It's Not About Quotas
Sitting in the audience at the Public Theater is different from sitting in the audience at nearly any other theater -- and not just because the rumble of the subway intrudes into some of the performance spaces. What's most distinctive is the scope of the assembled: Young, old, gay, straight, male, female, the crowd spans races, ethnicities and economic classes. Even in New York, that's an aberration, and an invigorating one.
To someone who believes "diversity" is merely a buzzword, not a key to people's understanding each other, there probably isn't much significance to a theater's drawing people from so many walks of life to sit and breathe together in the darkness, watching and listening to a story enacted before them. Maybe finding beauty in that is a question of ideology, of belief systems. I come down firmly on the side of diversity as a social good, a sign of health, and something to be actively sought -- not by lowering standards, and certainly not by enforcing quotas, but by casting a wide net and keeping the goal of diversity in mind at all times. That's as important in seeking artists as it is in seeking audiences.
So when I wrote yesterday that Oskar Eustis' male-heavy programming at the Public is disappointing, I was not suggesting that one of the American theater's most activist-liberal artistic directors, or anyone else, ought to be subjected to quotas. I simply meant to say that the Public's audience, the bracingly varied audience Eustis inherited, deserves subscription-series programming that better reflects its makeup. To achieve that, female playwrights and directors need to be working at the Public in greater numbers.
Assembling a season of good plays is a delicate balancing act. There are innumerable factors to take into account. Diversity is only one of them -- and the sex of playwrights, directors, actors and other artists is hardly its sole measure. No single season can be taken as representative of the whole, either. But over time, it's been strange and striking how very often Eustis' choices have favored the guys.