Quantitative studies on the status of women in professional theatre have proliferated in the past few decades. The most recent U.K. studies suggest some marginal strides and disturbing continuities while the latest U.S. reports indicate some significant gains for women directors and some minor improvements for women and BIPOC playwrights working in non-profit regional/Off-Broadway theatres.
U.K. ARTS COUNCIL FUNDED THEATRE COMPANIES
In 1983 feminist advocates of gender equality in British theatre introduced an ongoing initiative (still underway) that resulted in several “What Share of the Cake” reports. In the first report, published in 1984, women playwrights represented just 7% of produced playwrights; a decade later this number more than doubled to 20%. In the 2019 report, which covers the 2017-2018 season, women represented 31% of Artistic Directors, 33% of board members, 10% of critics, and 27% of university theatre professors. The 1987 report showed that women represented 34% of Artistic Directors, underscoring the fact that leadership opportunities for women in U.K. theatre have remained consistently unequal and low for the past 30 years.
“Women Count VI: Women and Non-Binary Hires Off-Broadway,” published in May 2022, examines 152 productions by 24 companies during the 2019/2020 and 2021/2022 seasons. The findings reveal that women or nonbinary playwrights had 43% representation in the former season and 54% representation in the latter. Both numbers are striking given that women playwrights still had only 28% representation in 2011-2012 and 29% representation as recent as 2015-2016.
According to the report, women directors working Off-Broadway have also experienced an increased hiring rate from an already remarkable 44% in 2019-2020 to an even more remarkable 54% in 2021-2022. These numbers are the more compelling when compared to the numbers roughly a decade ago: in the 2010-2011 season, women directed just 25% of productions, a number consistent with studies from the 1990s and 2000s that showed employment rates for women directors (and playwrights) hovering around the twentieth percentile.
“The Count,” an ongoing study initiated in 2011 and conducted by the Lilly Awards in partnership with The Dramatist Guild, has focused its attention on the gender and racial makeup of produced playwrights in nonprofit regional theatre, including Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway. To date, the report has appeared in three installments, with each covering three seasons. According to “The Count 1.0,” between fall 2011 and spring 2014, women playwrights represented 20.3% of produced playwrights. This percentage improved to 28.8% over the next three seasons, according to “The Count 2.0.” The latest installment, which spans season 2017-2018 thru 2019-2020, shows slight improvement with women representing 31% of produced playwrights; however, this is still a far cry from gender parity. Across the three reports and nine years, produced BIPOC playwrights has increased incrementally from 10% to 15% to 20%, an embarrassing improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.
SDC’s Next Stage Initiative
In fall 2019, SDC, the U.S. union for directors and choreographers, began conducting nationwide surveys to gather key data about its membership. Phase III of this research, which covers the 2018-2019 season, indicates that SDC women and BIPOC directors and choreographers respectively held just 11% of Broadway contracts, but 48%-49% of contracts negotiated via the Association of Non-Profit Theatre Companies.
There’s much more to say on the above about the people driving these much-needed initiatives, many more stats with intersectional implications worthy of spotlighting, and still more reports on both sides of the Atlantic to discuss. Stay tuned.