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A Look at the Theatre Industry’s Backstage Gender Gap

A seven-year-long study conducted by the League of Professional Theatre Women exposed a behind-the-scenes gender disparity in theater production.

7 seasons, almost 700 productions, 13 job categories – such as playwrights and stage managers – and 23 theatre companies were examined in the study, which was released earlier this year.

The research showed that the number of women playwrights was a low 29 percent during the 2013-2015 season and 37 percent during the 2016-2017 season.

There are several elements that contribute to the gender imbalance present in Broadway and off-Broadway productions.

A low availability of diverse roles for men and women of color is one major contributor.

“Coming up through the theater in America, while I have had success, I have had success in certain types of roles,” said actress and singer LaChanze who won a Tony award in 2006 for Best Performance by a Leading Actress for her role in The Color Purple. “The majority of the roles I’ve played are women who have been either impoverished or subjugated in some way. So while I’ve been fortunate enough to have success because these roles exist, they are stereotypical roles,” LaChanze said.

Non-traditional casting reached 16.9 percent during the 2015-2016 season, according to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition.

“I do feel like there is a great effort, starting now, to have more inclusive seasons, to program with an eye for underrepresented voices, and to have more women leading,” said Tony-nominated director Leigh Silverman. “But the closer you get to the money, the fewer women there are and certainly fewer people of color.”

Another key element in the gap is the moneymaking potential of both the show and who is in charge of the production. Some actors and directors demand seniority.

“The tough part is that if you were not in there at the beginning, it’s very hard to get in there later,” said Nell Benjamin, who wrote the lyrics for the musical adaptation of Mean Girls. “I think, rather than moan about the number – which is terrible and we all know is terrible – it’s finding those opportunities to get people in the room with other people, before a situation arises where you’re working on a show that’s high-stakes and a director is like, ‘I just need my people.’”

There are several ways to address the imbalance in the theater industry. More women could be included in productions if childcare was taken into consideration and a balance in scheduling was found. In addition, pushing past the mindset of only valuing productions put on by experienced directors and playwrights will widen the pool of opportunity for new-coming actors and writers, especially those who identify as women.

Featured Image by Pixabay on Pexels

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