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Category Archives: Marsha Norma

Where are all the Women Playwrights?

For those of you who know me, I often lament the lack of women’s plays being performed on the American stage. Approximately 17% of all plays produced in the U.S. are written by women. We’ll break these stats down by race another time. We also know that only one woman has ever won an Oscar for best director and only four women have ever won Tony Awards for best direction of a play or musical. Marsha Norman, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of ‘night, Mother recently addressed my concerns in an article for Theatre Communications Group. What is even more compelling about this topic, however, is that women playwrights are not the only female artists not achieving parity; almost all women artists are affected. (Unless you play in an orchestra where they hold blind auditions).

She writes that
the U.S. Department of Labor considers any profession with less than 25 percent female employment, like being a machinist or firefighter, to be ‘untraditional’ for women. Using the 2008 numbers, that makes playwriting, directing, set design, lighting design, sound design, choreography, composing and lyric writing all untraditional occupations for women. . . If it goes on like this, women will either quit writing plays, all start using pseudonyms, or move to musicals and TV, where the bias against women’s work is not so pervasive http://www.tcg.org/publications/at/nov09/women.cfm.

Playwright Gina Gionfriddo, whose play I recently saw at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, Rhode Island (www.2ndstorytheatre.com), protested the lack of plays produced in New York that are written by women. “Producers, directors and perhaps audiences, she said, seem much more willing to accept unappealing male characters than unappealing women” www.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/theater/30gina.html.

And her play, Becky Shaw, is full of unappealing women. It is the second of her plays I have seen, being blessed to attend the Humana Festival of New Plays in 2005 and seeing After Ashley. But I’m not going to write about how much I loved this play and what it is about. You can get that information in the local paper. The RI Monthly has a great review of it and asks the question where all the young theatre goers are?

I want you to go see this play because I want all of us to recognize the lack of women artists in our culture. If we don’t attend their art shows, go to their plays, listen to them sing, watch them dance, than we are buying into this mythical notion of a “human” experience that can somehow only be represented from a male world view. This is the crux, you see.

Let me give you an example. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is considered one of the best plays ever written because of its ability to connect with “everyman.” This play was considered an excellent representation of the human struggle. And while I love much of what Mr. Miller has put down on paper, this play does not represent MY struggle. I feel alienated from that play, particularly as a woman and even more so because of the way the women are portrayed in the play. On the other side, numerous plays by women have not been “mainstreamed” because they were too much about a “woman’s” experience rather than the “human” one. Huh? Are women aliens and nobody told me?

But Becky Shaw appealed to me and certainly appealed to the 150 + people packed into 2nd Story Theatre on one of the first warm and sunny days of winter in Rhode Island (including the three people who came with me). Apparently part of her interest in developing the character of Becky Shaw was to expound on a literary topic covered in numerous books for centuries; that of women being judged for changing their class status, or “moving on up.” And I’m sure if you go see the wonderful actresses and actors and the pinpoint direction, you’ll be glad you did.

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