Feminism May Be the Word of the Year, But Will it Be for Broadway in 2018?

Erika Panzarino

Merriam-Webster recently named its word of the year “Feminism”; a move that comes as little surprise in the wake of massive social movements, most notably beginning with the Women’s March on January 20th, and culminating with the revived “MeToo” movement started by Tarana Burke over a decade ago.

In a similar vein, Humans of Broadway recently shared a quote from Heather Hitchens, President and CEO of the American Theatre Wing where she states: “Theatre tells stories that are sometimes challenging stories, that can change how people think about things and make a lasting impact over time. It's the ultimate place to have a public discourse and really create social change, and it does this by using empathy. The theatre business is the ultimate empathy business. We create empathy by putting on shows that make you see things in a new way, and begin to feel differently about them. I think everyone can agree that we need more of that in the world right now.”

I find this statement encouraging; and yet at the same time look out into a prospective season sorely lacking in representation for women, after 2017’s dismal display of glorifying the story of what boils down to an entitled male perspective (Sorry, Evan, emotional manipulation and mass deceit does not make you a champion of the oppressed worthy of winning a girl’s heart).

Of the over twenty musicals and plays headed to Broadway next season, only five have women writers attached, and of those five, most are paired with a male co-writer. The female directors come in even lower, as of now only four shows are being directed by a woman (stats extrapolated from playbill.com’s list of confirmed openings). Is this really the best the theatre community can offer in search of “public discourse and social change?”

Yes, Broadway is only one facet of theatre as an industry; and often the most sanitized and commercialized of theatre. The Public Theatre hosted a Town Hall on December 4th addressing sexual harassment in the industry; The Interval and SheNYC are two further examples of missions to counteract gender inequality in the industry.  These are all imperative efforts in their own right, But I firmly believe that Broadway is uniquely obligated to lead by example; it is quite obviously, the most visible place that work is performed; and where regional and amateur companies draw inspiration from for their upcoming seasons.

We as an industry, and more importantly as audience members, must demand better, immediately and without hesitation. We must serve as the mirror to our world; the wide, diverse, creative, and equal one that we demand to see.

Photo: Marc J. Franklin