“If life worked like the theatre, 4 out of 5 things you had ever heard would have been said by men.” That’s what venerable playwright Marsha Norman, author of ‘night Mother, said when the Dramatists Guild published a study called “The Count” in 2015. The Count revealed that only 22% of plays produced in our country were written by women. These findings are startling, upsetting and revelatory, and theatre artists around the country are taking action:
- The Lilly Awards: Marsha Norman, along with playwrights Theresa Rebeck and Julia Jordan, founded the Lilly Awards to honor the contributions made to American theater by women. The organization also works to publicize and correct the issues that confront women artists, from the lack of childcare to the need for mentors and champions.
- The Jubilee: led by a diverse group of theatre artists across the country, including playwrights Kirk Lynn and Aditi Brennan Kapil, and dramaturg Adrien-Alice Hansel, the Committee of the Jubilee is planning ahead for 2020. In the 2020-2021 season, the Jubilee asks every theatre in the US to pledge to “produce only works by women, people of color, artists of varied physical and cognitive ability, and/or LGBTQA artists.”
- The Kilroys: a gang of high-profile playwrights and producers in LA have declared that they are done talking about gender parity and are taking action. The Kilroys mobilize others in the field and leverage their own power to support one another. Each year, they publish “The List” which includes the results of an annual industry survey of excellent new plays by female and trans playwrights. They provide The List as a tool for producers who are committed to ending the systemic underrepresentation of female and trans playwrights in the American theater.
Playwright Jen Silverman is also taking action. She is leading through example, as one of our nation’s emerging powerhouse female playwrights. And not only is she making her own voice heard, but, in The Roommate, she is also giving us the opportunity to hear the voices of two dynamic middle-aged female characters. These characters are multi-faceted and surprising, providing rare opportunities for powerhouse actresses who have passed the “ingénue” window and are hungering for something more substantial than the kind granny next door.
"Once women passed childbearing age, they could only be seen as grotesque on some level."
In Hollywood, the problem is also stark. In the 2014-15 season, 77% of TV show creators were men, 89% of movie screenwriters were men, 96.6% of film directors were men. Only 12% of film protagonists were women. And, out of the few characters who were over the age of 40, only 20% were women. Meryl Streep noticed that after age 40 she was only offered the roles of witches and hags. She has spoken out, saying “Once women passed childbearing age, they could only be seen as grotesque on some level.”
As audience members, as theatre artists, we need to hunger for, to clamor for, a diversity of voices. Because isn’t that why we come to the theatre: to connect with each other? To learn? To reach out across this dark cathedral, and push our brains and hearts to swell in empathy?