Where the Boys Are: At the Podium

There are several different ways to crunch the 2009 Tony Awards numbers, but each of them strongly suggests that Broadway remains a man's world.

If you look at last night's winners in all 31 categories, including the special noncompetitive Tonys bestowed by the Tony Awards Administration Committee, women won 25.8 percent of the time. Wretched, yes, but things get worse from there.

If you consider only the 27 competitive categories in which Tony voters cast their ballots -- and if you figure, for the purposes of this number-crunching, that it was Liza Minnelli ("Liza's at The Palace") rather than her producers who won the award for special theatrical event -- the figure goes down to 22.2 percent.

And what if you take out the gender-designated categories, the ones in which actors are pitted against actors and actresses against actresses? That's when it gets very ugly indeed. Of the 19 competitive categories that aren't restricted by gender, women won two: a paltry 10.5 percent. That's with Liza still in the equation. (Whenever someone asks whether we still need separate awards for actors and actresses, my head quietly explodes. This is not the only reason, but it's one of them.)

A cynic would say the Tonys don't matter, but that ignores both the impetus for and the effect of the awards: money. It's not an artistic notion; it's a realistic one. Those statuettes translate into jobs, which matter quite a lot to people trying to make a living in the theater. Last night's winners suddenly have loads of people lined up wanting to work with them. And those winners are, by and large, men.

Yasmina Reza walked away with one of the evening's biggest plums, the best-play award for "God of Carnage," but she was the only female playwright among the nominees, and one of the very few female playwrights on Broadway this season. Nominated plays in the best-revival category were all penned by men.

In the eight design categories, women won nothing -- not a huge surprise, given that costume designers Jane Greenwood ("Waiting for Godot") and Nicky Gillibrand ("Billy Elliot") were the only females among the 33 nominees, making up a whopping 6 percent of the field.

Women fared better as nominees in the directing categories, which is a measure of some progress, even though they didn't win: Phyllida Lloyd ("Mary Stuart"), in her second Broadway outing, snagged one of the four play-directing nods, while Broadway newcomers Kristin Hanggi ("Rock of Ages") and Diane Paulus ("Hair") got two of the four nominations for best direction of a musical.

Elsewhere, Karole Armitage ("Hair") filled one of the four choreography slots, while Dolly Parton ("9 to 5") and Jeanine Tesori ("Shrek") were nominated for original score.

Is the rarity of women among the nominees and winners reflective of an absence of talent, a lack of desire to work on Broadway, or a scarcity of women graduating from the playwriting, directing, design or composition programs in American conservatories? Of course not. But compare the credits in a Broadway Playbill with the credits in a program for an off-Broadway, regional or off-off-Broadway show. Chances are you'll see more women where the pay and prestige are lower.

Yesterday afternoon, for example, I went to Ensemble Studio Theatre's annual marathon of one-act plays. EST is a famous incubator of talent, both established and emerging, and it's a valuable credit in an artist's bio. But it's hardly lucrative work. Six of the 10 plays in this year's marathon are written by women (among them Kia Corthron and Leslie Ayvazian); seven of the 10 directors are women. Of 37 roles, 22 -- 59 percent -- are played by women. The two costume designers, the set designer and one of the two lighting designers are all female.

Numbers like those simply aren't seen on Broadway, as a stroll through the Internet Broadway Database readily illustrates. It's no wonder that women win so few Tonys, given how little high-profile, high-paying work they're hired to do.

Those figures won't improve until women get more Broadway gigs in the first place. As always, however, the deck is stacked in favor of Tony winners and people with Broadway shows already on their CVs. Credits beget credits, and when awards are won, work is sure to follow. Which makes it a whole lot easier to earn a living -- a privilege that shouldn't be disproportionately reserved, even inadvertently, for the guys.
June 8, 2009 2:51 PM | | Comments (5)


Keep this conversation going! I am a first year baby boomer and I can hardly believe this struggle is still with us.

Did anyone read Sir Ian McKellen’s call for more, older female roles? They sure are selling in London! http://tinyurl.com/q2a7wf

Isn't it enough that the Tonys are named for a woman? How much more do they want? Where, o where will it end?

An excellent analysis of this year's Tony Awards. I would be very curious to see this same analysis done for the last ten years so we could really see the trend.

The good news, as you pointed out, is that there has been a terrific advancement in the Director category as more and more women are getting to hold the reins.

Perhaps that change will have a trickle down effect as usually the Director that has quite a say in who the rest of his team (from choreographer to designers, etc.) will be.

In a Producing category, it was also great to see Sonia Friedman up there getting the Tony for Norman Conquests (she also produced the terrific yet critically neglected Seagull this year).

Ken Davenport

I believe that the Tony Awards are an unfair representation of the rest of the theatrical world. (Unless, that is, you only consider broadway as truly "making it" in the arts industry).

I work for a theatre festival, and have worked for several theatres across the country, where women have dominated as stage managers, technicians, and even as executive directors. What you don't get at the tony's is a representation of the countless women who are building these shows, lighting these shows, stage managing these shows, etc.

I won't argue the point that it is much easier for a man to break into the "bizz" than it is for a woman to land an acting role, but you have to consider that for every female role in the theatre there are about a million women waiting to fill it.

Maybe I am only speaking from a tainted young male perspective, but I believe there are the same opportunities for men and women is most parts of the theatrical world. Trust me, as an Arts Administration student who is studying Human Resource Management and Law, the last thing the arts needs is HR departments in their theatres. What we should be calling for is more socially conscious Arts Leaders and Managers who are looking to the future.

You have raised a huge point that our industry needs to address. Gender disparity is evident through out the theater world - commercial and nonprofit in almost every position and field.

We are ages behind corporate America. Perhaps because results are more easily quantitative in other industries, women have been judged on a more equal plane. But as an industry that is supposed to be ahead of the game in social issues and awareness, we are failing in breaking the glass ceiling.


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