Students spotlight gender discrimination in theater


All-female cast production highlights issues through play


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Photo by Lianne Ng |

Melissa Gabilanes, director of “night, Mother,” and cast members rehearse at Cabaret Theater on Douglass campus Sunday night as part of a student project aiming to bring light to the issue of gender biases in theater.


Melissa Gabilanes, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and student director at the Cabaret Theatre on Douglass campus, is working on a social action project involving the issue of discrimination against women in the theater industry.

As part of her project, Gabilanes will direct an entirely female production at the theater Oct. 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. called “’night, Mother” by Marsha Norman.

Gabilanes said the play is part of a 19-credit Leadership Scholars Certificate Program, which focuses on social change. 

“It was then that I decided that I wanted to direct for the rest of my life. I decided that I wanted to direct a project for the specific purpose of furthering the position of women in the theater industry,” Gabilanes said. “This is my passion.”

She said she hopes to highlight the lack of women involved in directing shows — but more specifically, Broadway shows — which is the focus of her senior thesis.

“I focused on the decision-makers and the leaders in the industry because they are able to make decisions about representation,” she said. “They control most of the production and the way that women see themselves."

Allison Kroeper, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, is also a part of this all-female production, acting as stage manager.

“There are only women working on the show, and it proves that we know what we are doing, and we are capable,” she said.“The show is really fantastic. I think it’s something that everyone should see,” she said.

The play is about taking control in life and making decisions regardless of outside opinions, Gabilanes said.

“It is about this woman who tells her mother that she hasn’t been able to control her life for a long time,” she said. “It’s about making a decision and charting your own path in life. She is like me, making a strong choice and acting out for herself.”

Gabilanes said she can relate to the play because of her decision to pursue a career in directing, regardless of the field’s representation of women.

“I find that I come out in a lot of my plays and that there are people who can relate with these characters. It’s something we can all relate to, that we have control over our own bodies — the one thing that’s ours,” she said.

School of Arts and Sciences junior Alyssa Krompier plays one of the main characters, Jessie.

“It is very intense. It is definitely the most intense role I have ever played,” Krompier said. “It is very emotionally demanding, but at the same time, so rewarding. I definitely feel like it’s an accomplishment being able to play this role.”

She said University students can learn from this play, and it could change their outlook on life.

“I think it’s important. It’s one of those theater experiences where you will definitely have a new viewpoint by the end of the show,” she said. “Whether it is the theme, the characters or the content, it is so relatable, and it is definitely a transforming experience.”

Justice Hehir, assistant director of the play, said Gabilanes’s vision for the play gave her a new perspective on the issue.

”It’s great ... for her to take a script and interpret it the way that she did. I felt lucky to be able to see that. It got my mind going,” said Hehir, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.

Gabilanes said the lack of female directors in the theater industry does not discourage her from pursuing a career in theater — rather, it empowers her.

“I am very excited and confident that the message I want to give will get through,” she said. “I am really glad that the project was able to sustain itself, and I think that this is the beginning of a lifelong work for me.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Gabilanes is pursuing a career in film. Instead, she is solely invested in theater. Another error stated that The Leadership Scholars Certificate Program gave Gabilanes a directing role. However, Gabilanes received the role from University Cabaret Theater. Last, Alyssa Krompier is not the main character, rather one of the two characters in the play.

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