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.
July 7, 2009 12:36 PM | | Comments (3)


I have also noticed a decline in the diversity of audiences. It's still probably the most diverse of any big budget theatre but less so than when I was a teen and started coming to The Public. Then it was insanely diverse, in race and age, but also dominated by lower and middle class folks. Now, perhaps due to the cost of tickets, but also the mainstream programming, the audience is less diverse and more of the usual suspects.

The Public was probably the most influential factor in my decision to pursue a career in the theatre and in how I chose to pursue it. It was utterly bold and visionary and really changed how we thought about the classics, NYC and "minority" talent.

I sadly agree. He was the champion of many women playwrights before coming to The Public, but since he has assumed the leadership there, I too have noticed a decline in women playwrights and directors. He himself has said that he believes diversity will increase when more women and people of color are hired as artistic directors, but, alas, that could be quite a while. It's odd to me that women and people of color are expected to read into plays and characters by and about white men, yet there doesn't seem to be the same interest/obligation/ability in the vice versa.

'tis true, 'tis true 'tis pity, And pity 'tis 'tis true


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