“Are you hair and makeup?” University of Redlands alumna Katie Bettini ’16 is greeted with this question frequently as she shows up to work on a set in the Los Angeles world of production. Trying to forge her way in the cutthroat entertainment industry, Bettini has been working in both film and television as a prop master, set dresser, and miniature model maker. She recently shared her struggles as well as her successes with a U of R audience, reflecting on where she plans to go from here.
What made Bettini’s experiences even more interesting was the commentary of the women of the previous generation who helped pave the way. The University of Redlands Theatre Department recently put on a production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, a play that explores what it means to be a successful woman. Wanting to expand the conversation opened by the production, the department invited a panel of women in different niches of the industry to speak.
A highly productive and intellectual conversation resulted. The program accurately called the discussion “a 21st-century conversation.” Because each panelist came from a different place within the industry and faced varying issues of racial and gender identity, their combined experiences spoke volumes to the reform that has happened and that still needs to happen.
The conversation began with director Victoria Hochberg(whose credits include Sex and the City, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Kitchen Confidential), who made great strides for women in the industry by being one of the rallying forces for the affirmative action lawsuit by the Director’s Guild of America to eradicate discrimination by big studios in the hiring of directors. Victoria stressed the importance of legislation. The number of women directors has increased from 0.5 percent to 16 percent, and she attributes this success entirely to the threatened legislation. She points out that prejudices are embedded so deeply in our culture that the passage of law is the only way to force others to give up their privilege.
Hochberg’s perspective provided an interesting lens through which to view the experiences of the other panelists. Diverse in background, each of the panelists had seen similar patterns of misrepresentation and struggle due to their gender and/or minority status.
Christine Avila (whose credits include House and Six Feet Under) shared her tale of becoming a successful actress and being typecast on account of her gender and race. Her response included insisting on interesting roles and raising awareness of the issues. She now teaches these lessons at University of California Los Angeles.
Keli Garrett, a successful theatre artist, writer, director, and performer, shared her insights into the world of playwriting. Her advice to the audience was that “you have to make your own door” when the patriarchy is at the gate.
Also speaking was Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, the founding executive artistic director of MOXIE Theatre in San Diego, whose mission is to create more honest and diverse images of women in our culture. She advised hopefuls to work hard and become irreplaceable, and then be willing to walk away from injustices.
Tatiana A. Lee, a model, actor, and lifestyle blogger, has dedicated her life to the representation of women with disabilities like her in fashion and beauty ads. She stressed the importance of making allies and combating misrepresentation by creating the content that you want to see.
Joyce Lu, a performing artist and educator at Pomona College, shared an insightful anecdote about not being afraid to speak out against injustices even if others want to keep quiet.
The combination of the experiences of these women in their respective corners of the entertainment industry was eye-opening. These women have forged their own paths and increased the odds for others entering theatre, film, and television. They stressed that the fight is nowhere near over though, and left it up to hopefuls like Bettini and members of audiences everywhere to continue their push for equal representation.
To learn more about theatre arts at the University of Redlands, see the Theatre Arts Department web pages.