Interesting article in the New York Times this weekend by Patricia Cohen about the lack of female playwrights on the city's major stages. On Monday night, those women's voices will be much harder to ignore, when a standing room only town hall meeting at New Dramatists convenes to discuss the issue.
Though some New York artistic directors, such as Lincoln Center's Andre Bishop, might scoff at the problem, well, that attitude really just serves to underscore its depth. [CORRECTION: Please see Mr. Bishop's comment below.] By playwright Gina Gionfriddo's own observation, the O'Neill and Humana new play festivals are "dominated by women." Mind you, this meeting will examine New York's Off-Broadway houses and nonprofits, where men's work is produced four times more often than women's. Broadway is in even worse shape.
(At left: the Wilma Theater's production of Eurydice, a play written by a woman, produced and directed by another woman. Hear them roar?)
So how do Philly's major theaters compare? I took the top 14 area houses--"top" meaning they're professional, they've been around a while, mostly have a permanent location, have at least a three-show season that's readily accessible on their website, and are not solely Shakespeare-centric--and did a little comparing of my own. Here's the list: The Wilma Theater; Theatre Exile; Delaware Theatre Company; Interact Theatre Company; Walnut Street Theatre; Lantern Theatre; Philadelphia Theatre Company; People's Light and Theatre Company; Hedgerow Theatre; Arden Theatre; Media Theatre; 1812 Productions; Act II Playhouse; and Bristol Riverside Theater.
In New York, of the 50 plays by living playwrights being produced Off-Broadway and by nonprofits,10 were written by women. In Philadelphia, this season's grand total (which happens to include a few dead guys) comes to 64 shows. Of these, 13 were written by women, and of those 13, one is responsible only for a show's music, one for lyrics, and two are collaborations with men, so really the total's more like nine, but I'm willing to let everyone slide on this point. Still, the results aren't encouraging: on Philadelphia's major stages men are being produced at five times the rate of women, a fact that makes us quantifiably worse than New York, which in itself is a fact that really pisses me off.
However, the productions are only one facet of the issue. While in New York female artistic directors might be, as the article says, a rarity, six of our 14 theaters are headed by women, so that's better. Of the season's 64 shows, 17 do not list a director. Of those remaining 47 shows, 19 are directed by women, and though that's not a perfect division of labor, it's not terrible, and most likely a result of Philly's nearly equal number of female artistic directors. Still, it remains to be seen how those percentages hold up when the rest of the season's directors are announced.
It's also worth looking at who's reviewing these plays. I don't know the New York numbers, but here in Philadelphia, among regular female critics, freelance or otherwise, there's Toby Zinman, me, and that's pretty much where the list ends. P.S., we both work for the same paper, whose fine arts section is edited by a woman and overseen by a female arts editor. Wonder if there's a connection?
If nothing else, having women equally represented among the writing, producing, directing and reviewing ranks would, at the very least, affect the amount of David Mamet plays that get revivals each year, and for that, I think everyone would be just a little bit grateful.