Woman playwright talks “Respect”

The "Respect" cast album will have you singing and dancing along to 100 years of "top 40" tunes

Fans of the “feel good” musical will love the dressed-up “top 40” tunes of “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women” — playing through Feb 12, 2011 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.

But so will those who enjoy deeper fare — because the 50+ tunes featured in “Respect” are a vehicle for recounting the changing roles of women during the last 100 or so years.

It isn’t every day you come across a playwright with a Ph.D. to her name, or even a playwright you’d refer to as “her.”

“Respect: A Musical Journey of Women” playwright Dorothy Marcic, Ph.D., notes that just 15% or so of playwrights whose work is produced are women.

I marveled even more at this math after learning from Marcic that only 15% of “top 40” hits from the last century were recorded by women. She knows because she studied the issue extensively long before bringing “Respect” to the stage.

Research for this book led to the musical "Respect: A Musical Journey of Women"

Her foray into the musical journey of women — from dependence and passivity to empowerment and strength — took the form of research for a book she titled “Respect: Women and Popular Music.”

You’ve got to respect Marcic for the breadth and depth of her academic and professional life — which isn’t readily apparent until you look past the feather boas and “Jackie O” sunglasses that are a sort of trademark of her show.

Though her first teaching job was at the Arizona State University business school, she ultimately spent many years as a professor at Vanderbilt University.

Marcic has been a Fulbright scholar in Prague, consulted with major corporations on leadership and organizational management, worked with the PBS television series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” published several books (including children’s titles) and more.

We forget sometimes that the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, was ratified less than 100 years ago — in 1920.

Often we fail to help our daughters appreciate the great progess that’s taken place — and the work undertaken by previous generations to make it happen.

Cheryl Williams, Carly Mayo, Heather Mayes and Andrea Dora (L to R) perform in "Respect: A Musical Journey of Women" in Phoenix (Photo: Sierra Smith)

Marcic describes “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women” as “a great conversation starter.” Mothers, fathers or grandparents who take children to see the show will enjoy much more than a fabulous “feel good” musical.

They’ll help younger generations understand the world, and work, that came before them.

Americans take so many privileges, including the opportunity to vote, for granted. I love the fact that there’s a show combining good clean fun with a dash of history — even activism.

So what of the musical journey of men? Marcic sees a similar arc, noting that songs by men recorded before the ’60s focused on control, power, planning and such.

During the 1960s, songs performed by men began to reveal a greater vulnerability, more emotional accessibility.

By the end of the 20th century, American pop music often spoke not only of healing relationships but also of healing the world.

Proceeds from the sale of "Respect" tickets, totes and such benefit "The Respect Project" as it works to empower women and children

All this talk of pop music got me thinking about other genres — from country music to rap — and images of women in contemporary pop tunes.

If you’re parenting a tween girl, you’ve no doubt noticed the musical menace of songs that emphasize beauty over brains, fleeting pleasure over sustained effort, and snagging the perfect boyfriend over cultivating inner strength.

“Music bifurcated early in the 21st century,” muses Marcic. While several songs feature strong, independent women — others offer suggestive, even “slutty” lyrics.

But even this, I suspect, may be another step forward.

For the goal of feminism — a key theme in my own doctoral studies in religion and philosophy during the ’80s — was never to tell women they had to choose one particular approach.

Rather, it was to expand women’s options. To foster limitless opportunities. Which options a woman chooses to pursue are for her alone to decide.

I like to think that shows like “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women” help us all see those choices more clearly, and to chart the path of our own lives instead of settling for lives mapped by others.

— Lynn

Note: “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women” is produced by Philip Roger Roy and Dana Matthow in association with Act 2 PlayhouseClick here to find additional resources on the topic of women’s empowerment — including a comprehensive “Respect” study guide and the non-profit “Respect Project Inc.,” which uses theater and other arts to “help women transform their lives through smart thinking, smart choices, smart results.”

Coming up: More Marcic musings — on contemporary theater and playwriting

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