I am continually frustrated by the paucity of women playwrights being produced on the stages of major theatres in Rhode Island. I’m looking at the “bigger” theatres, like The Gamm in Pawtucket, RI, 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, RI (where I have been a long time subscriber and actor) and Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, RI. Out of 22 plays being produced by these three professional/semi-professional theatres, only TWO are written by women. I have debated this subject with many a talented male director or actor, people I consider friends and even feminists. The excuses are 1) I couldn’t get the rights to any of the plays by women I wanted to produce; 2) The shows I am producing include strong female characters in lead roles; 3) I produce plays written by gay men; 4) Women haven’t won many Tony’s (thus there are no good plays by women.).
For some time, I blamed this local “miss representation” on the fact that the people choosing these seasons and running these theatres were white men (Tony Estrella at The Gamm, Ed Shea at 2nd Story, and Curt Columbus at Trinity Rep). However, out of 6 plays being produced this season at ART (American Repertory Theatre) in Boston, only one is written by a woman, and ART’s Artistic Director, Diane Paulus, is a woman.
Statistically we know that less than 17% of the plays produced in the U.S. are written by women. However, “in an apparent paradox, 31% of the plays on the Theater Communication Group’s list of the ‘Top Ten Most Produced Plays in American Theatre’ were written by women” (http://www.giarts.org/article/discrimination-and-female-playwright). Sheri Wilner and Julia Jordan address this paradox by suggesting that fewer women playwrights stay in the marketplace because it is so hard to compete and get your work produced.
Some of these same issues can be applied to the lack of women directors in Hollywood. Read Marcia Giese’s article “13 Myths Hollywood Uses to Hide Discrimination Against Women Directors” (http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/cross-post-13-myths-hollywood-uses-to-hide-discrimination-against-women-directors)
I often feel overwhelmed and paralyzed on how to fix this problem. But there is hope, at least outside of the U.S. Sweden is now giving out an “A rating” to films that pass the Bechdel Test. (https://thefeministcritic.com/2012/10/25/hollywoods-miss-representation/). Even there, however, some male film critics are missing the point of the Bechdel Test. (http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/swedish-cinemas-push-hard-for-gender-equity).
How are we to advance women playwrights and female directors? Wilner and Jordan make some suggestions for Artistic Directors, but any change involves work, and are they willing to do that work? I hesitate to say yes.
“A concerted effort must be made by Artistic Directors to find and develop female writers with the same eagerness and enthusiasm they do with male writers. That means they are going to have to eliminate the de facto quota of twenty percent or so of production slots that, in practice, have been set aside for women and writers of color to compete for. They also need to put out the call to schools, agents, and their own literary departments, and then actually read all the scripts by women that come in. And since women inside the theatres have essentially reported that they perceive bias in their institution’s play selection process, Artistic Directors must make sure they create environments in which these perceptions can be freely addressed and satisfactorily handled. And the women need to acknowledge the possibility that they engage in prophetic discrimination, subconsciously or otherwise. Basically, if you read and like a script by a woman but think it’s not a good “fit” with your theatre, pretend it was written by someone named John and read it again. Lastly, both Artistic Directors and producers should take advantage of the free market research Ms. Sands has provided and acknowledge that her results make perfect sense. After all, everyone knows that audiences are predominantly female. So, start looking for more female-written plays with female leads. They are the least-produced and most successful plays around. We’ll even tell you where you can find them — in the hearts, minds and hard drives of female playwrights” (Wilner & Jordan, 2010).
What can you do to promote the representation of women playwrights? To start, take a look at the seasons offered by your local theatres. What percentage of the playwrights are women? What percentage of the playwrights are people of color? (Trinity Rep’s season, which includes one woman, kills two birds with one stone by Lynn Nottage being their only woman playwright and their only playwright of color. The other five playwrights are white men). Write to those theatres and ask for a better representation. Write Op-Eds. Don’t subscribe to theatres who don’t demonstrate a commitment to diversity and social justice.
While I can give up on Hollywood for ever being a place that will work to make the world better for all people, I can still have hope that theatre can be that place; that we can produce plays that make people think critically about their world and their place in it. I have hope that good guys, men I love and respect for their work and for the ways they respect women, can begin to get the point.