Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to her love of theater and emphasized the importance of women’s equality on Broadway and elsewhere at a women’s event Tuesday.
Speaking at the New Amsterdam Theatre, Clinton employed her theater references, ranging from “King Lear” to the diversity of the 2017 Broadway season to director Rachel Chakvin’s Tony Awards speech, to comment on current politics and her own frequent attendance on Broadway. At the heart of her speech was a call for women to speak up, whether it be through dramatic art or within the workplace.
“I feel a strong obligation to keep talking about the great unfinished business of the 21st century, namely expanding the rights, opportunities and full participation in every aspect of society by women and girls,” Clinton said. “And of course that includes the theater.”
Clinton said she arrived at Women’s Day on Broadway after working with a group of Afghan women and representatives at the United Nations Tuesday to ensure that women’s rights would be included in the peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban.
She spoke about the obstacles faced by women in the U.S. and within theater, including unpredictable hours, lack of childcare, challenges to reproductive rights and a lack of paid sick leave, which she noted is now complicated by the spread of coronaviruses.
Beyond the tangible barriers, Clinton highlighted the challenge of unconscious bias, in which men are favored over women in the minds of decision makers. That bias continues to pervade society and political elections and must be changed through a “hearts and minds” campaign, she said, including telling women’s stories on high-profile stages.
“We’re seeing the results right now because our next presidential debate will not pass the Bechdel test,” she said.
She translated that disparity to the theater world, speaking to the fact that Paula Vogel and Lynn Nottage both made their Broadway debuts in 2017, but had already both won Pulitzer Prizes. Meanwhile, younger and less experienced men playwrights continue to be produced without those accolades, she said.
“Women are judged for what we have done, while men are praised for what they promised to do. But nevertheless, we persist,” Clinton remarked.
Clinton is an avid theatergoer, regularly seeing the majority of Broadway shows within a season, including a recent outing to “The Inheritance.” She took solace in the theater after losing the 2016 presidential election.
“After the catastrophe in November of 2016, my long walks in the woods and glasses of chardonnay got most of the attention, but I also saw a lot of shows, and boy did that help me,” Clinton said. “No matter what was happening, there was nothing like sinking into a seat, feeling the excitement and the anticipation as the lights went down and being transported out of our crazy world for at least a little while. And it’s really one of my most cherished roles, being an audience member.”
The results of the election have also brought Clinton a newfound appreciation for certain lines in theater, she said, quoting “King Lear”: “‘Tis the times’ plague, when madmen lead the blind.”
She later quipped that she wants to see “Six,” the new musical that chronicles Henry VIII and his wives (“I’ve got to see that, I mean really…there are parallels”).
After listing off a recent slate of female directors, producers and playwrights on Broadway, from Young Jean Lee to Marianne Elliott to Anaïs Mitchell, Clinton urged women within the industry to keep pushing forward to be seen.
“We need to keep telling our stories,” Clinton said. “We need to keep going, because nothing is more important than imagining, and then inventing the future that we want.”