Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Glass Ceiling in American Theatre

There's an article in today's New York Times about the upcoming meeting between a group of women playwrights and heads of major nonprofit NYC theatres, the purpose of which is to raise awareness about the glass ceiling that America's female playwrights are experiencing.

This is also the subject of a two-part podcast that NYTE just produced. There's info about the podcasts here and here; and you can download and listen to part 1 and part 2. You should listen to these--the nine panelists offer a great deal of insight into this situation and even point toward some possible actions to help resolve this long-standing issue.

The nine women we invited to talk about the topic are:
  • Playwright/reviewer Jo Ann Rosen, who moderates the discussion
  • Playwright/director/performer/educator Lenora Champagne
  • Playwright/actor/creator Maggie Cino
  • Playwright/educator Andrea Lepcio
  • Playwright/director/producer Bryn Manion
  • Producer/dramaturg/reviewer Loren Noveck
  • Director Cat Parker
  • Playwright Crystal Skillman
  • Playwright/actor Janet Zarecor

Here are some of the issues that surfaced during their hour+ discussion:

  • Women may not be produced as often as men because they have different negotiating styles and may not have learned the same kinds of negotiating skills
  • There seems to be a perception that women produce/write about "women's issues" and also that there's a stigma to producing/creating this kind of material
  • There's disagreement among our panel about whether women artists are adequately supportive of one another
  • There's a sense that prejudice against women is deeply engrained and systemic

The discussion concluded with overriding consensus that everyone (women and men) needs to maintain awareness of and focus on this issue, and that the place to begin doing that is "at home" -- i.e., in making choices about the theatre each of us sees, supports, and participates in.

Please listen to the podcasts because this problem is real and shameful.

I'd like to suggest an underlying cause that I've not read anything about anywhere thus far: the fact that almost none of the leading theatre critics in NYC (America) are women. For example, when Time Out-New York did a poll/feature in 2006 about the 15 most influential theater critics in NYC, only one of those 15 was a woman--that woman, Linda Winer (of Newsday), along with Elysa Gardner of USA Today are the only female lead theater critics for major print publications that I can think of. (Someone please correct me if I am wrong.) There are other women who regularly review theatre in NYC, such as Alexis Soloski, Helen Shaw, and Anita Gates, but none of them is the "first-string" critic for her paper/magazine. has 40 women reviewers on staff right now, compared to 57 men reviewers.

Would it make a difference, regarding the glass ceiling, if there were more women reviewing more theatre out there?


Seth said...

Inasmuch as Entertainment Weekly has a lead theatre critic at all, I believe that Melissa Rose Bernardo holds the role.

Keesha Williams said...

The glass ceiling is apparent for any artist who is not a white male. For every woman who is held down by the ceiling, there is also an artist of color right next to her. So, arguably, is it worst for women of color, who have two strikes against them...?

RLewis said...

Martin, I know you have a P&Ps Anthology coming out. Care to elaborate on how you balanced male vs. female selections? For example, do the plays chosen for publication reflect the overall pool of possible plays? How'd it go? Was gender a play selection criteria for the book? If so, how so; if not, why not? Is NYTE's small press comparing well with larger presses for women playwrights? etc.

I don't mean to put you on the spot, and certainly, only if you're so inclined, but I wonder if you don't have a unique pov here that might illuminate some devil in the details. thx. said...

Ralph raises a good question re: the representation of women playwrights in NYTE's "Plays and Playwrights" anthologies.

Actually, we work hard to make the anthologies representative of the New York indie theater scene in many ways, including ensuring diversity of the backgrounds of the authors we include. Because one of the criteria for inclusion in our books is that the plays must have been produced, I suppose we are bulding in (inadvertently) the biases of artistic directors and producers in the indie theater community -- not sure what we can do about that.

That said, for 2009, five of the eleven plays are by members of what I call an "underserved" group -- in this case three women playwrights, one African American playwright, and one Hispanic playwright. I hate to lay it out like that because it starts to sound like we have quotas, which we absolutely do not. But I am proud that we've gotten more conscious and proactive about promoting diversity in our books over the years.

Incidentally, Smith and Kraus, one of the other publishers of new American plays, has been putting out 2 "best plays" volumes each year -- one called "New Playwrights" and the other called "Women Playwrights." Women are included in the "New Playwrights" volume, but the "Women Playwrights volume is reserved exclusively for women.

pelted said...

The reasons why so few plays by women are produced at major NYC theatres are many and various. Part of the problem is something that no one is willing to admit, and that is that so many of the Artistic Directors are gay dudes, who have an empathy with the work of other gay dudes. This is perfectly natural, particularly when you consider that gay men are a large part of the theatre audience. Of course, so are women.

There are many fine women playwrights deserving of production at a higher level, but a lot of theatres have become to arying degrees private clubs, new members need not apply. They have their house playwrights, and it is very hard for women playwrights to achieve membership in these clubs. I think this meeting was good for consciousness-raising. It is to be hoped that Artistic Directors will make a better effort to program plays by women.

Your comment that male reviewers rule the roost is absolutely correct -- and shameful.