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Hasty Pudding’s Act Is Getting Old

  • FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2011 file photo, actress Julianne Moore, center, named Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Theatricals woman of the year, dances in a kickline with male cast members dressed as women, on the steps of the New College Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. As the theater group prepares to honor its 2018 winners, critics have called for the troupe to start casting women in its burlesque musical productions and to update stage portrayals of women that some say are sexist. The group has had an all-male cast for more than 170 years. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)



Associated Press
Thursday, January 25, 2018

Boston — Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding theater group is 223 years old — and it shows, its critics say, especially in a policy that excludes women from the cast of its annual revue.

On campus and off, some are calling on the troupe to start casting women and to update sexist portrayals of women. Many of those critics are also calling on actress Mila Kunis to reconsider her acceptance of Hasty Pudding’s Woman of the Year award to protest the exclusion. She is scheduled to receive the award on campus today.

“There are women on campus who are more than willing to take advantage of these opportunities, yet they’re still being excluded,” said Liz Kantor, a senior at Harvard studying molecular and cellular biology, who auditioned for this year’s show.

Hasty Pudding is known for bawdy comedic revues that feature men in drag playing female characters, a longstanding tradition in the group, which says it was formed in 1795.

But more recently, women have sought acting roles in the student-written parodies, which are shown in Massachusetts, New York and Bermuda and have helped launch careers for former students ranging from Jack Lemmon to Broadway composer Larry O’Keefe.

Kantor is among about 20 women who participated in the audition protest this year, an idea started by two women in 2015. Each year, the women have promptly been cut.

Women can instead take behind-the-scenes jobs, including writing the shows or working on the business staff or technical crew, the group says on its website.

Students on Hasty Pudding’s executive board, which is led by a woman and includes several female members, declined to comment for this article. Overall, about half the 50 students involved with the group are women.

The troupe’s all-male cast takes its cues from the Shakespearean era, when men played all roles. Harvard itself admitted only male undergraduates until a partial merger with Radcliffe College in 1977.

The group has been criticized for its all-male cast before, including in a 2016 petition from dozens of former members of the group who urged it to accept women.

Kunis has spoken out sharply against sexism in entertainment, including in a defiant 2016 essay. She did not respond to a request for comment.

Others recently named Woman of the Year by the group include Octavia Spencer and Amy Poehler, who cracked a biting joke about the group’s exclusion of women when she accepted the honor in 2015.

“You know it’s time for a change when the Augusta National Golf Club has lapped you in terms of being progressive,” Poehler said, referring the Georgia club’s 2012 decision to admit women.

Some critics are also challenging the portrayal of women in the revues, which have featured characters with names like “Donna My Knees” and “Sheila Rowsya.”

“It just magnifies the misogyny that men are portraying these characters,” said Kantor, of West Nyack, N.Y. “They’re usually just the most blatant stereotypes you could think of.”

Hasty Pudding started as a social club, taking its name from the porridge members brought to meetings. The school recognizes Hasty Pudding as a student group but doesn’t necessarily endorse its views, a school spokesman said. Officials declined to comment specifically on its casting policies.

But the administration has been working to curb campus groups that exclude members based on gender, including secretive all-male groups known on campus as “final clubs.”

Students who join single-gender social groups, for example, are banned from taking campus leadership positions, but Hasty Pudding is considered an arts group, not a social group, and isn’t subject to the rule.

Women who have pushed for a place in the cast say students are split. Some say women in drag wouldn’t be as funny, and some say the all-male cast is a tradition that should be protected.

But freshman Elle Shaheen, a theater major who auditioned for the cast, said the group is missing an opportunity to update its attitudes.

“This issue is not necessarily just about women. It’s about theater being all-inclusive,” said Shaheen, 18, of Portsmouth, N.H. “I plan on continuing to fight for it, and I’ll audition next year, and the year after that.”

Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at @cbinkley.