Not that long ago I put out a call to collect the names of as many DC-area playwrights as we could find. As I’m writing this post, the list has an astonishing 187 names on it. Why is that astonishing? Bear with me for a little math.
The geographic region from which I’ve drawn the names on my list — DC, the Maryland suburbs up to Baltimore, and the Virginia suburbs down to Richmond — includes approximately 1% of the country’s population. (Anyone who cares to correct or improve that figure would become my hero.) By contrast, our 185 playwrights represents approximately 2% of the nation’s total, if you begin with the commonly-repeated assumption that there are 10,000 of us nationwide. That makes us, by my analysis, a very playwright-rich part of the country.
If I had to guess — and let’s face it, I have to guess — ours is not the only region in which the playwright percentage exceeds the population percentage. New York, of course, is a shoe-in. Chicago, too, and probably Los Angeles. I have a feeling Minneapolis is probably in the plus column, too. Is that the complete list? It might be, and it might not. Scott Walters’ recent analysis of NEA grants suggests that it might include, say, the 30 or 40 largest metropolitan areas in the country. I’m in the realm of pure speculation here.
Good news for DC (and the other cities I’ve just mentioned) is bad news, of course, for the rest of the country. To make up for our embarrassment of riches, there has to be a tremendous playwright shortage in, say, East Grand Forks, MN. (Don’t make fun; I have family there, and I love it.) No natural resource is ever distributed evenly across the states — there are more blueberries in Maine than Mississippi — but for some reason, this disparity seems more troubling.
So that’s one conclusion: we’re playwright-rich, perhaps more so than folks realized. I’m very glad to discover that, though it feels bittersweet.
Are there any other conclusions that might be drawn? The other thing I note is that the list consists of only 43% (or so) women. It’s hard to infer anything from that number, but my gut (and again, this is pure speculation) is that this is the result of under-reporting: more people gave me male playwright names than female playwright names. Might other factors be involved? Sure. Feel free to speculate in the comments, if you like.
Finally, one note. I had a meeting with one of the other playwrights on this list yesterday, and we talked about ways to start making something out of it. I’ll be writing more about the subject soon… hopefully in advance of the Dramatists Guild Conference in June.