Auditorium, a 50-seat theater at the back of Gay City on Capitol Hill.
The genius thing about That'swhatshesaid is that it offers a feminist critique of theater on theater's own terms. Being a woman actor in the contemporary theater scene takes a high physical and emotional toll on a woman's body, as Pike's powerful, nuanced, and humorous performance demonstrated. Over the course of an hour, an invisible hand pushed her to the ground several times. She took off her clothes a lot. By the end of the show, she was wet with fake tears, covered in smeared makeup, and panting. That's what it can feel like to be a woman in theater.
The play launched a national conversation about copyright law when Samuel French sent a cease and desist order two hours before curtain. The dramatic-works publisher cited potential copyright infringement, but they were effectively trying to silence a play about women being silenced by the theater industry. The show went on with lines from one play redacted, which meant that Pike suddenly had to perform an altered version of the script. Her starts and stops and calls for lines only made the show more powerful. Later on, another publisher, Dramatists Play Service, filed a cease and desist, too. By that point, the story of the show had gone viral.
Since then, none of the playwrights represented by the publishers have sued That'swhatshesaid. Despite a few trolls here and there, Pike says she's received mostly positive feedback from people all over the world. A student at Edward R. Murrow High School in New York took the most-produced plays for high schoolers and performed her own version. Plans for a That'swhatshesaid national tour fell through, but the goal now, the team says, is to enter the script into the public domain so that people can produce it themselves. HATLO says the theater artists and dramaturgs they've been meeting on their travels have expressed excitement about the play, and a lot of people responsible for choosing productions for Seattle theaters told them they considered the reception of That'swhatshesaid in their process.
That's progress of a kind, but for Meaker, HATLO, and Pike, it only represents the beginning. "My intention with the show was to condemn this whole system, and I think we achieved that with our play," HATLO says. "But there's more to do."