The Theater's Glass Ceiling

by Camila Basora-Oliveira

Photography courtesy of Hasty Pudding

Boston is home to the oldest theatrical organization in the United States of America, and this ancient society is catching up with modern times by finally allowing women to act in productions.

In 1795, 21 Harvard students were celebrating the establishment of a new on-campus society. They crowded into one dorm room and mandated that “the members in alphabetical order shall provide a pot of hasty pudding for every meeting.” Thus, the Hasty Pudding Club was born.

It was not until 1844 that the club had its first theatrical production. Harvard senior Lemuel Hayward secretly arranged the production of an opera, Bombastes Furioso. This was the first official Hasty Pudding show, beginning a tradition that has lasted for 160 productions.

Every year, the organization puts on a professional, student-written show, and has gained national and international acclaim. However, only men or masculine performers are allowed, and play both male and female roles (similar to the style of original Shakespearean productions).

After almost 200, the organization announced on Jan. 25, 2018, that it will begin casting women and feminine people in productions next year following an increasing number of student and alumni protests against the male-only policy.

Amira Weeks, Hasty Pudding’s student president, read a formal statement from one of the original chairmen of the Hasty Pudding Institute to attendees at the organization’s Women of the Year celebration, and then stressed the importance of diversifying the organization’s cast.

"The Hasty Pudding welcomes women to audition and to give equal opportunity to play those roles based on the quality of their individual talents," said Weeks. "While we have great respect for the art form as it's been presented by the Pudding for over 170 years, the world is in a very different place. We are very proud to take this organization forward as a leader in women's rights and gender equality."

The announcement was given during the organization’s 2018 Women of the Year celebrations on Thursday the 25, which were in honor of Mila Kunis.

The Woman of the Year award is Hasty Pudding’s oldest honor, beginning in 1951. They award this title to performers who have greatly impacted the world of entertainment. Past recipients include Meryl Streep, Debbie Reynolds and Octavia Spencer.

The changes in the organization’s acting policy was a strong factor in Kunis’ consideration to accept the Woman of the Year honor. Kunis is a strong advocate of women’s advancement in the workforce, and she has actively spoken out against sexism in the entertainment industry in the past.

“I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” she said about diversity in opportunities for female actresses. "[This award] was something very important to me. This is something this program always wanted to do. It was something that was going to happen inevitably."

She mentioned later during a live press conference that, although women have not been allowed on the stage in Hasty Pudding’s productions, they have always been a strong force in the behind-the-scenes of the shows.

While there are only about 12 performers on stage, there are about 50 unseen people who put the whole show together, and the majority of them are women.

“Most of Hasty Pudding are women,” she said. “They are simply not on stage.”

Throughout the rest of her press conference, Kunis gave advice for minorities and aspiring actors. Her main driving point was to always strive to be creating something for somebody else.

“Try to create something that’s going to be better someone else,” she said. “You always want to better the world because your family bettered it, or tried to, for you.”

The next week, the organization honored Paul Rudd as its 52nd Man of the Year. Celebrations took place on Friday, Feb. 2, in Farkas Hall in Harvard Square with the usual comedic roast of the recipient and the presentation of the Pudding Pot. Past recipients of the honor include Tom Hanks, Robert de Niro and most recently Ryan Reynolds.

During his press conference, Rudd briefly mentioned his approval of the organization’s policy change to include women in shows. He simply said, “It’s great. I think it’s great.” After 223 years of male-only shows, Hasty Pudding Theatricals has finally come to terms with the fact that it is the 21st century and that women can, in fact, be the lead of the show.