Hers and His? Charting Theater’s Gender Gap

One of the most anticipated sessions taking place at the TCG conference was today’s playwriting workshop led by Marsha Norman. Last week in New York Norman helped celebrate the second-annual Lilly Awards, which she co-founded in 2010 with a group of theater professionals that included Julie Crosby, Julia Jordan and Theresa Rebeck to address the  persistent gap in the number of plays by, about, starring and directed by women. (It’s pretty telling that the title of  Charles Isherwood’s New York Times post on the subject is “Women on the Verge of Disappearing from the Stage”).

Last Sunday’s Tony Awards entered another win (Marianne Elliott, co-director of Best Play War Horse) into the short column of woman Tony Awardees in the major categories of Writer/Director. Not bad, considering that only five women were nominated in total, but pretty damn horrible considering Elliott’s was the only female win out of 18 categories not designated by gender (Best Actor/Actress categories). Of course, as the Lotto people say, you can’t win if you don’t play, and you can’t win a Tony if you’re not nominated.

Which is why the announcement of the 2011 Tony nominations in early May was followed by stories pointing out the dismal imbalance in the ratio of nominated men to women, particularly in the categories of writers and directors. The same flurry of consternation accompanied the Oscar nominations in late January, and lest it seem this year is an anomaly, these rightly despairing responses, led by feminist theater watchdogs like playwright Julia Jordan and Melissa Silverstein of Women & Hollywood but also by mainstream media like The New York Times, have become in recent years nearly as ritual as the announcements themselves. In fact, as Jordan points out, the problem has been noted since at least the 1930s, with very little progress. This despite the fact that, as Marsha Norman asserted today in a short interview after her playwriting session, the two most popular and profitable theater writers today could be said to be Yasmina Reza, whose plays have consistently been the most produced in the past decade, and Winnie Holzman, whose musical Wicked has broken numerous records in profitability.

What is clear is that the problem begins long before the nomination and awards processes. With very few women writers and directors represented in the 39 productions that opened on Broadway last year, the miniscule number of woman nominees was a given. This graphic is an attempt to chart a trajectory of women’s involvement in theater from grassroots level on up. These figures compare the ratios from a curated festival (Radar LA) and invited speakers to the 50th annual TCG alongside the 2011 Tony nominations. These numbers lie alongside the reminder that women represent a significant majority—69%—of Broadway audience and ticket buyers.

Grace Suh

Grace Suh is the theater writer for the Kansas City Pitch and Editor-in-chief of HerKansasCity Magazine.

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  1. […] status of women in today’s theater is in dire straits. What is to be done to redress the situation? I posed this question to four theater professionals this week at LINK: TCG’s 50th […]