The Onstage Issue No One Is Talking About, But Should Be

Iris Wiener

The power of theatre lies in its ability to start a conversation. The 2015-2016 Broadway season brought a proliferation of work that challenges audiences to consider the issue of sexual violence against women through varying lenses of multiple playwrights and artists. From the process of one woman finding the strength to leave her abusive husband in Waitress to the different ways in which captives retain their humanity amidst rape and war in Eclipsed, Broadway is finally taking a stand when it comes to the reality of violence against women.

This season’s Blackbird, The Color Purple, The Crucible and Bright Star also boast female protagonists that face victimization by men. At the 2016 Lilly Awards May 23, which honors the work of women in theatre, Waitress director Diane Paulus expressed frustration over the way the media often fails to recognize the issue: “The cover of the Arts and Leisure section two weeks ago was an article entitled ‘The Year Broadway Broke Through,’ in which New York Times theatre critics Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood and editor Scott Heller discussed how it was a strikingly diverse, unusually urgent season. Sexual and domestic violence must not be urgent issues since in their discussion there was not one mention of this theme that has been an integral part of our Broadway season this year.”

But according to the numbers, domestic violence is nothing if not an urgent issues. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence cites that one in three women in the U.S.—and one in four men—have been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner, and one in five women have been raped in their lifetime. “Women’s stories are quick to be brushed under the rug by the media,” Paulus said. “It’s time that we recognize the incredible artists…who are telling these stories in impactful ways.” Fortunately, Broadway is gaining ground on these stories, and the writers and artists behind them tout why they took their work to bold new levels.

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