STUDY GUIDE FUN HOME is a Broadway musical based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 best-selling graphic novel. This groundbreaking production introduces us to Alison at three different stages of her life, revealing memories of her uniquely dysfunctional family that connect with her in surprising new ways.
Alison Bechdel, 2017 Photo by Elena Seibert
MEET ALISON BECHDEL Alison Bechdel is an American cartoonist and graphic novelist who lives and works in Vermont. She combines text and drawings to address issues related to family dynamics, sexual identity and gender. From 1983–2008, Bechdel became well known for her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which explored the politics and culture of the lesbian community. Bechdel went on to create two full-length graphic memoirs about the complexities of her family life. Fun Home explores her complicated relationship with her closeted gay father, and Are You My Mother? delves into Bechdel’s relationship with her unaffectionate mother. A Pulitzer Prizenominee, Bechdel won a MacArthur “Genius” Award in 2014.
“The secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings.” – Alison Bechdel
THE BECHDEL TEST In 1985, Bechdel introduced the idea of the BECHDEL Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel, 1985
TEST in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. In this particular episode, one woman explains to another that she will only see a film if it satisfies three requirements. (1.) The movie has to have at least two women in it, (2.) who talk to each other, (3.) about something besides a man. Not being able to find a film that meets the criteria, the two women end up going home. The test is now a popular metric used by feminist critics to call attention to gender inequality in film, TV and other media.
THE YEAR OF WOMEN ON BROADWAY Fun Home came to life on Broadway through the talents of two women artists, composer Jeanine Tesori and playwright Lisa Kron, who adapted Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel for the stage. In 2015, Kron took home a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, and both Kron and Tesori won for Best Original Score. The two women made history by being the first allfemale writing team to win these categories. The same night, seven women in non-acting roles won Tony Awards, the highest number in Tony history. These awards included categories where women have historically been underrepresented on Broadway such as Best Direction and Best Lighting Design.
Jeanine Tesori Photo by Rodolfo Martinez
THOUGHTS FROM FUN HOME’S ALL-FEMALE CREATIVE TEAM
Kate Shindle as ‘Alison’ in Fun Home. Photo: Joan Marcus
Alison Bechdel on inspiring the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist… I think it’s less just that it’s a lesbian character and more that it’s a female character, and it is not a romantic story. For a woman to be the center of that feels quite revolutionary. We’re not used to hearing women’s stories. Even now, in this day and age, it’s still a pretty radical thing to do. And the fact that it’s a lesbian character makes it all the more difficult and all the more risky to get people to identify with her. That felt crucial. I knew [playwright] Lisa Kron’s work and I trusted that she could do it. I knew that she understood the pitfalls. Lisa Kron on how Fun Home has changed Broadway… In my dreams, it would have been, along with other shows, a moment we could
Abby Corrigan as ‘Medium Alison’ in Fun Home. Photo: Joan Marcus
point to that says this is where the parity issue in the theater was solved. And there would be more lesbian characters in shows with actual three-dimensional parts, and also that there would be more trust in work that doesn’t appear to be ‘commercial.’ It remains to be seen whether any of that will happen. It’s my understanding that so far the upcoming season appears to be a reversion to the status quo. And this is what has happened many times. It’s not just in the theater, it’s everywhere. There seems to be this ceiling and you get to this certain percentage of women or racial and cultural minorities, and everyone is like, look how great this is, the tide is finally turning. And then the numbers drop right back down. It’s happened many times. The powers of reversion are extremely strong. I would say, though, that there are many, many people determined to push for permanent change. We talk about diversity like it’s an addition of something, like some kind of spicy added flavor, but it’s not the addition of anything. It’s the undoing of a narrow and exclusive focus. Alison Bechdel on her concerns in turning Fun Home into a musical… [My main concern was] that people would laugh at something that really is not meant to be funny at all—like the scene where the little girl sees the butch delivery woman. What had to happen was for people to see queer desire as not just legitimate but righteous. We’ve seen a lot of queer desire in musical theater, even if it’s masked as heterosexual desire, because gay men have obviously written and been part of musicals, but lesbians…there’s hardly any representations of that that are really accurate, in any form.
Carly Gold as ‘Small Alison,’ Robert Petkoff as ‘Bruce’ in Fun Home. Photo: Joan Marcus
Jeanine Tesori on improving gender parity in theatre… I’d say anything that is active is helpful. Anything that’s talking about it is helpful-ish. The way I do it is I’m mentoring a fierce female composer, and I’ll give her whatever I have to make sure she gets on her track. She came to me and I said, “Yes.” She’s doing something active by asking and I’m doing something active by mentoring her. It takes a lot of that small micro activism. If it’s legal, say yes. So ask someone to go see that piece by a woman. Bring ten people. It’s like micro-financing. I think that’s where the tide change can happen...you take one girl to work. You say yes. You ask someone to do something. I think those kinds of things add up to a groundswell and a grassroots movement. The chatter does not. The chatter is great to maybe make something known, but it’s the actual doing of it that has agency. My mentor said really early on, “I’m so sick of hearing you talk about writing. Talking about writing is not writing. Talking about writing is talking about writing. So until you’re ready to write, I really need you to shut up.” It was like cold water. I was like, “You’re right; I’m being lazy and afraid.” Alison Bechdel on drawing women… Learning to draw women accurately was a long
Abby Corrigan as ‘Medium Alison’ in Fun Home. Photo: Joan Marcus
psychic struggle for me. I actually only ever drew boys and men as a little kid. I drew all the time, but I didn’t draw women because…well, it’s a very complicated story and I can’t possibly summarize it now, but it was only when I came out that it struck me: I’m attracted to women, why can’t I draw women? And I started to draw lesbians. I found that I could draw a woman if I thought of her as a lesbian. I still haven’t figured this out, but that’s how I got started, like I had to break through some kind of representational formula. The way women were drawn in all the comics I ever saw was very objectifying, just as the way acceptable female appearance—you know, you had to present yourself, you had to wear makeup and certain kinds of clothing—and I was rejecting all of that.
Resources: Greenberg, Shoshana. “Fun Home Writers Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron on Saying Goodbye to Broadway.” Women and Hollywood, 8 Sept 2016, blog.womenandhollywood.com/fun-homewriters-and-jeanine-tesori-and-lisa-kron-on-saying-goodbye-to-broadway-954a8dc1ed35. Accessed 8 Sept 2017. Myers, Victoria. “An Interview with Jeanine Tesori.” The Interval, 18 March 2015, http://theintervalny. com/interviews/2015/03/an-interview-with-jeanine-tesori/. Accessed 8 Sept 2017. Schwiegershausen, Erica. “Q&A: Alison Bechdel on the New Fun Home Musical.” The Cut, 18 Oct. 2013, thecut.com/2013/10/alison-bechdel-on-the-new-fun-home-musical.html. Accessed 8 Sept 2017. Comic panels from FUN HOME: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel Copyright © 2006 by Alison Bechdel. All rights reserved