The Most Terrifying Gender Gap in Theatre
Anthony J. Piccione
There has often been a lot of talk about the need for more gender equality in society, especially over the past decade or so, and I think it’s fair to say that – while there is still a lot more work to do – there has been plenty of progress that has been made over the years. This includes in the theatre industry, which has often been ahead of its time on a variety of issues related to social equality. However, there is one glaring aspect of the industry where it would seem that gender equality is lacking, in a way that might not be the case for other occupations related to theatre. It is true that more can be done, overall, but this is an area where further progress is especially needed.
When you look at the number of female playwrights out there that are seeing their work produced, you’ll see that they are largely outnumbered by their male counterparts.
Just look at the statistics, and see for yourself:
According to the above infographic, 27% of playwrights produced on Broadway are female. There are other surveys out there that have the percentage of overall female playwrights as being slightly lower, at 22% or even 17 %. In any case, however, this is still much lower than the percentage of female actors and directors, not to mention the fact that the vast majority of theatre audiences are predominately female.
Over the years, in many of the local playwriting events that I’ve done before, I’ve seen for myself how this isn’t just the case in Broadway theatre. It’s true at the community level, as well. At a new play series I participated in at my local college during my final semester, there were four playwrights – including myself – that were involved, and only one of them was a woman. At the many 24 Hour theatre events I’ve done over the years in community theatre, it has been a similar story. In some cases, there were no female playwrights involved at all.
I have a hard time comprehending why this is the case. After all, I’ve always thought of the theatre community as being more accepting and more progressive than society, as a whole. Furthermore, I don’t know about you, but the role of playwright is a very crucial role in theatre, and I think it’s important to think about which playwrights are lucky enough to get produced each year. With all of this in mind, what excuse is there for the fact that not enough women are seeing the chance to have their stories produced on stage?
Theatre companies cannot truly call themselves progressive and supportive of equality, unless they are willing to practice what they preach. In order to do exactly that, they must ensure that there is a large amount of both men and women whose plays are being produced and brought to life each year.
Now, I would like to think that most people in theatre would agree that it should be common-sense that we do our very best to ensure more gender equality among playwrights, simply because it is the right thing to do.
However, I do know of some people who might ask why it matters what the gender of the playwright is. They might argue something along the lines of this: “As long as it’s a great story with great dialogue, isn’t that the only thing that should matter, in terms of which playwrights do and do not get produced?”
To those people, I say this: Theatre, as a whole, benefits when there is a greater amount of diversity not just in terms of the playwrights themselves, but in terms of the kinds of stories that these plays are telling, and the issues and subjects that they address. There are many issues of social justice and equality that must be addressed, if theatre is to remain a culturally relevant force in the modern era. In order to do a better job at telling those stories that need to be told, more playwrights with different backgrounds and perspectives ought to have the chance to see their work brought to life.
Case in point: As a white, straight male playwright, I could try my best to write a great play that delves deep into the issues of social justice – including issues such as women’s rights – facing our country today. However, as much as I may care about these topics, I can’t help but feel it is more important for audiences to hear from playwrights that may have more first-hand experience with these issues than someone like me.
Indeed, I personally think it might be fair to say that a female playwright can do a better job writing a play that directly deals with the topic of gender equality. This is no different from how it may be fair to say that a black playwright can do a better job writing a play dealing with the topic of racial equality. Nor is it different from how it may be fair to say that an LGBTQ playwright can do a better job at writing a play dealing with LGBTQ equality. You get the idea.
There are many playwrights out there, generally speaking, who are dying to see their work get produced, and many of them are writing truly great and innovative works that the world ought to see. So when discussing the issue of how both the gender of the playwright and how well-written the scripts are can be duel factors, there is absolutely no excuse for why theaters can’t have it both ways.
If anything, when it comes to plays such as those that I referred to, they’re probably more likely to be well-written, in such situations. Although regardless of what the subject matter of the play is, there MUST be more gender equality among playwrights.
I am not the first writer to bring this topic up, and I don’t believe that I will be the last. The reason I wrote this column in the first place was, in large part, in the hopes that maybe people will keep bringing in up more and more than ever, so that maybe after enough pressure, theatre producers will take this issue into consideration, as they are consideration what plays to produce in the future. For the sake of both equal rights AND the art of theatre, I can only hope that that’s exactly what they will do, in the future…
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).
Photo: Satomi Blair, Megan Hill, & Emily Kunkel in KENTUCKY by Leah Nanako Winkler , Photo by Jody Christopherson