Pearl Speaks

Gender Imbalance in the National Theatre



The state of gender imbalance in the American theatre has received a lot of attention in the last few years, though not necessarily significantly improving the condition for women playwrights. Theatre Communications Group is the national organization for the American theatre, and they conduct surveys annually of their membership, which is comprised of most regional theaters, as well as a large number of small and mid-sized theatres, around the country. Not all of their member theatres complete the survey, but many do, and there certainly are many theatres that are not members of the organization (mostly smaller organizations). That said, the data collected in this survey each year provides an important snapshot of the state of the American theatre. A recent article in the American Theatre Magazine by August Schulenburg about diversity points out that only one of the top eleven most produced playwrights in the 2012-13 season is a woman playwright. The full article explores this issue for the past few years looking at trends, and brings to the forefront the imbalance in the American theatre with respect to both women and minority playwrights. Naturally this ratio fluctuates annually, but the fact that women playwrights are chronically under-represented on the American stage is well documented.

What does this say about the stories that are being told, and the impact of the absence of stories by women on our society?

In a recent article in Howlround, the journal of the Theater Commons Polly Carl, the journal Editor, featured an initiative by California-based playwright Laura Shamas and others in her cohort targeted towards taking direct action to create an advocacy group to promote female theatre artists – the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (How to Build Gender Parity Initiatives and Influence Theater). In addition to working for about two and half years on behalf of their community, Laura wrote an article for Howlround that provides a recipe for creating their kind of grassroots organization so others could build upon their model in their own communities.

You can find out more directly on the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative web site.

Congratulations to Laura and her colleagues for their direct action, and to Polly Carl for bringing the initiative to national attention.

And I highly recommend Howlround as a critical resource if you’re interested in a wide variety of topics related to American theatre and new play development.