Hey Broadway, Don’t Forget Women Playwrights!

I am a playwright living in Los Angeles. Am I an oxymoron, or just a regular moron? Everybody knows that Los Angeles is a movie town! In spite of this, through great good fortune all of my plays have been produced, and I have nothing to complain about.

So why this blog post?

When we hear a feminist voice coming from a stage, it moves ideas around in our heads; if the voices we hear onstage come exclusively from the dominant straight-white-male perspective, we may as well return to our caves, clubs in hand and enjoy a nice dinner of berries and worms.

Theater is the oldest form of communal storytelling. Yet playwright Theresa Rebeck has been known to speak of its exclusivity:

In 2007, the one year I opened a play on Broadway, I was the only woman playwright who did so.  That year, nationwide, 12 per cent of the new plays produced all over the country were by women. That means 88 percent of the new plays produced were written by men.

She asserted that over the last 25 years, women have written between 12 and 17 percent of plays produced. In two thousand years since Greek men first made plays, women have advanced a crummy 12 per cent–this makes me want to set my hair on fire!

In New York, theater is a billion-dollar industry. Tourists from all over the world go to New York and most of them will see a play. These plays obviously matter–millions watch and hear the stories being told from stages on Broadway and off. They carry these stories home in their psyches; stories form our collective sense of what it is to be alive and human. When are women going to be heard?

Our voices are necessary and women make up a majority of the theater-going public. So why are women so underrepresented? Why are most of the plays produced in New York written by men? Especially British men. Does the Y chromosome, voiced with a British accent, have some magical effect on the audience that will cause them to run out and fix the Gulf oil disaster, end the tragedy of war or stop domestic violence? No.

(Please read Winter Miller’s article from New York Magazine about playwright Lynn Nottage. She wrote “Ruined,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about rape in the Congo that still couldn’t get a Broadway production. Her play will be at the Geffen Theater in Los Angeles this season).

Do women and men tell stories differently? See relationships differently? See women differently? According to trends in American theater, you’d have to ask David Mamet, Neil Simon or Sam Shephard. Wait! Before you start screaming at me, let me say that these men all write well–but so do a lot of other people who don’t scratch their beards, cash their checks and sit complacent in the knowledge that certain forms of the Old World and the Old Rules are totally intact. At least in theater.

So yes, it matters that women and minorities and the LGBT community be represented on stage. We can’t assume that every woman playwright will be a feminist, but until we allow women their rightful portion of the theatrical pie, we’re denying our culture tasty and valuable voices.

I know some humdinger, brilliant women playwrights on both coasts. All of them have been produced, but deserve bigger and more frequent productions. So here’s my (very partial) list:

Deb Margolin, has won an OBIE for continually excellent work. Not easy to do. Let’s see more of her please!

Yes, yes, I said a list, so add: Alice Tuan, Laural Meade, O-Lan Jones, Linda Chapman and Kate Moira Ryan, Kelly Stuart, Ellen McLaughlin, Diane Rodriguez, Joan Lipkin , Eisa Davis, Janice Perry, Kara Lee Corthron, Kia CorthronLaura Eason, Sally Oswald, Crystal Skillman,Bess Wohl, Molly Rice, Savania Stanescu, Tanya Barfield, Kirstin Greenidge, Chiori Miyagawa, Kristin Newborn, Sherry Kramer, Cori Thomas, Winter Miller, Madeleine George, Anne Washburn, Trista Baldwin, Constance Congdon.

Now go see a play by a woman!

UPDATE: HELP US WITH OUR LIST: Please add, in the COMMENT box, the names of professional women in theater who deserve a shout-out! They can be directors, dramaturgs, designers, playwrights, choreographers, producers, etc. If we want to extol the virtues of women making theater, let’s do so RIGHT HERE on the MS. BLOG!

Comments

  1. Ms. Rubin makes a very serious point about women playwrights being unrepresented in today’s theatre world. First of all she’s right on about more women going to the theatre than men, (those Wednesday matinee buses all over Times Square are cash in the box office!) Therefore more plays by women might be an answer to the drought on Broadway that is bringing all kinds of antiques out of the French publishers ‘no royalties’ calendar rather than some fresh new presentations of the themes that have always made theatre the fascinating art form it is. Not all women playwrights are terrific, but there are many more good to excellent women playwrights than we are seeing on stage these days. Perhaps some kind of ‘community action’ is needed. Thanks again Susan, keep speaking truth to the Feminist Majority please!

