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The Kilroys Challenge Theatres to Produce


Last week The New York Times did a piece on “Creating a Supply Chain of Women Playwrights.” This subversive group, The Kilroys, asked 127 theatres to help create a list of plays written by women that had one or no productions but “were among the best they had seen or read this year.”

OK.  Great.  Here’s a list, Mr. Artistic Director.

Unfortunately just a list ain’t gonna fix what I would call a root cause.  Um.  Sexism.

And there’s another problem with the list.  A good friend of mine runs a small theatre in Rhode Island.  He is dedicated to having a diverse lineup every season.  However, the minute he calls Samuel French or Dramatists Play Service to ask about producing a new play by a woman, this is what he gets;

“We are holding this play for an equity theatre.”  Or, “we aren’t letting smaller theatres produce this one.”

This conversation constantly happens.  In fact, he recently got into a screaming match with a publisher at Samuel French.  He said “don’t you think the playwright would be thrilled to have her work produced?”

So here’s the dilemma.  Women writing and publishing plays.  Publishers who get to decide where these plays are produced, with little to no input from the actual playwright.  What’s a good artistic director to do?

Then there’s just the whole trying to find a play to read piece.  So, this same artistic director sends me a list of plays to read.  I go to the library website at work.  Searching for a single play is like looking for a needle in a haystack, excuse the old metaphor.  Most plays are published in collections.  One must find the collection it was published in, say the 2010 Humana Festival of New Plays. You would actually have to know that the specific play you were looking for was first produced at the Humana Festival.

Plays are not like books that get published and are easy to find.  People might actually read more plays if they were more accessible to the non theatre producing reader or audience member.

Positive Women Role Models Non Existent

There is an advertisement out by General Electric called “What My Mom Does at GE.”

It’s just lovely.  It doesn’t exactly describe whether her mom is an engineer (it seems like it) or what her title is, but it is clear that this woman is a scientist and she builds and designs things.  And her daughter is proud.  The feminine pronoun used throughout the commercial is “she.”  This is positive.  So positive, in fact, that I am blogging about it.

I did a talk in 2012 for the UMass Dartmouth Kaput Center’s Interdisciplinary Colloquium Series called “Choosing Science:  Succeeding without Visible Role Models.”  I ask how girls go into science when there are no positive representations of female scientists in any media, except for a few forensic crime scene investigators.

When is the last time you saw a commercial that represented a woman as a scientist?  If these representations are so few and far between, what is all that junk we are seeing in the middle?  I could write 20 blogs about bad commercials to every good one.  This Business Insider article provides a pretty depressing look at print ads for women through the years.  In a Google search “positive representations of women in commercials,” I got ZERO hits.  The horribly sexist EU video “Science:  It’s a Girl Thing!” almost makes things worse, until you check out this website.

I’m good with the world if I stay on Netflix, avoiding commercials.  But some days I need a dose of Colbert and Stewart and I’m left seething.  Huff Post did a list of bad commercials in 2012 (Gag warning!).  Seeing some of these commercials makes me wonder how people are even ALLOWED, by law, to put this shit on television.  If these were depictions of children being treated like this, people would freak.  But, whatever, it’s just girls, er . . . I mean women.

The Superbowl is yet another great opportunity to poorly depict women.  See this post.  And as we live in a world where girls and women are simply a commodity that should be bought and sold, never educated (See our #BringBackOurGirls campaign at UMass Dartmouth Center for Women, Gender, & Sexuality’s Facebook Page), and even selectively reduced, I am left to ask the misogynist male leaders of the world where they think more boys are going to come from?   Keep reducing the number of females on the planet and I can assure you, you will lessen the time on earth in which you can rule.

Our trip to Bricco

Last Saturday, I planned a night out in Boston for my husband’s 49th birthday.  We had planned to go to Boston to do a little Christmas/birthday shopping for a new pair of shoes I really wanted.  But it snowed.  So I decided to combine the shopping trip with a whole night out.  Plus, we had heard from an Italian waiter from Tuscany, in Providence, that a restaurant called Bricco, on the North End, had wild boar sauce.  When we were in Greve, Tuscany, back in 2008, it was one of our most memorable meals.  I made a reservation at Bricco earlier that week and booked a room at my now favorite, dog friendly hotel chain, Kimpton.  We stayed at the Onyx hotel on the north end of Boston right near TD Garden, formerly known as the Fleet Center, formerly known as the Boston Garden.  (Why couldn’t they just leave the original name alone?)

My purpose here is not to write about our night out and tell you about how great our meal was, which it was.  Instead I need to write about a moment of bystander intervention/interruption on behalf of our lovely server Carla.  We were seated, upstairs, at a 2 top.  Shortly thereafter a 4 top of two couples were sat.  They seemed a little tipsy, but we had had a few drinks that afternoon before heading out, so who was I to judge?

I overheard a conversation between our server, Carla, who I will describe as a drop dead gorgeous Asian Jennifer Aniston, and the large bald man at the 4 top.  The men were sitting on the outside chairs and the women by the window, so all of Carla’s interactions were with the men.  This conversation was specifically about WHAT her race was.  And I heard her say “I get that a lot.”  And I also heard her say, “Oh that’s ok, really,” in reference to something racist one of them said about how she “looked.”  Then, the larger bald man (this is really the only way I can describe him) reaches his hand around Carla’s back and kind of pats her ass.  My husband looks at me with his mouth open in a “WHAT THE FUCK” kind of way.  I look at him.  “Did you see that?”  He tells me he did.  I look at him and warn him, “I might have to say something.”  He smiles at me like “you go, girl.”

She comes over to check on us.  “How are you doing over here?”  I look at her.  “We are fine,” I say, “but how are you?”  She leans over and says she is so uncomfortable.  I tell her that we were too and I might have to say something to the large bald man.  She tells me not to worry about it.

Fast forward to the end of our meal.  I pay the very expensive, probably most expensive meal I have bought for just the two of us, regretting that I didn’t add another wild boar sauce to go, put on my jacket, grab my purse and take a deep breath.  I walk to the large bald man and his table, put my hand on his back, lean in and say “In the future, you shouldn’t touch your server.”

I turn and walk out mustering all the confidence I can in my short dress and new shoes.

When I get outside I tell the doorman that I called out a customer on his behavior toward our server, Carla, who was awesome, and I wanted to give him a heads up, in case the guy was pissed or gave her shit for my comment.

I’m trying to live my life in a way that I never have to say “I should’ve said something.” Or maybe I’m just getting braver as I move into middle age or maybe I just don’t give a shit anymore.   I hope they were kind to her when she had to go back to the table.  I wish I could’ve been there to hear the conversation that took place amongst the four of them after I walked out.  Did I do the right thing?

For me, watching a woman get harassed next to me by someone with more power than her is not something I can sit idly by and do.  I think if more of us had this attitude, sexism, racism and sexual violence would be less acceptable.  When is the last time you felt your heart pounding in your chest as you addressed someone’s horrible behavior?  It does get easier each time.

Even Good Guys Can Miss the Point

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” (  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” (

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.  ( Even there, however, some male film critics are missing the point of the Bechdel Test. (

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. 





my feminist praxis

critical reflections on my feminist praxis: activism, motherhood, and life

The Feminist Critic

Providing weekly critiques of theatre, film, books, politics and pop culture from a feminist perspective.