To boost the producing of plays written by women, it really does take a village.
The village in this case encompasses the city of Washington, D.C. and its surrounding suburbs. A new study reveals a significant increase this season in the percentage of plays by women in the region’s theaters. However, the report’s authors attribute the gains largely to a one-time festival by about 50 theater companies this fall showcasing the work of female playwrights.
The survey by Gwydion Suilebhan, a playwright, blogger and the region’s Dramatists Guild of America representative, and Olivia Haller, another D.C. playwright, found that 37 percent of the plays slated for the 2015-16 theater season are written by women. That is a substantial uptick from last season, when the work of female writers made up 29 percent of the area’s productions. And it’s a lot higher than for the first year of the study, 2012-13, when a mere 21 percent of the plays were written by women. In American theater, this gender gap is one of long standing.
The bump up was the largest statistical change in the demographic categories that Suilebhan and Haller analyzed in their survey of 180 announced productions for 2015-16 at 44 theater companies. There was, for instance, a small drop in the percentage of female directors of Washington stage productions (31 percent this season, versus 34 percent last season). As for minority artists in Washington theater: 20 percent of the plays this season are written by black, Latino, Asian-American and other playwrights of color, according to the study, as opposed to 18 percent last season.
The study found a marginal increase in the percentage of stage directors of color being employed this season: 17 percent, up from 13 percent last season.
The bolstering of opportunity for female playwrights, the authors of the study said, resulted largely from the offerings of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, presented by companies ranging from the largest institutions to the tiniest startups. Without the festival, in other words, the statistics for women might be pretty dismal. Suilebhan, a longtime advocate for achieving gender parity for female writers and directors, said the numbers indicated the need for a “public commitment” to parity from the leaders of the area’s major theaters.
Suilebhan and Haller’s analysis also determined that 16 percent of the playwrights of either sex being produced locally this season are from the D.C. region; 66 percent of the directors live locally.
Here are the numbers:
D.C. productions by gender of playwright:
2015-16: 63% men, 37% women
2014-15: 71% men, 29% women
2013-14: 74% men, 26% women
2012-13: 79% men, 21% women
By race of playwright:
2015-16: 20% playwrights of color
2014-15: 18% playwrights of color
2013-14: 15% playwrights of color
2012-13: 14% playwrights of color
Directors of D.C. productions by gender:
2015-16: 69% men, 31% women
2014-15: 66% men, 34% women
2013-14: 67% men, 33% women
Directors by race:
2015-16: 17% directors of color
2014-15: 13% directors of color
2013-14: 13% playwrights of color