CEDAR CITY, UTAH: Gender disparity is by now a well-known problem in the theatre, as it is in the larger world. Attention is being paid (in many places), and already there seems to be some positive movement, but now what? That’s the question being addressed by the recently formed Statera Foundation, a collective of men and women spread throughout the country united by the goal of gender equity. Statera will host its first annual conference this weekend in Cedar City, July 31-Aug. 2.
Taking its name from the Latin word for “balance,” Statera was founded in 2014 by Melinda Vaughn and Shelley Gaza, working theatre artists and faculty members at Southern Utah University and University of Northern Colorado, respectively. They founded the organization in a concerted effort to bring more awareness to gender disparity and to carve a realistic path toward a fairer future. Statera currently assists with things like contract negotiations, lobbying for childcare options, and connecting theatres with qualified female actors, playwrights, directors, and designers.
As with most conferences, the first Statera gathering is meant to be a meeting of like minds. Certainly with the goal they’re working toward, most minds should be aligned with Statera’s goals. Especially, Vaughn reasons, when it comes to the theatre arts.
“We are working for gender parity in our corner of the theatre, but factor in the millions of people who are the audience for theatre, and that makes this a platform on which we should get gender parity right,” says Vaughn, who serves as Statera’s executive director. “We’re thrilled to offer this opportunity to connect with a wide swath of theatre professionals and initiate the creation of new roadmaps for women in theatre.”
For the first year of the conference, the organization’s main goal is exposure. That’s one of the reasons they chose to host it in Cedar City, affectionately known as “festival city” because it is home to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, the Neil Simon Festival, and other arts-centric events and venues. And perhaps there’s something to be said for holding a conference advocating for gender equity in a city that regularly performs plays by Simon and Shakespeare, male writers known for especially male-heavy casts. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that it is also Vaughn’s home base; she will host a dinner at her home the final night of the conference.
Other highlights of this year’s conference include a keynote address by Mary McColl, executive director for Actors’ Equity Association, as well as discussions of anxiety management and résumé building, and a talk by Fulbright Scholar and associate professor of voice and speech at Ithaca College, Kathleen Mulligan, titled “The Empowered Voice: Overcoming Silence Through Storytelling.”
What is also clear from the conference schedule is an awareness and respect for the attendees, with time set aside for yoga, social mixers, and “comfort breaks.” After all, what’s the point of a more equal world if it’s not also a nice place to be?
Late registration is still available at staterafoundation.org.