  2. Susan! I’m so glad to see more of your writing. I saw Nottage’s play RUINED at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was stunned, and weeping by the end, because I felt so deeply the horror of a society of women being violated by men. It is so important to hear that story from a woman’s voice. I want that experience more often, to feel the depth of a woman’s understanding as she writes about women and about the men in a woman’s world.

  3. At least Sarah Ruhl is being produced on Broadway! I loved “In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play”) and I hear she’s going to be doing “Orlando.” Support her work, Ms. readers!

  4. Right on. As an L.A. actor/oxymoron doing theatre–most of which is written by men–I appreciate a good female role no matter who wrote it because a gal’s gotta work, but when a good female role (like, say, Lane in Ruhl’s “The Clean House” or Katherine in Rubin’s own “Bitch”) is also written BY a woman, it always resonates more within and without. Call me crazy, it feels like home. And I want to go home more often.

  5. Carlos Degaleano says:

    Rubin’s article underscores a naked truth. Theater — supposedly a cutting-edge art form — is trailing its often-scorned counterpart, television drama.

    TV dramas and procedurals have leapt forward by studying reality: Women do more than hold up half the sky — they also make up 90 percent of mystery readers and 80 percent of procedural viewers. The result?

    Popular TV dramas like Law & Order got the hint: They hired a near – majority of women writers (many of them playwrights) and feature far more women characters than does theater where roughly 6 out of 7 roles are still written for males.

    Wise up theater people! Celebrate true women’s sensibilities by putting women’s writing onstage, before you become vestigial like the rest of our male-dominated culture.

  6. Kim Hogan says:

    Thank you for drawing attention to this subject. Please keep extending an invitation to other women playwrights who have yet to experience the success and fortune you have.

    Psssst… hint hint … Rachel Wolf is one of them!

    Thanks for listening.
    ~Kim

  7. Carol King says:

    I don’t get to the theater as often as I like but when I do, I really want to see works written by women with substantive roles for women. It’s all too rare, as you’ve pointed out.

    Thank you for this list. Now that I know who to look for, I’ll be watching for their productions.

  8. The only wonder is that no one else is pointing this out. It is astounding how sexist the theater community can be when you’d expect it to be full of open minded people.

    Thanks for writing this!

  9. Paula Phipps says:

    “We can’t assume that every woman playwright will be a feminist, but until we allow women their rightful portion of the theatrical pie, we’re denying our culture tasty and valuable voices.”

    Important words … especially important now when we need to reconceptualize our relationships to one another and to the planet – asap. We can’t do that constructively without letting women’s representations of reality enter the communal psyche. Thanks to Rubin for reminding us of this…and for her own brilliant writing. I say this as one who saw her play Club Termina years ago in LA.

  10. I agree with your point, yet i believe that it is not important to have womens voices as much as it is important to have a feminist voice, be it women or men giving the voice to the play

  11. Brilliant post, Susan! As a woman working in film, I am well aware of the lack of female talent on the creative side of film – from directors to cinematographers and writers. It is extremely important to shed light on how this problem also affects the theater world.

    I loved your comment: “In two thousand years since Greek men first made plays, women have advanced a crummy 12 per cent–this makes me want to set my hair on fire!”
    Well said!

    Keep up the great work.

  12. Michael Beahm says:

    Susan, you make some excellent points as always. As someone familiar with your work, I know that you have a unique voice and I for one am always interested in seeing the world through the eyes of someone who takes such care in her work. As long as you keep writing, I’ll keep reading … so when can I expect to read your next play? ;)

  13. Constance Congdon says:

    Susan! Thank you so much for what you’ve said in your blog about female playwrights being under represented in today’s theater world. As someone who has been writing plays for 35 years–since my first play GILGAMESH was produced in 1976–I have always struggled for main stage production and yet I’m thought of as a firmly established playwright. I rejoice in the many hundreds of productions of TALES OF THE LOST FORMICANS, in small theaters around the world. My adaptations and translations of known plays have helped to pay the bills and gotten my work into the “bigger” houses. I’m grateful for everything and do see the progress, however slow, women playwrights have been making in the commercial venues. Still to all the females writing plays: keep on keeping on; make your own theaters; we’re still storming the gates. Only one hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson wanted to have a woman declared insane because she wanted the vote. Our continuing presence as playwrights is the strongest feminist statement we can make.

