DC Theater Demographics: The 2019-20 Season

This year’s analysis of the 2019-20 DC theater seasontruncated, regrettably, by COVID-19covers playwright and director demographics and the production status of the plays that were programmed. Completed in collaboration with DC-based theater artist Olivia Haller, the analysis covers plays that opened between September 1, 2019 and August 31, 2020. The results below represent the final calculation for the entire season. The data set includes 139 productions at 56 theaters, all of which are listed below.

Note: this year’s analysis has been supported by theatreWashington.


PLAYWRIGHT DEMOGRAPHICS: GENDER

Of the plays produced in DC during the 2019-20 season, 67.09% were written by men and 32.91% by women; to our knowledge, none of the authors use non-binary gender identities. This represents a very modest increase in gender parity from the previous season, though not a return to the high achieve during 2017-18 season, and a troubling decrease in the percentage of non-binary authors. For the sake of comparison, here are the current season’s numbers alongside those from the previous seven seasons:

NOTES: 1) The inaugural Women’s Voices Theatre Festival was held during the 15-16 season; the second Women’s Voices Theatre Festival was held during the 17-18 season. 2) In a regrettable omission, data on playwrights with non-binary gender identities were not tracked prior to the 2016-17 season.

Of further interest are the distinct gender analyses of Equity and non-Equity theaters:

  • Equity: 65.47% men, 34.53% women, and no writers with non-binary gender identities
  • Non-Equity: 68.42% men, 31.58% women, and no writers with non-binary gender identities

There are also three new and significant findings from the current season:

  • When considering only plays by living writers, gender parity numbers are better: 60.25% men, 39.75% women, and no writers with non-binary gender identities.
  • When considering only new plays, gender parity numbers have not only reached, but exceeded parity: 46.09% men, 53.91% women, and no writers with non-binary gender identities.
  • When considering only new plays produced by Equity theaters, gender parity numbers are even better still: 35.44% men, 64.56% women, and no writers with non-binary gender identities.

PLAYWRIGHT DEMOGRAPHICS: RACE/ETHNICITY

The breakdown of the playwrights whose plays were produced in DC during the 2019-20 season is as follows: 75.18% are white and 24.82% are people of color. Overall, this represents an increase in diversity from the previous season, continuing trend over the last eight seasons:

Of further interest is the fact that diversity is higher at Equity theaters than at non-Equity theaters:

  • Equity: 30.40% playwrights of color
  • Non-Equity: 20.26% playwrights of color

There are also three related findings from the current season:

  • When considering only plays by living writers, diversity numbers are modestly better: 27.03% playwrights of color.
  • When considering only new plays, diversity numbers are modestly better still: 29.41% playwrights of color.
  • When considering only new plays produced by Equity theaters, diversity numbers are even better still: 31.25% playwrights of color. This represents a decrease, however, from the previous year.
  • For comparison’s sake: 
    • Current estimates suggest that people of color in the United States comprise a smaller percentage of the population: 38.7%.
    • In the DC metropolitan area, however, one estimate puts the number higher: 54.2%.

PLAYWRIGHT DEMOGRAPHICS: GEOGRAPHY

Of the playwrights whose plays were produced in DC in the 2019-20 season, 13.67% are residents of the DC metropolitan area, which represents a significant drop from the previous year. In 2018-19, the number was 19.78%; in 2017-18, the number was 18.28%; in 2016-17, the number was only 8.70%; in 2015-16, the number was 17%; in 2014-15, the number was 16%; in 2013-14, the number was 13%; and in 2012-13, the number was 16%.

Of the plays by living writers, 16.98% were written by residents of the DC metropolitan area. Of the new plays, 48.53% were written by residents of the DC metropolitan area. Of the new plays produced by non-Equity theaters, 63.89% were written by residents of the DC metropolitan area.


DIRECTOR DEMOGRAPHICS: GENDER

Of the plays that were produced in DC during the 2019-20 season, 56.04% were directed by men, 43.96% by women, and none (to our knowledge) by artists who do not use binary gender identities. These numbers represent an increase in gender parity over the previous season, as well as the resumption of a general positive trend, though a decrease in the number of non-binary directors:

NOTE: Data on directors were not gathered during the first year of the study.

