In 1999 I worked for The Women’s Project, “the nation’s oldest and largest company dedicated to producing and promoting theater created by women”. It was a completely administrative position, and for that and other reasons having more to do with where I was at in my life than anything else (I’d just graduated from school and was trying to figure out how to launch a directing career) I was only there for about six months. This was long enough, however, to internalize the statistics that glowered back at us from the original study done in the late 70s that revealed and confirmed the need for a theater like WPP and its follow-up study done in the mid-90s:
According to a report issued in the late 1970’s,”Action for Women in Theatre,” the total number of professional women playwrights and directors hired by regional and Off-Broadway theatres over a seven year period from 1969 to 1975 was 7%. Nineteen years later, in the 1994-95 season, playwright representation was at 17% and directors at 19% for Off Broadway and regional theatres. (1)
By the end of the six months, I knew these figures by heart.
As I’ve moved on, well, I’ve moved on. Do I think about whether the next play I am working on is written by a woman? Sure, I register this fact. Do I like to have women writer’s represented in my own personal season? Absolutely. Am I ashamed when it doesn’t happen? I am. I kind of am. And this is one of those years. Of the three full productions I have lined up (not counting readings or workshops) none of them are written by women.
That said, I love the plays that I am working on. Two of the three place a female character at the center of the story. They all ask important questions–either on a global level, or on a much more personal, intimate level. Should I be less excited because I have not, this year, been a successful advocate for any female playwrights (an advocate rather than a promoter because, ultimately, I am not the one making the final season decisions)? Maybe.
But it’s hopeful to be here at Theater J.
A couple of weeks ago we got an email from Stefanie Zadravec, the writer of HONEY BROWN EYES, about the New Dramatists forum of women playwrights she’d attended where they once again did the math and found that most of the big LORT theaters are producing one or no plays by women this year. She had put the figures together for us that in our season we have three plays by women (and a half, if we include PLONTER which is a collaboration with a woman heading the charge, oh–and another half knowing that the translation being used for the Seagull is by writer and scholar Carol Rocamora) making a total of somewhere around four out of eight plays. That’s pretty good.
Not that this should be about patting our back. That sort of defeats the purpose. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be broadcasting these numbers because they would be the rule, rather than the exception to it.
Meanwhile, there’s a flurry of talk about the article everyone’s favorite critic wrote last week in the Times, here.
We received a call to action from playwright Julia Jordan:
In 1908-1909 –a hundred years ago — 12.8% of new plays in the NY theater season were written by women according to Internet Broadway Database. In 2008-2009, 12.6% of new plays in the NY theater season (on and off broadway) were written by women according to the theaters’ season announcements. These figures exclude companies that produce only women such as the women’s project, new georges, and wet. And by the way, “FLUFFY RUFFLES” “THE STRONGER SEX” and “WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS” from the 1908-09 season were actually written by men.
On Sept. 3rd Charles Isherwood of the NYTIMES wrote a piece entitled “A Male, Male, Male, Male World” that puts forth the premise that this is the year of the “male” play, positing that it is different from every other year. Last year had exactly one new play by a woman on broadway, “Mauritius” by Theresa Rebeck. The New York State Council on the Arts report from 2001 stated that on average across the country the number of new plays by women produced is around 17%. I think Mr. Isherwood’s analysis of the state of theater is rather flimsy to say the least. I’m asking all of you to write to the NYTIMES about this irresponsible article that is clearly not based on facts and reinforces the idea that all is well in the theater when it clearly is not. The Times is known for fact checking, we ask that they check their facts. There is a story to be written about the state of gender in the theater but this one is preposterous and wrong.
And a link to Theresa Rebeck’s characteristically hilarious rumination on the subject. (Do read the comments that follow. The debate is heated and relatively well-informed).
There is no question that women are under-produced in the theater world. There is a question about what is to be done about it. Ideas?
(1) From REPORT ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN: A LIMITED ENGAGEMENT? , Prepared for the New York State Council on the Arts Theatre Program by Susan Jonas and Suzanne Bennett (January 2002)