Not Even: A Study of Gender Parity in Bay Area Theatre

NOT EVEN:  A Gender Analysis of 500 San Francisco/Bay Area Theatrical Productions 2011-2014 from The Counting Actors Project, written by Valerie Weak in collaboration with Martha Richards (Executive Director of WomenArts), and Christine Young (Associate Professor, University of San Francisco, and WWSF curator), was released at the WomenArts’ Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day Bay Area celebration on March 28, 2015.

Between June 2011 and November 2014, Valerie collected gender-related data on 500 shows produced in the nine county San Francisco/Bay Area that was submitted by audience members, actors, directors, stage managers, technical staff, and theatre administrators.  The report contains findings and trends resulting from an analysis of these shows.

In preparing the report, Valerie also surveyed 26 Artistic Directors, Associate Artistic Directors, Literary Managers and Casting Directors to determine what San Francisco/Bay Area theatrical decision-makers most wanted to learn from the data. Their top questions were:

  • What’s the overall picture? How much work is there?
  • Have the employment numbers for women changed over time?
  • How does contract type/budget size affect the gender ratios?
  • How does the year a play was written affect the gender ratios?
  • Do women write roles for women, and men write roles for men?
  • Do women direct plays by women, and men direct plays by men?
  • How often do plays have more than 50% roles for one gender?

You can read the full report here on the WomenArts website. You can also download .pdf files of the report, the info graphic-below, and the raw data used to create the report.

keyfindings600-4-5-2015

Key Findings
Graphic Design by Cheshire Isaacs

If you find any of the data compelling, you are invited to leave a comment. Please share these findings widely, post the infographic on social media, and encourage artistic leaders in our community to read the report!  You can also be an advocate for gender parity by making some of the choices listed here.

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52 responses to “Not Even: A Study of Gender Parity in Bay Area Theatre

  1. Thank you Valerie, Martha, Christine & all of the contributors (theatremakers & audience members) for counting and sharing this information. Also thank you to Cheshire for the graphics.

    Numbers do not lie. Numbers are objective.

    I leave room for a margin of error as every study has the possibility of human error (entering a non-union actor as AEA or a simple keystroke mistake). Even with that margin, the low number of women employed at the highest paying theatre jobs (Equity contract theatres) makes me angry. The low number of women playwrights represented on our stages makes me want to cry.

    I want this report to encourage decision makers to program woman playwrights, to choose plays with roles for women and to cast cross-gender.

    I want this report to make playwrights think “does this character have to be a man”?

    I want this report to encourage audiences to buy tickets to shows by women, directed by women, featuring women in the cast, with women designers & staff.

    Too frequently I attend shows with many women in administrative positions and not enough on the marquee/playbill. I want this to change. I put my money where my mouth is…I hope others do the same.

    • Thanks so much Susan! I want all of these changes too. I know that if we all keep talking and we put our money where our mouths are, as you suggest, change will happen!

      • Susan – I appreciate your list of desires! I want all the things as well, and I believe that micro-changes on everyone’s part (ie. choosing to patronize plays that feature women artists) can add up to a big impact.

    • Thank you thank you thank you, as others have said. I’m sorry I’m only finding out about this now! (And I thank Patricia Milton for writing a post about your statistics on the PCSF website.) Regarding ‘Does this character have to be a man?’ you may be interested in some essays I’ve written on this subject: tinyurl.com/genkster, tinyurl.com/gend-stere, tinyurl.com/oscar-kbige and tinyurl.com.upagainst. One other cheeky thing: if you ever want to add some more statistics, including retrospectively, I volunteer to do the data collection if you can give me the scripts. Here are some possibilities: First: in the breakdown of M/F, list the number of roles specified for ‘any gender’ in the script, as opposed to the M/F ratio of the actors. I think more and more writers are doing that. Second, state the M/F ratio for spoken words. Women, in my experience, do a lot more listening than speaking, compared to their male counterparts. (Sure, some of those dumb (literally and sometimes figuratively) roles can be very juicy, but men don’t get to play dumb all that often.) Third, calculate an augmented Bechdel # where you go beyond 3. If a script has more than 2 women and they converse with each other in different groupings and some or many of those conversations are not about a man (or a boy?), give additional points. For example, a play with 5F begins with a score of 4 (Bechdel gives a point for ‘more than 1’). Then add a point for each pair of women who have a conversation. For example if there are 2 different pairs of women who have 3 different conversations (say, A and B talk to each other twice and A and C talk to each other once), you add 3. And if a group of women larger than 2 occupies the stage at the same time and all have speaking roles (better than under-5s), add 1 for each additional. If all of the 5F are on stage and talking to each other, you add 4 for that conversation (but don’t count it any of the pairs). Then for all the conversations including at least 2 women, add 1 for those conversations that are not about a man. Thanks again. Roberta J. Morris

  2. Powerful work. And the graphics in and of themselves are extremely evocative. Although much of the news is, um, depressing and yet unsurprising, the good news is this report is encouraging me to send off more of my plays, work harder to get to know directors and artistic directors, see more plays written, directed, acted in and tech-ed by women — and, most importantly, build strong supportive relationships with other women theatre artists. Oh, yeah, and keep doing the political organizing too. Valerie, Martha, and Christine, you are all goddesses. Thank you.

