“Say what you want to say
And let the words fall out, honestly.”
Today I wanted to talk about something that’s been on my mind, but which I haven’t written about yet on this theatrical blog…
Da, da, DAAA!
The female writers of Broadway!
As many of you know, I am
- A female and
- A writer of musical theatre who is gunning for Broadway.
For years there has been a gender gap in writing for theatre. We ’ve still got a ways to go before we can truly say that being a female writer of theatre is as widely accepted as being a male writer of theatre, but we certainly won’t be doing it from scratch.
Women have been at the forefront of writing for theatre for years, even if it hasn’t always been easy. From playwrights to composers these fabulous ladies changed Broadway forever.
I decided to write about just three of them today. These women inspire me incredibly and remind me time and time again that definition of one’s self is quite possibly the most powerful tool anyone can wield.
Number One – Lynn Ahrens
Lynn Ahrens is the “Ahrens” part of “Ahrens and Flaherty”, the writing team behind many musicals, including Ragtime, Anastasia, Seussical, Rocky, and Once on This Island.
I have to tell you, that for many years I actually thought that “Lynn Ahrens” was a man.
About a year ago I saw a video in which Ahrens and Flaherty were discussing their writing process, and lo and behold, the person in the glittering earrings sitting next to Stephen Flaherty was, in fact, a woman.
I was joyfully shocked.
To many, it may not seem like there is a huge gender gap in entertainment anymore, but that is really not the case, especially in Musical Theatre, and especially in positions that are not being an actress.
No disrespect, of course, to actors. I surely haven’t shied away from that aspect of musical theatre, much as many wished I would.
The theatre is an extremely tight community, and when I say extremely I mean, like, there is one musical arranger and like, two directors.
Okay, that’s not completely accurate, but it’s not far from the truth.
I don’t think it’s a secret that Musical Theatre can, in fact, be a bit of a Boy’s Club. Broadway has become more open and welcoming to new blood, but for an aspiring female Broadway writer, there are still not a huge number of women to look up to.
That’s why Lynn Ahrens is such an inspiration to me. Well, that and also the fact that she is a genius.
Lynn Ahrens got her start writing songs for and performing on the children’s show School House Rock.
Um, hello? My favorite show of all time?
The Preamble, which she also sang, is perhaps her best-known song from the show.
Smart move, Lil, now they’re all going to leave your blog and listen to the Preamble.
Please come back…
Lynn then met Stephen Flaherty at the BMI musical theatre writing workshops and they went on to write more than seven hit shows together.
Number Two – Lillian Hellman
Oh, Lillian. My fabulous and terrifying namesake.
My parents didn’t name me with much intention other than they liked the name Lillian.
Little did they know how perfectly it would fit me.
Lillian Hellman is the playwright responsible for many well-known plays including The Children’s Hour, The Little Foxes, and one of my personal favorite, Toys in the Attic.
In her life, Lillian was said to be frightening, dramatic, and quirky. She was, in her own words, “a most casual” member of the communist party. She attended few meetings and soon withdrew her membership; nevertheless, she was viciously attacked, one person even going so far as to say that “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’ “.
Lillian was known to be quite opinionated. When Tallulah Bankhead the actor who was starring in her play The Little Foxes wanted to perform in a benefit for Finland in circa 1940, Lillian was extremely opposed and forbid her from performing the benefit.
Years later, the drama critic Joseph Wood Krutch recounted how he had shared a cab with Lillian and Tallulah Bankhead and overheard this conversation:
“Bankhead said: ‘That’s the last time I act in one of your goddamned plays’. Miss Hellman responded by slamming her purse against the actress’s jaw.”
Whether or not Lillian Hellman’s viciousness is admirable, is beside the point. She was a powerfully fierce writer, and I am so proud that we share a name. I won’t comment on whether or not we share personality traits.
Number Three – Sara Bareilles
How do I start? Sara Bareilles has been an inspiration since I first heard her music at the age of fourteen when she was just a pop singer/songwriter. Her songs are jazzy and smart and speak intelligently of the female experience.
In 2015 her musical Waitress opened on Broadway and I really never recovered,.
When I was in New York last May, I was able to see Waitress with Sara playing the main role of Jenna.
I mean, seriously.
Seeing Waitress was truly one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. The musical, which had a completely female creative team, has an intelligent, magical, utterly female energy to it and has been very influential to me in my own writing.
Sara continues to write pop music, but I’m crossing my fingers that she’ll write another musical. She is a fabulous addition to the Broadway community and I am so grateful to have her as someone to look up to.
Broadway has always been a women’s world – women are the greatest consumers of Broadway shows in fact – but it took some really strong women to prove this. There is still a lot of progress to be made, but it will all be done in the footsteps of women who were true originals.
Let me know below who your greatest inspirations are! They don’t have to be theatrical and they don’t have to be women, but I would love to know.
As always, thank you for reading, I love you all!