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Why “Waitress” The Musical Promotes Feminism

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Salisbury chapter.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to shed light on a musical that promotes feminine friendships and serves as a successful example of women working together to create something powerful. Waitress, a Broadway musical written by the Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles and based on the film by Adrienne Shelly, centers around a waitress named Jenna. As she struggles with the many obstacles of her life – an abusive husband, an unwanted pregnancy, an affair, the death of her mother – she copes with her emotions by baking the most amazing pies.

Although this story line is very interesting, that isn’t my main focus. Waitress highlights Jenna’s friendship with two other waitresses in the diner and how they support each other. It also reveals the importance of relationships between mothers and daughters. These plot points are very important in showing women, who are often portrayed in theater and film as being hateful and petty towards each other (i.e. Mean Girls), in a more positive light.

In an interview with the National Theatre, composer Sara Bareilles voices her opinion on these themes,“We’re dealing with a woman in an abusive relationship who has to find strength within herself and within her community. One of the things I love about this story is that it highlights sisterhood amongst friends. I also think there is so much happening right now that celebrates what it means to embody a female spirit, and how that is evolving and changing for each new generation. The story deals with traditional value systems, but we’re challenging them within the world of the musical.”

What makes this musical even more effective is that it’s written by Broadway’s first all women creative team. If you follow theater, you often hear the names of famous playwrights such as Stephen Sondheim, Jonathan Larson, or even Lin-Manuel Miranda. While many of these writers do write parts for women or support feminism, their writing is not coming from the perspective of a woman. Waitress is a musical about the female struggle written by women who have experienced some of these struggles.

Just like many other industries, the entertainment industry marginalizes women and other minority groups. For example, a woman’s ideas may not be taken seriously during the creative process. Whitney White, a Golden Globe winning director, explains in an interview with The Roundabout Theatre Company, “There’s a feeling of scarcity in this business that there aren’t enough resources, enough space, or enough playwrights, and so you see institutions and producers unwilling to take a chance on something they can’t trust—which can often mean a woman or a person of color.”

Another problem is actresses being cast for stereotypical roles such as the girl next door, the mean girl or the “slut.” Waitress breaks through this common practice by celebrating women’s sexuality and friendships between women. If musicals/plays in the future follow in these footsteps, Theatre will continue to be used as an outlet for change.

Waitress continues its run in the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway and will celebrate its second year on April 24, 2018. It will also show in Washington D.C.’s National Theatre starting on May 15.

Natasha Hawkins

Salisbury '20

My name is Natasha Hawkins and I am currently a Junior at Salisbury University! From a young age, I loved to read and write. If only for a little while, it would help me take my focus away from the obstacles of life. Theatre and film have also done this for me. I hope to combine my skills as a writer, my perspective as an African-American woman, and my interests in theatre and film to inform and entertain other people. 
Nadia Williams is a senior studying Political Science, Communications and French at Salisbury University. She enjoys writing about policy, media and culture. She hopes to use journalism as a tool to empower others to play an active role in their communities.