The White Pines community knows Dani Bryant as our wonderful Director of Education, designing and managing our studio classes and camps, implementing in-school residencies, and teaching. But what you don't know is that Dani is also an accomplished director, devisor and theater-maker with an impressive resume of work from her former home, Chicago. Her most recent play is called Gender Breakdown and, well, it's a hit! "Innovative and incisive!", "Spectacular original work!", and "Fearlessly digging into the truth" are some of the phrases used in reviews of this production, which has been extended now to April 1st at Collaboraction Theater in Chicago.
We asked Dani about her hit show!
Can you tell us about Gender Breakdown? What's the play about?
Gender Breakdown is a devised play about the lack of gender parity in Chicago's (but also really America's) theater industry. From a marketing perspective, Gender Breakdown is a devised piece of theater about female identified theater artists. But from my perspective, Gender Breakdown is also a public conversation on race, gender, sexuality, class, privilege and most of all intersectional feminism.
What was your inspiration for it?
I'm extremely interested in the art-form of "Social Practice" as defined as an art medium that focuses on social engagement, inviting collaboration with individuals, communities, and institutions in the creation of participatory art. I love how conversations can lead to a topical piece of art for the here and now. We began our creation process for Gender Breakdown by asking the questions: “What’s working & What’s not working?” for female identified theater artists.
In a room filled with people and a potluck meal, I jotted down answers to these questions and asked follow-ups. After the discussion, the room collectively looked that the large posters filled with my scribbles and chuckled. “What’s working” filled half of the large poster up one page. “What’s not working” filled almost 4 or 5 pages. It was clear we had a lot to dig into.
I noticed your byline on the poster says "created by" as opposed to "written by". Why is that?
There are two reasons. One, devised theater has a hard time with titles. I like "created by" because it harkens to how a TV show is made and I actually think "writing" devised theater (at least within my personal process) has a lot in common with TV writing. Lots of sharing of ideas and content which gets solidified by the show's creator or facilitator. I also simply want the actors to feel they have equal ownership over the content. The program itself has "written by" and includes all of the actors (plus the director and myself) and then has "with contributions by" and then lists the 220 people who were a part of the process via surveys, social practice events or workshops. I truly embrace "the more the merrier" when it come to making theater.
Tell us about the theater in Chicago producing it and the artists you've been working with there.
Chicago is a city of ensemble theater companies. Chicago embraces a collective model which has helped the city create an incredibly loyal and supportive community. In Chicago, it's hard to take on only one role as a theater maker. When I first moved there I was an actor, but I quickly learned that I would have the most success (and most fun!) if I created my own work. So I explored directing, writing, producing and facilitating! It's a theater city where artists wear many hats!
It looks like the response has been fantastic! What's your take on how the show has been received?
My biggest concern going into opening would be that the subject would be too much "insider baseball." I worried that non-theater professionals would A: not attend or B: not connect to the themes. I was totally wrong. That has been my biggest joy. Chatting with folks who came to the play and connected with the universality of the topics we explore. The play explores power dynamics and micro-aggression -- which is a topic everyone can connect with in their own lives. This play also calls out some areas of the theater community which need to take a hard look at their practices. I'm especially interested in the collegiate experience of young theater artists. Many gender tropes, racial stereotypes and "show biz" tips are still being perpetuated by educational institutions. I hope the show is starting some much needed conversations.
What's next for the show? Any chance we will see it in Philly?
I would LOVE to facilitate a similar process with the Philly theater community and perhaps make a piece of work discussing our own gender inequities on and off-stage. This production of Gender Breakdown itself is so much about the personal narratives of this cast of actors, so it's really specific to Chicago. It would be a great PhillyFringe show actually. Anybody want to fund us to get them here? (wink, wink!) That being said, one thing I love about my work is that we work together to make something for the here and now and once we've closed our run, we purposely don't remount. I enjoy the ephemeral nature of my work and am always excited to see what's next.