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Gender Trouble Part 2: Men in the Theater

Male theater majors talk about some of the expectations and challenges that they face. logo

Last week, we heard from the female side of the acting business about the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman involved in theater. This week, we're talking to the menfolk: Is being a man in theater really that different an experience? We know that there are far more women than men involved in the world of theater, it seems so much more competitive for women, and there seem to be higher expectations placed upon them. But being a guy in theater has its own set of challenges that doesn't make it easy, and perhaps explains why there are so few men involved in theater. Here are some of the differences between being an actor and an actress, as told by some of our theater student peers! 1) Stigma As progressive as we'd like to think our society is, there's still an old-fashioned reputation attached to men involved in theater, especially musical theater. At its tamest, a guy involved in musicals has his masculinity called into question, and there's that traditional repute that musical theater performers are more effeminate. More extremely, men might worry that their involvement in theater would call their sexuality into question, which could affect their decision as to whether or not to commit fully to acting. Student Sean Patrick Gallagher fully acknowledges that this may be one of the reasons fewer men choose the arts as their passion. "I'd be beating around the bush if I didn't mention that a lot of [labeling] has to do with sexual identity and sexual orientation and the large role that gender expectations play in the activities young guys choose to participate in. There's a kind of a choice guys make that girls don't have to between whether they're going to let those kinds of things shape their interests…Girls have little concern with the way their gender is associated with their involvement in the arts. "My observation is that it's a tougher industry to get into for men from a social perspective. There's a distinct labeling process that happens if you're a guy in theater. Just about any girl can take ballet and voice and there's no gender stigma about it. It's only a certain kind of guy that has no qualms about taking dance lessons, and there's definitely a kind of stifling climate that meets any guy who tries to be as uninhibited and expressive as acting demands--something that girls tend to find easier both on and off stage." 2) Appearance While it may seem like girls have the rough end of the bargain as far as styling their hair, doing makeup, and dressing properly, male actors also need to be concerned about their appearance, though in different ways. B.J. Grip, a graduating theater student at USC, says, "The same pressures are on guys than they are on girls because most of the time guys have more emphasis placed on their looks, especially how toned and fit they are. Girls would probably disagree, but guys have just as much stress trying to look good as they do, just in a different way. "

Sean Phillips, in his inaugural year of majoring in theater, says "It does feel strange at first to have to think about things like costumes, hair, and make-up. But it's something you get used to, and nobody cares in the theater cause everyone's in the same boat." 3) Ratio It can't be taken for granted that in school, at least, there is a favorable balance of gender for the men. Sean Phillips says, "In high school, the audition process was much less competitive for guys than for girls, if only because of the sheer difference in numbers. You almost always get far more girls going out for plays and musicals than guys, which makes it a nice ratio for guys!"

Still, just because there are more men than women involved does not necessarily mean that men have an overarching advantage in all acting pursuits. According to B.J., "One of the misconceptions is that being a man in theater or acting in general is a lot easier than being a girl. I think that that may be true when it comes to being in school, because typically there is a smaller pool of guys to pull from, but it is certainly not true in the professional world…in film, I would say that everyone is on a pretty even playing field." So there we have it! Just a few thoughts from men and women on what it's like to be involved in the theater. Whether male or female, there are great experiences to be found everywhere!


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