Recently Cameron Kelsall, with Broad Street Review, wrote an article regarding the inequality of produced works in Philadelphia, regarding the male-to-female ratio, and what we can do as a theatrical community to fix it. Below is an excerpt of the article as well as links to the articles sited, including an article by Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal, focusing on women playwrights, as well as Laura Collins-Hughes of The New York Times, which discusses theatrical manspreading and how we can combat it.
"Inclusiveness: Illusion versus reality
...I thought about parity in my own backyard. Many of Philly’s finest resident actors, directors, and playwrights are female or gender-nonconforming, nonwhite, and openly LGBTQ+. More than a half-dozen women run theater companies in the region, and Theatre Philadelphia recently named Leigh Goldenberg its first executive director. Jacqueline Goldfinger keeps winning playwriting prizes, Mary Tuomanen produced three new works in 2017 (and counting!), and what isn’t multi-hyphenate extraordinaire Kittson O’Neill doing?
But numbers don’t lie. The works produced by Philadelphia’s major theaters during the 2016-2017 season skew male and white. None of Walnut Street Theatre’s 10 shows were written by women — unless you count A Child’s Christmas in Wales, which Charlotte Moore conceived from Dylan Thomas’s extant writings. Arden Theatre Company and Philadelphia Theatre Company each offered one woman-authored play. Wilma Theater and Lantern Theatre Company both produced one play written by a female playwright and one co-authored play.
I thought perhaps mid-sized companies — which tend to attract younger audiences and cater to fewer older donors — might be in a better position to foster diversity. But like their more established counterparts, Azuka Theatre, Theatre Exile, Theatre Horizon, and Curio Theatre Company all produced one female playwright in 2016-2017...
...The greatest commitment to equity comes from small companies and collectives, such as the “women-centric” ReVamp Collective and the writer-focused Orbiter 3. Carly Bodnar and Erin Carr founded ReVamp in 2014 to “create a space for women to create.” Their programming agenda has included short plays, staged readings, and full productions representing a diverse slate of emerging female and feminist voices. By the time Orbiter 3 disbands early next year, four of its seven plays will have been written by women.
Conversations surrounding gender parity in theater must also include discussions of race. The overwhelming majority of women-authored plays presented in Philadelphia last season were by white authors. Among the major and mid-sized theaters in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, I count four productions of plays written by women of color: Tracey Scott Wilson’s Buzzer, at Theatre Exile; Mia Chung’s You For Me For You, at InterAct; Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, at People’s Light; and Pulley & Buttonhole’s One More River to Cross: A Verbatim Fugue, by Lynn Nottage. That’s simply not enough.
What to do?
There are several ways Philly’s larger companies can foster and improve their commitment to representational equity. Artistic administration could hire theater makers like Bodnar, Carr, Orbiter 3’s Maura Krause, and Women’s Theatre Festival founder Polly Edelstein as consultants. These artists have proven track records getting female voices on stage. Companies lacking in representative programming can also learn from larger theaters, like People’s Light and Pig Iron, that regularly deliver diverse seasons. Recently, playwright Ifeyinwa Frederick floated a yearlong moratorium on Shakespeare. “There are playwrights out there writing stories with casts that reflect the world we live in today,” she wrote. “If the industry could stop indulging in Shakespeare for a year, we could give these voices a chance.” Sign me up — and add Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and David Mamet to the list. Check out Parity Productions and the Kilroys instead.
Theater has the potential to hold a mirror to society — but how honest can the reflection be if half the population accounts for only 20 percent of stories told? If women writers of all backgrounds cannot attain equal footing, does theater just passively reinforce the status quo? I find myself coming back to a sentiment espoused by ReVamp’s mission statement: “Art is created to give a voice to those without a platform. And until diversity is mainstream — including gender, race, sexuality — there is still art to create and stories to express.” Women writers create art encompassing a vibrant array of experiences and worldviews. Doesn’t that pair neatly with the goals of stages of all sizes throughout our city?"
-- Kelsall, Cameron. "Separate, but still unequal." Broad Street Review.
"Doubtless there’s a lot of overlap, but sometimes a woman will recognize and be moved by things in a play that a man won’t, simply because he has never walked through the world the way she has. That’s not sexism; that’s having a different frame of reference. The more of those, the better."
-- Collins-Hughes, Laura. "When Women Won’t Accept Theatrical Manspreading." The New York Times.
"The best available statistics indicate that somewhere between one-fifth and one-quarter of the plays professionally produced in the U.S. are by women."
-- Teachout, Terry. "All Woman, All the Time." The Wall Street Journal
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