From the Beaches to Broadway-and BeyondSince 1971, every August 26 is proclaimed as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. It took forty years of campaigning and demonstrating, in large part spearheaded by Susan B. Anthony, before the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified by Congress on August 26, 1920.
“You’ve come a long way, baby” was an original slogan used by Phillip Morris Companies in 1968 to market Virginia Slims cigarettes to young professional women. Ten years later (1978) a Virginia Slims magazine advertisement portrayed a work-worn housewife hanging laundry outdoors. Beneath her is a slender, elegantly dressed woman alongside two huge packs of Virginia Slims. The copy reads: “Back then, every man gave his wife at least one day a week out of the house. You’ve come a long way, baby.”
It certainly has been a long way since the days of the suffragettes. Women won the vote, wore pants, and smoked cigarettes in public. Times have certainly changed and where there’s smoke there’s fire. Women’s dresses for the sake of any decency and dignity couldn’t get any shorter. Cigarettes are about as popular today as the Ebola virus. The feminine gender has made great strides toward gaining equality with men in the home and at work. Yet there are still some glass ceilings that have only slightly cracked even under a deluge of talented hammering.
A dynamic duo that comes to mind as far as breaching the still too-wide gender gap in the field of theatrical arts is Kristen Hanggi and Kelly Devine. A Tony Award® nominee for “Best Direction of a Musical” for Rock of Ages, Hanggi has directed more than five productions of Rock of Ages across the globe in addition to other theatrical performances too numerous to mention. Devine is the internationally recognized and award-winning choreographer behind the high-octane numbers performed nightly in Hanggi’s Rock of Ages production at The Venetian, Las Vegas.
Hanggi’s 2009 Tony Award nomination floats her up close to the proverbial ceiling along with only a handful of other women playwrights, directors and producers. A study compiled from Internet Broadway Database showed that a mere 14 percent of the productions that opened on Broadway during the 2012-2013 season were directed by women. Of the 28 plays that opened on Broadway during the same season, only three were written by women. Hanggi’s extensive and impressive track record speaks for itself. Though somewhat tarnished by a lack of interest in Las Vegas for her Beach Boys-themed production, Surf the Musical, it seems the Huntington Beach, California-bred woman has only gained muscle in her pursuit of excellence: ceilings be damned.
Speaking of muscle, the legs of this duo, choreographer Kelly Devine, grew up on dance and TV commercials in Los Angeles. LA was host to many of the top rockers in the male dominated and yes, somewhat misogynistic, 80s. Devine picked up enough of the good vibes to totally get her groove on rocking the dance routines in Rock of Ages. Her first big break into theater was as Assistant Choreographer for the record-breaking musical, Jersey Boys. Since then Devine has garnered an impressive repertoire that covers everything from Faust to Frankenstein, Zhivago to Zombies—with a little Disney and Shakespeare sprinkled in for good measure.
In general, as to why so many creative women seem to be overlooked not just on Broadway but other areas of the arts, there really is no broad or definable answer. Perhaps it falls into the area of a due process that less-modern women understood. It took a host of determined, dedicated women forty years to accomplish one very important goal. It took Kristen Hanggi much less than half that time to go from the beach to Broadway. Devine is right beside her.
We’ve all come along way, baby. But there’s still a ways to go. –Christine McKellar
For more information on Women’s Equality Day, please visit: NWHP Resource Center