  14. I’m a woman playwright living in LA too! I’ve had two plays produced the third performed in a classroom, but I realize now that my plays are lacking in strong female protagonists! Thanks so much for writing this post!

    I studied under Catherine Filloux, an excellent playwright who centers her work around human rights and genocide. Her plays introduce incredibly powerful women protagonists, as in “Silence of God,” “Eyes of the Heart” and “Mary and Myra.”

  15. Kathi O'Donohue says:

    I’d love to see “In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play”)” having seen Sarah Ruhl’s play, “The Clean House” (now playing at The Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles).
    SO VERY FUNNY, as are the women in the roles.
    Another woman playwright I enjoy is DORIS BAIZLEY.
    Female (theatre) Directors include Shirley Jo Finney, Elena de Santos, Marilyn Fox …
    Other women in theatre include Ilya Mindlin (lights), Vicki Proffit (sets), Sally Lopresta (dramaturg),Cate Caplin (choreographer/director), Beth Hogan (producer, actress), and so many more than I have time to put down (for now).

    I’m a woman working in theatre as a Lighting Designer, climbing ladders, programming boards and not getting to see much of anything unless I’m working on it.

  16. Here’s a list of female writers associated with the broadway league born since 1930…there are quite a few:

    http://www.ibdb.com/advancesearchperson.asp

    Just to name the “A’s”

    Ann Acosta Female
    2 Laura Adair Female
    3 Lynn Ahrens Female
    4 Irene Alexander Female
    5 Francesca Allinson Female
    6 Beatrice Alliot Female
    7 Bernadine Angus Female
    8 Charlotte Anker Female
    9 Charlotte Armstrong Female
    10 Eunice Burton Armstrong Female
    11 Mary Macdougal Axelson Female

  17. MY BAD!!! In my blog (partial) list of wonderfully talented women playwrights, I neglected to mention my colleague and friend Doris Baizley. I can only attribute the omission to temporary brain death on my part, I admire Doris so much. I know there are other names I didn’t mention. Please add them for me. Thanks,Susan

  18. There are, in fact, plenty of people speaking out about this subject…and have been for quite a while. In 2003 Susan Jonas and Suzanne Bennett produced a report for the NYS Council on the Arts, based on a three-year study (the most extensive and accurate to date) which cited these depressing statistics. The report got a lot of buzz at the time, but not much traction re: changing the status quo. In August of last year, New Perspectives Theatre Co. (of which I am the Artistic Director), The Women’s Project (Julie Crosby, Artistic Director) and Susan Jonas convened a panel on the subject to which 200 people showed up! Out of that was born 50/50 in 2020: Parity for Women Theatre Artists. It is a grassroots movement that has so far created a number of very specific and pro-active initiatives. Check it out on FB!

  19. Another excellent post! Please keep blogging!

  20. LA Female Playwrights Initiative says:

    Hi, Susan.
    Please check out the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative at lafpi.com. We are working hard to raise awareness about this issue. Please join us! We’ve been around since 2009.

  21. Hey, Susan –

    I was really excited to read your blog. Have you heard of the Los Angeles Female Playwright’s Initiative (LA FPI)? In March of this year, playwrights Laura Shamas and Jennie Webb, held a meeting for female playwrights from the Los Angeles area to discuss the start of a grassroots movement focused on ensuring fair representation of female playwrights on local stages.

    The LA FPI is conducting a Study of LA theaters and LA-based female playwrights to determine what has been happening to female playwrights in the Greater Los Angeles area over the past decade.

    Please visit our website at http://lafpi.com/ to participate in the study.

    Thank you for sharing.

