Rebekah Dare Guin
You are standing on a stage in the weeks leading up to opening night. Saw blades are whirring around and kicking dust into the air. You hear the rhythmic thudding of a pneumatic nail gun attaching the facing of a flat. Who is running this show? Is it a man? Don’t worry; you are not sexist. You are accurately predicting the statistical probability of the situation.
Technical design and construction is overwhelmingly a man’s world. 78.6 percent of all scenic positions in LORT theaters are held by men. Most of the other design elements, like lighting and sound, are also male-heavy. In fact, the only design position that is predominantly female is costume design.
Theatrical performance, in its earliest roots, was never considered appropriate for a lady. Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” was played out with a cast of men. Although it added a little twist to the romance of the show, this practice does not fit into the world of modern theater.
The theater community is making large strides to become gender inclusive. The male to female disparity is slowly closing in both performance and artistic personnel. However, that gap is not closing in the technical positions.
It was not until the mid-1980’s that a female won a Tony Award for Best Scenic Design in a musical or a play. Even since then, those winners are few and far between with a majority of awards going to males. This does not mean that females are inherently worse scenic designers; it simply means that there are less female designers to choose.
Most theatrical conservatories and major dramatic arts programs show their undergraduate enrollment hovering around a 50/50 split.
These numbers seem to indicate the gender divide is being perpetuated by the theater education system. A relatively even number of students enter the system, and a stratified group graduates.
One common argument is that females are simply not as physically strong as their male counterparts. With a few exceptions, this is, unfortunately, a fact. Data shows that men are statistically taller and larger. Their muscle is also toned differently. However, this argument alone should not keep women out of scenic work. This does not explain why there are many small males in scenic design, or why the 21.4 percent female scene shop is not only full of large woman.
The other arguments are even weaker. More males sign up for scenic classes, internships and apprenticeships than females. This could be interpreted that college girls have less interest in that sort of work. But, you could also see a trend of more teachers, advisors, classmates and parents encouraging one gender over the other to take these opportunities and gain the experience to do scenic work professionally.
Additionally, it is argued that males have more use for the skills learned in scenic work outside of the theater community. This is absurd. The notion that any one subset of the population can benefit from a certain work experience needs to be removed.
In addition to proficiency with basic tools, geometry and woodworking, students working in scenic design also gain confidence, creativity and problem-solving skills. Why does the theater community and educational system insist that one gender is better suited for these experiences and skills?
Not every girl who takes a class or who spends a summer in a scene shop will have the desire to continue professionally, but the theater community is responsible for making sure that every girl is encouraged to learn, grow and discover for herself.