    • Thanks Evy! I’m so glad to hear that you feel encouraged. I know that when we support each other we can all move forward.

  3. Thanks Marisela – would love to know your reactions after you ‘dig in’…..

  4. Thanks for your FANTASTIC work Valerie, Martha and Christine! I’m excited to read more, even though I’m sure what I find there will have me shaking my fists at the sky. And thanks for linking to the “Choices” info. We all must continue to make these choices every day, and hold others accountable to do so, too. Brava, again, for your hard work!

    • thank you Rebecca! Please keep us posted on what choices you’re making and what results you’re noticing.

    • Rachel – have you looked at the figures that show the relationships between female playwrights, female directors and women actors? I found some less depressing news there.

  5. Thanks to all who have contributed to this report and especially to Valerie for your extraordinary hard work and leadership. This is a vitally important document: I hope everybody involved in making theater in the Bay Area will read it. Although the numbers are disheartening, the commitment and collegiality of local feminist theater artists working for gender parity is anything but. Brava!

    • thanks Carol! Agreed that we’ve got a great group of local feminist artists hard at work. I hope that we inspire those in other regions to advocate for local change.

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  7. Thank you, Valerie, Martha and Christine for all your efforts compiling this report. While the statistics are unsurprisingly grim, I am glad to see the handy list of Choices We Can Make! I do buy tickets to shows written and/or directed by women, and I donate to theaters that support women artists. I love the choice to perform audition monologues by women. Personally, I yearn to see more juicy stories by & about women, and I yearn to be in those stories!
    I’d also like to see an item added For Educators. We have discussed the disparity in college-level acting programs, of stage time for female students vs. male students. I am heartened by some of the action on the national level, to commission plays that feature multiple female roles, specifically for college programs. But I think many college training programs aren’t aware of the imbalance. We know BFA & MFA programs are turning out more female graduates than male graduates, but it’s the men who subsequently get the paying work. What if colleges took some responsibility for that inequality?
    I also like the idea of Theatre Educators/ Teaching Artists offering gender-neutral acting opportunities for younger actors. So the girls aren’t all princesses and the boys aren’t all soldiers, but boys and girls can play animals or natural elements, and gender isn’t a part of the story. Not until they reach puberty, anyway! ; )

    • Sheila – thanks for the reminder that there is much that theater educators can do to improve gender parity as well. I particularly love your call for colleges to take more responsibility! We are training not only the next generation of artists, but the next generation of theater-goers. We have a deep responsibility to shape their tastes toward gender equality and toward perceiving women’s stories as universal stories.

  8. Just a big thank you for this report and the data. Someone asked me the other day, “Did you make the conscious choice to write a play for just women?” and I said, “Hell YES.” So there are things we can do as artists (like the monologue choice, I really like that) that make a small difference. Lots of small differences add up. -Patricia

    • Agreed Patricia! So many small things we can do that add up to big change. Would love to see a group of women playwrights make an online database of monologues (for male and female characters) that would help actors who want to use monologues by female playwrights in their auditions.

  9. Finally got to read the full report. Valerie, Martha and Christine: thank you SO MUCH for putting this all down, for creating this concrete and numbers-based document. Thank you thank you thank you!

  10. Thank you,thank you and more thank you-this is a huge achievement, and on top of the enormous work to produce it, which is impressive enough, it’s beautifully presented. I haven’t even read the full report yet, but I was able to quickly look at the info graphics, and check out some of the specifics of the report on the questions that interested me the most. Wonderful! And I even found useful the “what can you do” link-even though I’ve occasionally asked to be considered by directors for female roles that I think I’m suited for, I’ve felt it would be presumptuous to ask to read for roles I think could be cross gendered, but I feel more empowered to do that more often.

    • That’s great to hear Sharon. I’ve found that when directors/casting people don’t understand why I might want to read for a traditionally male role in their project, I learn a lot about them through that exchange, and at times, it’s led me to reconsider whether or not I want to audition for the project.

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