Of further interest is the fact that gender parity is significantly greater among non-Equity theaters than among Equity theaters:

  • Equity: 62.60% men, 37.40% women, and no artists with non-binary gender identities
  • Non-Equity: 50.76% men, 49.24% women, and no artists with non-binary gender identities

To emphasize this finding even further: among non-Equity theaters, director assignments are approaching gender parity for the third year in a row.

There are also two significant findings from the current season:

  • When considering only productions of plays by living writers, gender parity numbers are moderately better: 56.55% men, 43.45% women, and no artists with non-binary gender identities.
  • When considering only productions of new plays, DC has exceeded, and even surpassed, gender parity: 45.10% men, 54.90% women, and no artists with non-binary gender identities. This finding is true for both Equity and non-Equity theaters.

DIRECTOR DEMOGRAPHICS: RACE/ETHNICITY

The breakdown of the directors in the 2019-20 season is as follows: 74.04% are white and 25.96% are people of color. These numbers represent a continued increase in diversity among directors:

NOTE: Data on directors were not gathered during the first year of the study.

Of further interest is the fact that diversity is significantly greater among Equity theaters than among non-Equity theaters:

  • Equity: 39.02% directors of color
  • Non-Equity: 19.38% directors of color

There are also two significant findings from the current season:

  • When considering only productions of new plays, diversity numbers are moderately better: 30.36% artists of color.
  • When considering only productions of new plays by Equity theaters, diversity numbers are even better still: 43.75% artists of color.

DIRECTOR DEMOGRAPHICS: GEOGRAPHY

Of the directors included in the 2019-20 season, 76.57% are residents of the DC metropolitan area. In the 2018-19 season, that number was 67.33%; in the 2017-18 season, that number was 75.24%; in the 2016-17 season, that number was 69.89%; in the 2015-16 season, the number was 66.58%; in the 2014-15 season, the number was 71.98%; and in the 2013-14 season, the number was 75.04%. These numbers suggest only modest fluctuation across the previous six years. Also worth noting: Equity theaters hire significantly fewer local directors (57.72%) than non-Equity theaters (91.72%).


PRODUCTION DATA

Of the plays being produced in DC in the 2019-20 season: 18.71% had their world premieres; 5.76% had their second or third productions; and of the remaining plays, 56.05% were written by living authors and 19.48% by dead authors.

Another way to consider the same data points: in the 2019-20 season, 24.46% of the plays appearing on DC stages were new, if we define “new” plays as those receiving their first, second, or third productions. (This is, very roughly speaking, the widely-accepted definition used by the National New Play Network.) In the 2018-19 season, that number was 31.43%; in the 2017-18 season, that number was 33.34%; in the 2016-17 season, that number was 27.47%; in the 2015-16 season, that number was 42.85%; in the 2014-15 season, that number was 32.56%; and in the 2013-14 season, that number was 30.20%.

At the same time, a full 80.52% of the plays produced in the 2019-20 season were written by living playwrights. In the 2018-19 season, that number was 80.91%; in the 2017-18 season, that number was 79.31%; in the 2016-17 season, that number was 82.91%; in the 2015-16 season, that number was 86.24%; in the 2014-15 season, that number was 77.87%; and in the 2013-14 season, that number was 77.48%.

Generally speaking, these percentages have remained consistent over the eight years of this study.

Of further interest: non-Equity theaters (20.92%) are significantly more likely to produce world premieres than Equity theaters (16%). Also, world premieres saw a significant decrease as a percentage of new plays produced this season.


* The theaters in this analysis include: 4615 Theatre Company, 1st Stage, Adventure, Ally, Anacostia Playhouse, Annapolis Shakespeare, Arena, Arts on the Horizon, Best Medicine, Brave Sprits, Compass Rose, Constellation, Creative Cauldron, Essential, Ex-Pats, Factory 449, Folger, Ford’s, Gala Hispanic, Hub, Imagination Stage, Keegan, Kennedy Center, Live Garra, Monumental, Mosaic, Next Stop, Nu Sass, Olney, Peter’s Alley, Prologue, Quotidian, Rainbow, Rep Stage, Rorschach, Roundhouse, Scena, Shakespeare, Signature, Solas Nua, Spooky Action, Studio, Synetic, Taffety Punk, Theater Alliance, Theater J, Toby’s Dinner Theatre, Unexpected Stage, Washington Stage Guild, We Happy Few, The Welders, Wolf Pack, Woolly Mammoth, and WSC Avant Bard.

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