On theater and sexism: Artistic director and author speaks at annual book talk event

Author and artistic director Carey Perloff talks to Lowell students about her new memoir on working in the theater industry in the Carol Channing Theater. Photo by Ciara Kosai.

From working with “mysoginistic playwrights” to handling conservative audiences, author and artistic director Carey Perloff has dealt with many obstacles of sexism in the theater industry.

She came to Lowell to discuss her book Beautiful Chaos: A Life in the Theater, this year’s One City One Book pick, on Oct. 26.

One City One Book is an annual literary event held by the San Francisco Public Library that encourages San Franciscans to read the selected book. Perloff’s book is about her journey as a female writer, director and mother and working with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

“You need emotional intelligence, public speaking, motivation, and these are the things you learn in theater.”

In the presentation, Perloff talked about the sexism she has faced working as a woman in theater, especially during her first year with ACT, when she received backlash from conservative audience members over her choice of plays. This has affected her career decisions, like how she aims to produce work by women and people of color, who are historically underrepresented. “Even extras in crowd scenes are 12 men to five women,” Perloff said. “Why are we so underrepresented?”

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Perloff also spoke on the difficulty of getting young people to enjoy theater in modern times, and why it’s important to encourage it during school. “It’s hard in a city as technological as San Francisco,” she said. “People are not used to sitting and listening for two hours. It’s not a criticism, it’s just how you’re bred.” One way ACT has been trying to encourage arts among young adults is by collaborating with tech companies in San Francisco, like Spotify, with pop-up events with their employees.

Perloff interacts with audience. Photo by Ciara Kosai.

To young people who want to work in theater, Perloff said to not be discouraged by parents who disapprove. “Jobs aren’t secure anymore,” she said. “You need emotional intelligence, public speaking skills, motivation, and these are the things you learn in theater. If this is what you want to do, don’t let anyone make you think this is an impossible career.”

Book Talks have been a tradition at Lowell since 2005, and have been organized by English teacher Cathy Innis since then.