Nataki Garrett – First Woman Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Earlier this year Nataki Garrett was appointed the First Woman Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. A bit of history about the Festival will put the significance of this accomplishment in perspective.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival began presenting plays in 1935, beginning with Twelfth Nightand The Merchant of Venice. Angus Bowmer, the Southern Oregon University drama professor who founded the festival, directed and starred in both productions. His wife Lois created costumes and scenery.

The city of Ashland helped fund the first productions as part of their Fourth of July celebrations but was fearful the festival would not be profitable, so they convinced Bowmer to include a boxing match. The rowdiness of the match suited Bowmer’s Shakespearean mindset, so both events were held. Charging $1 for reserved seats, and $.50 for adults the theatre festival made money—and covered the losses of the boxing match.

The Festival has been in continuous production since (except for a few years during World War II). During the 1950’s performances were abridged and presented on radio as well as on stage in Ashland.  By 1971 the festival had entertained one million visitors. All 37 of Shakespeare’s plays have been presented multiple times. Several decades ago other classic plays were introduced and now at least one original play is presented each season. In its 85 years of performances, it has had only five directors, and Nataki Garrett is the First Woman.

Garrett is a director, producer, playwright, educator, activist, and arts administrator, all skills that will be required to run this extensive theatre empire. She is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts with an MFA in directing, a skill that has taken her to theatres throughout this country and to other countries as well.

In the past she served as associate dean at the California Institute of the Arts School of Theatre, and acting artistic director of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. She is a champion of new works and has collaborated with Seattle Repertory Theatre and the Old Globe. Her passion is presenting new works and she continues to include those in the Festival’s programming. She believes it is important to consider the needs of the traditional audience, usually older patrons with time to travel to Ashland and the means to sustain an organization, but also to attract young audiences. She likes to “create spaces where both can rub elbows with each other.”

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has blossomed during its history. Founded to present the works of a male playwright who used only men as actors, it has grown to include traditional and new plays, with casts of all genders, even women portraying “male” roles. Today more than 20 million people have attended performances in Ashland. Each year there are 750 to 850 matinee and evening performances in three theatres. Between five and eleven plays rotate six days a week. The festival has 675 paid staff, about 700 volunteers, and budget of $44 million. Garrett’s responsibilities will be significant, but she says it best, “As a little girl from Oakland raised by a single parent who was a teacher, growing up under Reaganomics, this is something beyond my wildest dreams.”

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Military Progress 2019

The United States military is making progress incorporating women into its higher ranks. Slowly, but still progress. Within the last week, there have been three promotions for military women that made the news:

        Captain Dianna Wolfson, of the U.S. Navy, is the First Woman to head a naval shipyard. She was appointed as the 50thperson to command the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and began her duties last week. The shipyard has 15,000 sailors and employees. Capt. Wolfson has an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has served aboard aircraft carriers and at naval shipyards, including as operations officer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

      Brigadier General Laura Yeager is the First Woman to command an Army infantry division. This appointment is effective June 29 in the California Army National Guard. General Yeager’s career trajectory will feel familiar to many women. She is a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot who served in Iraq, but left active duty when her son was born. She balanced four children and a career in the National Guard holding leadership positions in both Texas and California.

      Rear Admiral Shoshana Chatfield is assuming the presidency of the U.S. Naval College, the First Woman president since it was founded 135 years ago. Admiral Chatfield was also a helicopter pilot, serving in Afghanistan. She has been a political science professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, then served in Guam and the Arabian Gulf. She replaces a president who is accused of abusing his position so, like many women, she will be left with cleaning up the mess.

Only 7% of the flag rank positions in the military (those at Rear Admiral or Brigadier General and above) are held by women. One might think that seems right as men far outnumber women in the military. However, women are 14% of the lower ranks, so they are not progressing in proportion to their service numbers. However, three appointments to positions of senior management announced within one week might sound like progress.

The Next Mayor of the City of Chicago Will Be. . .

        An African-American Woman, the First in the history of Chicago, a city where minorities are in the majority and one-third of the population is black. The election is not until Tuesday, April 2nd, but the two candidates who are in the run-off are both African American Women, so the outcome is assured. The winner will not be the First Woman mayor of Chicago. That was Jane Byrne in 1979, when few women had been mayors of major-size cities.

        The two final candidates are Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle.

        Lori Lightfoot’s parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, but her mother pushed her to attend college and not let her background stand in her way. She graduated from the University of Michigan with honors and worked as a legislative aide for two years in Washington, D.C. She returned to her hometown to attend the University of Chicago Law School. While there, she led a movement to have a law firm banned from campus recruitment because their representative had made racist and sexist remarks directed toward a student.

        She clerked at the Michigan Supreme Court and became an Assistant United States Attorney. During her time at Assistant Attorney she participated in Operation Silver Shovel, an FBI investigation into Chicago corruption. She chaired the Police Accountability Task Force and is President of the Chicago Police Board.

      Toni Preckwinkle got her first taste of politics while in high school, volunteering for Katie McWatt, the first African American woman to run for Chicago City Council. She obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago then taught history for ten years, losing one of her students to gun violence. She has campaigned for handgun legislation and has taken strong stances against police brutality.

