theater (dramaturgy)

theatrical research: women count 2015

women count 2015 report cover [small]Over the past two years, I have collaborated with colleague Judith Binus at the League of Professional Theatre Women on a data project that joins a family of similar projects across the United States and elsewhere tracking the status of women in theater. With continuing regional data collection efforts from Washington DC to New England to Los Angeles and other locations in between, and national data collection projects like the Dramatists Guild and Lilly Award collaboration The Count, researchers are assembling data to move us all beyond the occasional anecdote and toward action.

The Count national results include 2508 productions from 1486 unique authors in 153 theatres across the country over three seasons (2011-2012 through 2013-2014), and find 22% of productions are by women playwrights. Advocacy efforts on behalf of playwrights has taken many forms, including the efforts of the Kilroys annual lists of work by women writers (46 in 2014 and 53 in 2015) that are recommended by playwrights, dramaturgs and artistic directors across the country.

My colleague Judy Binus and I wondered: how many playwrights, how many directors, how many designers and other professionals off Broadway are men, are women, are of non-binary sexual identification? Broadway playwright counts are frequently published and are relatively straightforward to assemble from on-line sources but what about the rest of the story?

As I wrote in 2014:

Playwright Laura Shamas outlined in a recent HowlRound essay her unsuccessful efforts to locate consistently collected numbers on women playwrights. “In 2013, I tried to get accurate figures about women playwrights working in New York, at levels other than Broadway. I was unable to find this information, because no organization was funded to count it.” Shamas issued a call to action. “Is there really no institution in 2014 that will sponsor an ongoing annual study of American women playwrights working in theater seasons around the country (and directors, producers, designers, for that matter)?”

The League of Professional Theatre Women (LPTW) has stepped up to meet this challenge to count playwrights – and directors, producers, designers and others – at some of the Off-Broadway venues for which statistics have been elusive. LPTW Board member Judith Binus, a veteran stage manager, began in 2013 to collect data on basic personnel for a number of Off-Broadway theatres beginning with the 2010-2011 season. Fellow LPTW member Martha Wade Steketee – dramaturg, critic, researcher and editor – joined Binus some months into the project, assisted with expanding the number of companies and productions covered, led the analyses and took on report writing duties.

The Women Count project asks: How are women faring in theatrical professions (other than the actors on the stage) on New York City stages other than the 45 or so Broadway theaters? The Women Count 2015 report analyzes employment for 13 professional roles in 455 Off- and Off-Off-Broadway productions by 22 theatre companies in five complete seasons, 2010-2011 through 2014-2015. The report includes summary tables, often with theatre-by-theatre details, that provide gender breakdowns in hiring to show who works in our theatres in a wide range of roles.

Some of the basic 2015 report findings include:

  • Productions Off-Broadway across the study seasons 2010-2011 through 2014-2015 are dominated by “new” plays with premieres from 2005 through April 2015. Individual seasons range from 70% to 80% “new” plays.
  • Women playwrights represented in the study theatres range from a low of 28% in 2011-2012 to a high of 36% in 2012-2013.
  • Women playwrights are consistently much more common among the “new” plays than the older plays produced by theatres tracked in the study. Rates of new plays by women range from a low of 32% in 2011-2012 to a high of 42% in 2012-2013. The rates of older plays (prior to 2005) by women ranged from a low of 0% in 2014-2015 (i.e. none of the older plays that season were by women) to a high of 22% in 2010-2011.
  • Directors range from a high of 40% women in 2014-2015 to a low of 22% women in 2011-2012.
  • Set designers are generally less than one third women, ranging from a low of 22% in 2014-2015 to a high of 36% in 2012-2013.
  • Lighting designers are overwhelmingly men, with a low of 8% women in 2012-2013 and highs of 16% women in both 2010-2011 and 2013-2014.
  • Costume designers are primarily women, with a low of 61% women in 2010-2011 and a high of 79% women in 2012-2013.
  • Sound designers are one-fifth women across the seasons, with wide variation among producing companies. Season rates range from a low of 14% women in 2013-2014 and a high of 22% women in 2011-2012.
  • Production stage managers, stage managers, and assistant stage managers are 70% women, more or less, in each study year.

We published our findings this year accompanied by some nifty coverage in the New York Times, Playbill, Broadway World, and a piece in IndieWire that looks at both The Count and our 2015 Women Count reports.

The 2015 Women Count and 2014 Women Count reports are available. And the work continues.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 3, 2015)

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