Playwright Michele Lowe opened her recent HowlRound interview with Kent Thompson by commenting: “Before you became artistic director, less than ten of the 264 plays produced at Denver Center Theater were written by women.” This is almost too embarrassing to print, and I wouldn’t call their current number of women produced “off the charts,” as Thompson says it is now. But hey, maybe I’m looking at the wrong list or maybe they have a special womanz theater in the basement somewhere.
I don’t want to unfairly single them out—the disproportion of women’s voices in American theater is everywhere. It’s painfully overt in arts administration and theater punditry, but perhaps more cloaked in the show-making community. There are a lot of women working in theater, but how many of them hold positions of artistic power? Although it’s been lighting up the radar these days, there’s still quite a bit of timid dancing around the problem. (Yes, it is a problem.) Mad props to those like Theresa Rebeck who don’t mind pissing people off and calling bullshit when they see it. The world is tipped toward maleness everywhere you look, but in theater—a supposedly forward-thinking, communicative, freedom-loving industry—the balance breaks the scale. What gives?
As a little experiment, I decided to tally up stats from the 15 shows I’ve seen here in DC over the past few months, focusing on the following areas:
1) Point of view (Who is the play about? From whose perspective was the play told? Whose story was it?)
Here are the numbers:
Point of View: 8 Male; 3 Female; 4 N/A
Ridiculous. As much as I care about white men and their ‘problems,’ here we go, again and again putting on and sitting through stories about men. Women are full, complex human beings too. Why are we so underrepresented on stage?
Playwright: 11 Male; 4 Female
Wow, this fucking sucks—generally speaking and because I’m a playwright. For a time, I even gave serious thought to using a male pen name, but wasn’t happy about the idea of losing ownership of my written work for all time. Is there a reason why women aren’t being taken seriously as writers? If the belief is that women do in fact have equally compelling stories to tell, then are we not seen on stage or getting produced because… I don’t know…? And if we’re “from Venus” or whatever, shouldn’t an artform that relies on emotion and human connection be women’s work? And if it’s all about business, shouldn’t stories by and about women dominate, since more than half of theatergoers are female?
Director: 8 Male; 8 Female (one show had two directors)
Right on. More of this.
Cast: 44 Male; 31 Female
There’s an equality/inequality male-default theory that if a group is 50% female, a common perception is that it’s ‘mostly’ women. The numbers above are not equal, so don’t get excited. Oh, and be even less excited, because ten of these females played small ensemble parts and some didn’t even have lines. No good. The lack of decent female roles is a whole other conversation, and more artistic directors should be talking about this. I’m not a career actor, so when my woman-centric play Owl Moon got produced, I started to realize what was up. A few female actors in the crowd came to me and said, “Thanks for writing good female roles. There aren’t many,” and “I want to talk about these people with you.” One woman in the audience burst into tears after the show, saying the play brought up some issues she didn’t expect to see on stage. Think about that for a second.
I’m sure some people will whine and argue and tell me how many “opportunities” there are for women, but frankly, they can just save it. Women are half the human population, we give life to the next generation, we’re whole people, and we work and think as hard and as sharply as our men—but we’re still somehow not worthy of equal pay, equal rights, or equal artistic representation. Don’t hire women because of some kind of diversity/bleeding heart/affirmative action bullshit, hire us because we’re really good at what we do.