After 174 Years, Hasty Pudding Theatricals at Harvard Will Cast Women

The actress Mila Kunis waves next to the Hasty Puddings Theatricals president, Amira Weeks, left, and vice president, Jacques Berguig, during a parade in honor of Ms. Kunis on Thursday in Cambridge, Mass. Ms. Weeks announced that the organization would allow women to join its casts starting next year.

BOSTON — The Hasty Pudding Theatricals, an irreverent Harvard theater troupe that has not cast women since it began staging productions in 1844, announced on Thursday that, for the very first time, it would encourage women to audition this year.

“The Hasty Pudding Theatricals is proud to announce that going forward, casting will be open to performers of all genders,” the group’s producers, Hannah Needle and Annie McCreery, said in an email.

The producers did not immediately specify a reason for the shift, but it comes amid several years of debate over the fate of the university’s single-gender organizations, and amid a wider cultural reckoning over sexual harassment and the treatment of women in the workplace, including in Hollywood.

The announcement, which was first reported on Thursday by The Harvard Crimson, came as the group presented the actress Mila Kunis, who has been a vocal critic of gender discrimination in the workplace, with its annual Woman of the Year award, an event during which the honoree is regaled with a parade and then roasted.

“Look at this tradition, that’s been around for 100-plus years, today changed,” Ms. Kunis said in a news conference on Thursday afternoon.

It was the students who pushed for the change, she said, but she added: “I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

The Hasty Pudding Theatricals, which calls itself the world’s third-oldest theater organization and boasts Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jack Lemmon as alumni, is famous for its glitzy annual drag shows, which have long used satire and parody to skewer the political and social elite as well as the topical themes of the day. Women have long worked on those performances behind the scenes, but in keeping its cast resolutely all-male, the club seemed ever more like the stodgy relics it might have targeted.

“I want to say that it’s unsettling that there will be no women onstage tonight,” Amy Poehler said in 2015 when she accepted the group’s Woman of the Year award. “You know it’s time for a change when the Augusta National Golf Club has lapped you in terms of being progressive.”

The group’s resolute commitment to an all-male cast drew protests from women on campus, particularly in recent years. Beginning in 2015, a group of women decided to show up and audition anyway, although none of them received callbacks.

“I think that people just like to cling on to traditions and stay with what they know and I think that this year, in particular, time’s up and people are making a stink about it and not letting things like all-male theater groups exist,” said Tess Davison, a graduate of Harvard who helped organize the protest auditions in 2015. “There wasn’t a choice anymore.”

The university’s administration has also trained its focus on the school’s remaining single-gender organizations and exclusive social clubs, like fraternities, sororities and its rarefied Final Clubs, which were all-male social groups for much of their history. (The Hasty Pudding Theatricals is not exclusively male, because women work on the crews of its shows and play other roles in the organization. Still, the casts have always been all-male.)

A controversial policy announced in spring 2016 said that students who participated in single-gender clubs would not be allowed to hold on-campus leadership positions, including captaincies of sports teams, nor could they receive the dean’s endorsements for prestigious fellowships. Last year, the university considered banning exclusive clubs outright — including the Hasty Pudding Club, a social organization affiliated with the Theatricals — but decided late in 2017 to continue its policy of sanctions instead.

The cast of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals has remained all-male even as some of the Final Clubs moved to admit women in response to the university’s pressure, and some commentators called on Ms. Kunis to reject the group’s invitation to appear there on Thursday.

“How does the sexist throwback that is the Hasty Pudding Theatricals still exist?” wrote Yvonne Abraham, a columnist for The Boston Globe. “And why on earth would actor Mila Kunis associate herself with it?”

On Thursday, the group’s announcement spread quickly across campus and beyond, spurring eye rolls from those who wondered why it took so long and joy from women who had been hoping to break into a cast.

“I think it’s one small step toward welcoming women with open arms into organizations that have historically denied them,” said Liz Kantor, a senior who auditioned for the show three times.

But, she said, there are other aspects of the show that remain “problematic,” and she hoped the production would address them, too.

“They’re using women as a punch line, or queer people as a punch line,” Ms. Kantor said, “and that’s never O.K.”

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