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Gender Parity Gets Attention in NYC and London

Several recent articles in the New York Times and the Guardian (London, UK) have focused on both the gender parity issue and the excellent work women theater artists are doing in these most important theatrical markets.

In Staging a Sisterhood (NYT, Patrick Healy, 1/31/13), more than a dozen sought-after women directors are recognized, and their recent successes are partially attributed to strong relationship-building skills, particularly with playwrights.  It is both encouraging and maddening to learn that when she started out 20 years ago, Anne Kaufman (known for her collaborations with rising star playwrights such as Adam Bock, Jordan Harrison, Anne Washburn and Amy Herzog), “used to wear men’s pants and blazers to avoid seeming like ‘a weak woman.’”  Yet, while the article offers open critique of American theater’s inherently sexist hiring patterns, it also suggests that it’s still too soon to crack open the champagne, considering that a major player like the Roundabout Theater Company (which boasts three Broadway and two off-Broadway stages) has only hired 13 women directors in its 48-year history!

Women in Theatre: Why do so few make it to the top? (Guardian, Charlotte Higgins, 12/10/12) recaps recent events in the London theater scene that have exposed women artists’ deep frustrations with their lack of opportunities at major London houses, and with “society’s wider failure to put women’s voices on an equal footing with men’s.”  According to Higgins and director Elizabeth Freestone, who conducted extensive independent research, they have a “2:1 problem in English theatre, or two men for every woman…women are seriously underrepresented on stage, among playwrights and artistic directors, and in creative roles such as designers and composers.”  Yet despite their lack of representation onstage, women make up the majority of theater-goers in the UK (68%) just as they do in America!  Higgins goes on to ask “why is this 2:1 ratio so stubborn?” and to pose possible answers, including Shakespeare and a 400-year old theatrical tradition that favors a male theatrical canon.

Which leads me to ask, given that some of our earliest theatrical endeavors involved women as actresses and managers, and that our own theatrical history is quite young, compared to England’s, what’s America’s excuse?!

Note: Image reproduced in entirety from the original image that appears in the article, Staging a Sisterhood, on NYTimes Theater.

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