Revival of "Kiss Me Kate" Adds to the Bleak Future of Female Creatives on Broadway

Three female designers may have won Tonys on Sunday, but the outlook for the 2018-19 is worrisome for anyone who hoped that women would make great strides in being included on Broadway's creative teams. 

Today, the dates and theatre for the upcoming revival of Kiss Me Kate were announced. In addition to its opening night on March 19th, 2019 and its home at Studio 54, the production's creative team was also unveiled. And to my ever-so-slight surprise, it's all male. In the director's chair will be Scott Ellis, choreography by Tony winner Warren Carlyle, and music direction by Paul Gemignani. Other members of the team include David Rockwell (Sets), Jeff Mahshie (Costumes), Donald Holder (Lighting), Brian Ronan (Sound) and David Brian Brown (Hair & Wig design). Apparently, this already problematic revival is going for total Broadway nostalgia by hiring only white men to run it. 

However, it would be unfair to simply gang up on Kiss Me Kate for its choices of creative team because they are just following the hiring trends from previous seasons. As we pointed out before, the statistics for women employed on Broadway creative teams weren't great for 2017-18. ProductionPro found that the percentage of men grossly outnumbered women in areas such as Set(80%), Lighting(81%), Sound(96%) and Hair(62%).

But if 2017-18 was discouraging, next season is shaping up to be even worse. 

I took a look at the confirmed Broadway openings next season and their creative teams. Of those shows - The Boys in the Band, The Ferryman, Torch Song, King Kong feature all-male creative times. To make matters worse, women aren't even being hired for shows about women. For instance, in addition to Kiss Me Kate, Pretty Woman features an all-male creative team. The Cher Show, a musical about one of the most iconic female performers in history, features only one woman on its creative team(Christine Jones/Scenic).  Head Over Heels, a musical featuring the songs of one of the few all-female rock bands, only has one female creative team member beyond The Go-Gos. Other shows only feature one woman on the team as well, such as To Kill a Mockingbird with lighting designer Jennifer Tipton who is one of two confirmed female lighting designers next season. Even in creative areas where women usually dominate, men have the edge next year. Of all the announced costume designers, only three are women. The show employing the most women on its creative team? That would be The Prom with four. And the upcoming Straight White Men has a female playwright and a female director. 

There is also some hope on the horizon if/when other potential shows confirm their Broadway arrivals. Such as Jagged Little Pill, based on the music of Alanis Morrisette. Along with Morrisette's music, the show features a book by Diablo Cody, costume design by Emily Rebholz and direction by Diane Paulus. Another show, Hadestown, will have three more women on its creative time if it makes it to Broadway(which is said to be happening in Spring 2019). 

But without those two shows, when it comes to the creative teams of confirmed Broadway shows for 2018-19, I've seen only twelve women hired for these productions. Twelve. 

In an era when women are taking over more roles in various industries and issues like equal pay and sexual harassment are being given listening ears, Broadway seems to respond with a proverbial middle finger pointing women to the back of the employment line. It's beyond frustrating. It's incomprehensible. 

Theatre design, direction, technology knows no gender. There is no argument that can be made that men should have an advantage for employment over women in these areas. The only reason why there aren't more women working in these fields is that women aren't being hired in these fields. 

I often hear the counter-argument of "the best person for the job should be hired." In many cases, I agree with that. However, when it comes to the creative teams on Broadway, the hiring process doesn't give women, along with people of color, a fair shot. In many cases, these teams are put together based on working relationships and reputations rather than an open interview or audition process. How are women able to be seen for these jobs if they're not even invited in the room to apply? 

As I've mentioned in previous articles, to fix this, we can no longer leave it up to Broadway producers. We need policies handed down from organizations such as The Broadway League and unions such as LocalOne-IATSE to force producers to hire women on design teams. We also need influential performers, such as Kelli O'Hara, to advocate for the hiring of women for shows they're starring in.

With Broadway continuing to refuse to hire women in key areas of their productions, it will only discourage aspiring female designers from entering the field. In 2018, the tide should have been changing for women to have a louder creative voice on Broadway, not the other way around.