  22. Susan Rubin Rocks. I’m a fan. Brian

  23. Bobbie Williams says:

    Dear Ms Magazine=

    A comment on Hey, Broadway, Don’t Forget Women Playwrights-

    I saw an excerpt of your blog on Facebook (where a talented local artist -Joan Lipkin -was mentioned and rightly so)and then went to the source and thought I’d add a name to your list.

    This woman-Vanessa Reynard Roman is a playwright, actress, mother, director, etc and is known locally here in St. Louis but I’m sure you will be hearing more about her (and her daughter Marissa) in the not too distant future.

    Her latest play was made into a film and was accepted at the St. Louis Film Festival Showcase for a Tuesday, July 20th showing between 7-9pm in the “Horror” genre. It is only 33 minutes long but is well done and the subject is not your usual fare. She wrote and directed the film “PLAY DEAD”.
    Just a heartfelt “shout-out” from a friend.

  24. Alafia Good Women:
    I give praise and thanks for the many voices speaking here on behalf of women’s theater. I have had the pleasure of serving as a cultural worker through dance, acting, and writing especially addressing issues of Women’s Rights, Justice, Peace and Cross-Cultural Community-building.
    Now I’d like to add another flavor to the wonderful and important spice of life that women bring to theater: that is “ritual theater”.
    Ritual theater has the power to address and illuminate the thoughts, feeling, and actions that impact women’s lives, and it also has the power to, to transform both performer and audience on a cellular level, to facilitate healing and to build community across diverse lines.

    One of the best examples of this is” The Praises for the World Concert”, conceived and conducted by Jennifer Berezan (available on dvd from Edge of Wonder Music). This concert involved more than 60 performers including dancers, singers, poets, actresses, storytellers, priestesses, and clan mothers from just about every culture in the World.

    The concert took place at the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland Ca. and addressed the war in Iraq (especially the bombing of Baghdad) the Rights of Indigenous people, and proposed an “Activist Spirituality”.

    The cast was populated with outstanding contributions by women such as Joanna Macy, Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem, Chief Wilma Mankiller, Eve Ensler, Krissy Kiefer of the Dance Brigade and myself.

    The audience chanted and swayed with us for 2 &1/2 hours as hundreds of people bonded, renewed their commitments, and regenerated themselves.

    Imagine what could happen if Broadway (both the theaters and the streets) were used as centers of healing and the enactment of women’s lives through active storytelling!

    I have the pleasure of teaching this subject, enjoy it immensely, and would like to read other women’s comments and ideas on the subject.

    Thank you Susan, for opening up the subject of women and theater.

    Yours in Service,
    Luisah Teish

    P.S. I’ve read the comments on this post and I haven’t run into morons of any kind.

  25. The numbers are unbelievable. Only 12 percent of the new plays developed in 2007 were by women????. I wonder of total tickets sold, what percentage are women ticket buyers and what percentage of theater audiences are women? . . . .hmmmm

  26. Invisibility is its own kind of Robber Baron. Fight on!

  27. bekierivera says:

    Dear Miss Magazine and Susan,
    Thank you so much for this blog. As a young actress (23) it is so refreshing and exciting to hear an honest, unabashed feminist voice speaking on important topics like these. Amongst my generation I often feel there is a "passe" – "been there done that" attitude toward feminism inspired by a laziness to deal with the issues of our parents. However, as evident in this article, the issues are still there and worth dealing with. This blog does that with great humor – always a plus.
    Your Fan,
    Bekie

  28. Kim Yaged. I love her play Vessels and would like to produce it if, oh if, I had the means.

  29. I just caught this recently, and kudos for such a great piece, Susan, and with some vital reminders that have never been more timely. For resources, I would definitely recommend the LPTW (http://www.theatrewomen.org), WomenArts (http://lafpi.com/), and the LA FPI (http://lafpi.com/), as well as the International Centre for Women (http://www.womenplaywrights.org/).

    Also — in case it helps, I actually covered this article in my latest blog post, over at http://performingarts.about.com/b/2011/03/08/cele… as well!

    Cheers, and keep the faith!

  30. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

  31. Howdy! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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