My friend Liz Maestri wrote a blog post the other day laying out the results of an experiment she did on the subject of gender parity in DC theater. I admire Liz, a fellow playwright and Taffety Punk artist who worked as the assistant director on a production of my play The Faithkiller, and her analysis inspired me to do what the AA folks might call “a fearless and searching moral inventory” of my own track record on the subject.
Liz’s analysis, which she conducted on the 15 most recent shows she’s seen, focused on four criteria:
- From whose perspective was the play told, a man’s or a woman’s?
- Who wrote the play?
- Who directed the play?
- How many male or female cast members were there?
The first of her criteria is difficult for me; many of my plays are ensemble pieces that really feature multiple perspectives. I have, however, done my best with it. The second of her criteria I eliminated because it obviously doesn’t apply to me; I’m a man, so all of my plays were written by men. For the third of her criteria, I have decided to indicate the gender of whomever directed the initial production. The fourth of her criteria is also a bit difficult; my plays are written for men, women, and (sometimes) a few characters that could intentionally be cast either way. I have tried to be honest with myself in those instances and indicate which gender I was imagining while I wrote.
My goal in doing this analysis is simply to learn my biases and to reveal them publicly in the hope that by doing so, I encourage other male playwrights to do the same… because self-knowledge is the first step to making real (and necessary) changes.
One final note: I’ve included not only all of the plays you see in the right column, but also:
- One play that was commissioned and produced three years ago but that I no longer promote very much;
- One play I spent more than a year developing (and that had a reading) but that (for various reasons) I abandoned; and
- Two plays that are currently in the latter stages of development, both of which will be read publicly within the next six or eight months.
With no further adieu, then, the analysis.
From whose perspective is the story told?
Of the 12 plays I analyzed, five were written from a primarily male perspective and two from a female perspective. The other five are clearly ensemble pieces that encompass multiple perspectives. I have clearly written more “male” plays.
I’m unclear about whether this is cause for question or concern, but I’m fairly certain it’s unsurprising. What I do wonder about are the reasons for this disparity. Am I being subtly rewarded by a system that encourages male-centric plays (and thus writing more of them)? Am I simply telling the stories that emerge from my (obviously) male mind? Also, I wonder… is this bias something I could consciously overcome? Could I will myself to have more female-centric stories to tell?
Who directed the first production?
Of the plays that have been produced, five of the first productions were directed by men and five by women. This is also an unsurprising bit of news. I have worked modestly hard over the years (though I don’t want to take too much credit) to find female directors to collaborate with, for no other (conscious) reason than to use what little influence I have to create opportunities for women. I plan to continue to do this; I can think of several female directors I would love to work with and have even approached as collaborators. Without sacrificing any of my relationships with male directors who mean a lot to me, I want to continue to make inroads in this direction.
Finally, how many male and female cast members are there?
I wish I could report a better balance here, but the facts are the facts: 32 roles for men, all of which I believe are substantial, and 27 roles for women, only 23 of which are genuinely substantial. That’s 54%, which is only marginally better than the 59% Liz reported. Naturally, the goal shouldn’t be 50% for any one playwright, because that would be disingenuous… but if every male playwright uses that excuse, then none of us advances the cause of writing good roles for women, and the overall balance remains unfair. Someone has to lead; I’m going to try, if I can. I’ve written two shows that are for all-female (though small) casts; maybe another is in order.
(For what it’s worth, a recent study I heard about from The Dramatists Guild suggests that in plays written by men, 81% have a majority of male roles and 19% a majority of female roles. Of my twelve plays, three had more male roles, two had more female roles, and seven were evenly split between male and female… so I’m ahead of the national average. Woo-hoo!)
So that’s the analysis. I don’t want to claim any tremendous insight here or set any unrealistic goals, but I will say this: I’m going to revisit this analysis from time to time, perhaps annually, and see how I’m doing on this front. (I’m going to be doing a similar analysis of racial parity as well in the next few weeks; the results will likely not be anything I’m proud of, but they will be honest.) It’s the very least I can do.