        She served as an Alderman on the Chicago City Council for twenty years. In 2010 she became the First African American Woman to serve as Cook County Board President, managing the second-largest county in the United States. She is also chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Stay tuned. . .

Congressional First Woman: In Pairs

Since 1922, a large percentage of the women who have gone to Congress have been First Women, the first to serve, the first to serve without following a husband into a position, the first to be elected, the first from a specific state, the first woman of color, and other variations. In the 116th Congress there are also many First Women, but with a new twist. Six of those First Women in the House of Representatives share titles.

For the first time there is a Latinx woman from Texas in the Congress—and there are two. For the first time there is a Muslim woman in the Congress—and there are two. For the first time in our history, there is a Native American woman in the Congress—and there are two.

First Latinx Woman from Texas

Sylvia Garcia was born and educated in Texas. Her law degree is from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at a historically black university. She first ran for this seat in 1992 and lost to Gene Green, who then served for 26 years. When he retired, he supported Garcia and she won 63% of the vote in a seven-way primary. She is committed to women and immigrants, as well as affordable healthcare and equality for all. She was elected in eastern Houston.

 Veronica Escobar serves El Paso, Texas, where she is a native. When Beto O’Rourke resigned from his seat in the House of Representatives to run for the Senate, Escobar ran for his seat in a majority-Hispanic district. Like Garcia, she won her primary handily, earning 61% of the vote in a six-way race. Escobar is focused on the economy, as well as immigration reform, and protecting the environment.

First Muslim Woman in Congress

Ilhan Omar was the First Somali American elected to legislative office in the United States when she joined the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016. Now she is the First Somali American elected to the United States Congress and the First Muslim Woman elected to Congress. After she was elected, the U.S. House lifted their ban on head coverings on the floor of the House, so Omar is also the First Woman in Congress to wear a hijab. She supports free college tuition for those in certain income levels, Medicare for All, and LGBT rights.

Rashida Tlaib represents a portion of Detroit and its suburbs. She was the First Muslim Woman to serve in the Michigan legislature, one of ten Muslims serving in state legislatures in the entire United States. She is the First Palestinian-American Woman in Congress and also, along with Omar, the First Muslim Woman. She says, “Sometimes I say ‘Thank her’ because my Allah is She.” Tlaib supports Medicare for All, wants to abolish ICE, and supports a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First Native American Woman in Congress

Sharice Davids is the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Congress from Kansas. She is also the First Native American woman elected to Congress. She is an attorney, a former mixed martial artist, and a member of the Ho-Chunk people. She learned to be a strong woman from her mother who served in the Army for more than 20 years. Davids beat out a candidate who had been endorsed by Bernie Sanders in the primary. She is focused on having a Congress that functions better, and has worked in the past on social services for native populations.

Deb Haaland is also an attorney and represents the Albuquerque portion of New Mexico where she is a member of the Laguna Pueblo people. She shares a history with Davids as her mother was in the U.S. Navy. Her father also served in the Marine Corps and won a Silver Star in Vietnam. Haaland ran for Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico on the Democratic ticket but lost to the Republicans whose Governor candidate, Susana Martinez, was the First Woman governor of New Mexico, and the First Hispanic Governor in the United States. Haaland wore traditional Pueblo dress when she was sworn into Congress. Her primary focus is on the climate and environment.

Women Senators in the 116th Congress

The media has been abuzz with news about the number of new women entering the 116thCongress, and we should celebrate! However, that celebration should be tempered a bit. When we look at the United States Senate, we find that the number of women did not increase in the past election. Two new women were elected to the Senate, but two women were defeated, so the number of women in the Senate remains at the same.

The two women who lost their seats are First Women:

–Heidi Heitkamp, the First Woman elected to the U.S. Senate from North Dakota, lost her uphill battle as a Democrat in a Trump state.

 

–Claire McCaskill, the First Woman elected to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate, did not survive $39.5 million in attack ads by outside groups.

 

The two new women elected to the Senate are also First Women:

— Krysten Sinema, the First Woman elected from Arizona, is also the first openly bisexual member of Congress. The most exciting thing about her race was that Arizona had two women running for the seat, so a woman was assured that position even before the election.

 

–Jacky Rosen is the First Woman freshman member of the House of Representatives to win a seat in the Senate. She represents Nevada, one of five states that have two women Senators: California, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Washington.

The Senate now has, as in the previous Congress, twenty-three women among its members. Women, who are a majority in the country, are a significant minority in the Senate. The math is easy: 100 Senators with 23 women equals 23% women. And, remember those five states with two women senators. That means that only 18 of the 50 states have women representing them in the Senate.

There’s one more way to look at the representation of women in the Senate. Let’s round up the number of women, not because I’m feeling generous, but because the math is easier. Let’s say one-fourth of the Senate is comprised of women. That means that one of every four Senators is a woman, and three of every four is a man. Translation: there are three times as many men as women in the U.S. Senate.

I would not be one to argue that men can only represent men and women can only represent women. There have always been men who represented women well. In fact, were it not for men, women would not have the right to vote. And women can certainly represent men. My own Senator Patty Murray is a valiant advocate for veterans, the majority of whom are men. And yet it seems that true representation of the population for this country might look a bit different than it does now. So, let’s celebrate women’s successes, but let’s keep them in perspective.