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ASU professor recognized for advancing gender equality in Phoenix theater

March 6, 2018

When Lance Gharavi finalized the 2015–16 theater season for the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in Arizona State University's Herberger Institute, he made it a point to include women’s voices.

Five of the seven theater productions told stories that focused on female characters, and the majority of the plays were written by women.

“This is nothing to be smug about,” Gharavi said at the time. “This shouldn’t be the exception. It should be the rule. It should be the it-goes-without-saying normal. But sometimes leading, sometimes innovating, can just mean doing the obvious.”

In his role as artistic director of theater for the school, Gharavi has continued “doing the obvious” and selecting works that advance the representation of gender and diversity on the stages of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and on the broader stages of Phoenix and the American theater.

For instance, last season’s production “Men on Boats” featured an all-female cast. In the script, playwright Jaclyn Backhaus noted, “The characters in ‘Men on Boats’ were historically cisgender white males. The cast should be made up entirely of people who are not.”

The guest director of that play, Tracy Liz Miller, is also the co-founding producing artistic director for The Bridge Initiative: Women in Arizona Theatre, an organization that recently recognized Gharavi for his contributions toward gender parity in the theatrical field in the Phoenix Valley region. 

“The Bridge Initiative understands that if we all work together, regardless of gender identity, we all go further,” Miller said. “Lance embodies the selfless determination to serve all of his students but also to address the disparity of voices that are represented in contemporary theatre around the country.”

Formed a few years ago, the Bridge Initiative is an incubator for professional women theater artists, promoting gender parity across all theatrical disciplines and contributing to the national conversation around equal representation and inclusion. This year the initiative created the Ally of the Year award, and presented it to Gharavi during the Building More Bridges Gala Celebration on Feb. 24.

“When we launched and raised the issue of so few female playwrights being produced, Lance's response was to present a 100 percent female-penned season,” said Brenda Foley, co-producing artistic director for the Bridge Initiative. “While we have experienced other men turn tail upon our introduction as the Bridge Initiative: Women in Theatre, Lance instead ran towards us.”

The Bridge Initiative winners pose with their awards.
The Bridge Initiative presented Lance Gharavi with the Ally of the Year award at its 2018 gala on Feb. 24. Pictured, from left: Tracy Liz Miller, The Bridge Initiative; E.E. Moe, Leader of the Year recipient; Gharavi; and Brenda Foley, The Bridge Initiative. Photo by Laura Durant, courtesy of The Bridge Initiative

Gharavi said he supports the Bridge Initiative because different representation — different stories, from different voices — are needed to help bring about change.

“Awards are given to individuals, but this isn’t really about me,” he said. “Patriarchy and white supremacy are not the products of individual acts of sexism or bigotry. They’re produced and sustained by systems and institutions. That means that individuals acting virtuously won’t overthrow patriarchy and white supremacy, even if we give them awards. Systems have to change. Institutions have to change.”

Gharavi said he was honored to receive the award, but did so on behalf of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and the Herberger Institute.

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done — faculty, staff, students — in programming our school’s seasons. I’m proud to be to be part of the Herberger Institute and ASU, proud of our mission of inclusion, and of projects like Projecting All Voices. Together, we’re building new structures and systems. We’re telling new stories.”

School and Film, Dance and Theatre, Herberger Institute