Bringing attention to women, male-to-female transgender and non-binary gender of all races and class backgrounds is a goal of The Marbury Project. This new segment, The Marbury Portfolio, will shine a spotlight on those who are making a difference in the arts. We hope to include artists and arts administrators from a variety of backgrounds. Not only will we have individualized questions, The Marbury Portfolio will also include samples of work whenever possible. That way, you can become better acquainted with the people in this portfolio.
Our inaugural post features playwright Patricia Milton. There’s a reason for that. Not only is Milton busy creating her own work, she is also an active supporter of women artists on social media. Milton often sends personal messages of encouragement to women who might be struggling in their careers. By making her feminism personal, she helps break the isolation artists often feel as they pursue their careers. Her encouragement has meant the world to me. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way.
Milton’s plays have been produced in New York, Boston, Phoenix and San Diego. Milton is also quite active in her home base of San Francisco. She served as a past President of The Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco. Some of her memberships include The Dramatists Guild, International Centre of Women Playwrights, and Theatre Bay Area. As well, Milton is currently an Associate Playwright of 3Girls Theatre in San Francisco.
Name: Patricia Milton
How would you describe your work?
My values are laughter, candor, artistic excellence, determination, integrity, generosity, and feminism: these form the foundation of my art. Recently I’ve begun to characterize my work as “comedies about things that aren’t funny.” I tend to write from a central metaphor and I’m always seeking to make political or social commentary. My protagonists are women, often caught up in a corrupt system and facing difficult ethical and emotional choices. I like to create supporting characters who would ordinarily be written by others as male (bad-boy artist, military authority, manipulative banker, etc.) as women.
What is the best part of being your gender in the arts?
Probably the best part is that I get to bring to the stage a woman’s story and a woman’s point of view (well, this woman’s point of view, anyway) — and that gets shared with others. Everyone in the audience gets to experience that sensibility onstage. Also, I treasure the support of other women theatre artists. I’ve been a part of all-woman theatre organizations (for example, as resident playwright of 3Girls Theatre) that support my work and help me develop it. I love the collaborative nature of theatre: that is why I was drawn to it, despite my tendency to be introverted. I think that experience might be enhanced because I’m a woman. Since I don’t have familiarity with being a man in the theatre, I’m unaware of other benefits I may be enjoying from a gendered POV.
What is the hardest part of being your gender in the arts?
Lack of opportunities, subtle exclusion, stereotyping of me and my work, a pressure to fit in and not “make waves,” and so on. It’s not limited to theatre, of course — and I’m cisgender, straight, and white, so I benefit from privilege in many ways. We all know, by now, the statistics about the comparative scarcity of women’s work getting produced.
Often I feel caught in a double bind. I tweet a shout-out to a woman theatre artist every day, and maintain a list of (to date) almost 700 women playwrights on Twitter. But why should I do that? Am I somehow diminishing these writers’ stature by deeming them “women playwrights?” (I do wonder about these things.) Yet we hear there are “no women’s plays in the pipeline,” and the production stats for women remain grim. We would all like to be working in a world where opportunity is equal, where everyone’s stories get a chance to be onstage, but we’re just not there.
You provide lots of support and words of encouragement to women artists. Has there been anyone who inspired you or offered you encouragement at a crucial time?
I have enjoyed fantastic support from women as well as from men. AJ Baker, Lee Brady and Suze Allen founded 3Girls Theatre, which “puts women’s work onstage where it belongs.” It is now a very supportive artistic home. My current mentor through Theatre Bay Area, Artistic Director of Center Rep Michael Butler, is a terrific thought partner and advocate. Gary Graves and Jan Zvaifler, co-directors of Central Works, took a chance and commissioned me to write a play for the company in 2011. (Mr.) Morgan Ludlow of Wily West Productions produced Believers the following year. These are people who get my work. They, and others, like Erin Merritt of Woman’s Will, have helped me advance my playwriting skills and career. I also have to thank the local feminist theatre groups Yeah, I Said Feminist and Works by Women SF who provide ongoing support for women theatre artists in the San Francisco Bay Area.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice on being your gender in the arts, what would you say?
I came to playwriting later in life, so I would tell my younger self to start playwriting sooner! And: Be true to yourself no matter what. Learn as much as you can. Check your own privilege. Remember we are all in this system together: let’s help each other navigate it to success.
To find out more about Patricia Milton’s work: