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EDITOR: Andrea Kirk
WHAT THE NUMBERS TELL US: WOMEN'S VOICES ARE MISSING
By Jennie Webb
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|Tallying the results of the recent Tony Awards, one number pops out: zero. There were no women playwrights receiving a 2011 Tony Award. In fact, no women were nominated for playwriting. Because, according to NY's Guerrilla Girls on Tour, no plays by women were produced on Broadway during the 2010/2011 season.|
The absence of women playwrights represented at the Tonys is a sharp reminder of our situation here in Los Angeles. The results of a Study by the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LA FPI) working with LA STAGE Alliance revealed that only one in five plays seen on LA-area stages was written, or co-written, by a woman. This disparity was reflected in our own theater "awards season" this past spring. None of the 2011 Ovation Award nominees for Original Playwriting were women, and no women were nominated for writing by the Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle or the LA Weekly. From Terence McFarland, LA STAGE Alliance Executive Director, who spoke at the Ovation ceremony: “It is impossible not to notice injustice where it glares out at us.”
The figure of 20% arrived at through the LA FPI Study is roughly in keeping with similar studies on gender parity - including the 2009 Sands Study and earlier research through the NY Council of the Arts - which put the national percentage of works by women on and off-Broadway and in regional theaters at approximately 17%. Because this number did not include the vibrant, but historically marginalized, Los Angeles theater scene, the LA FPI commissioned of a survey of LA-area theaters and LA-based playwrights, led by study director Ella Martin.
A sampling of theaters who self-reported in the survey revealed that less than 20% of the plays produced or presented in workshops or readings for a ten year period (2000-2009) were written by women. Data from LA STAGE Alliance reflects statistics from the nine years the organization has been registering productions for Ovation Award consideration (2002-2010). Of the 4796 productions in LA STAGE Alliance's database only 993, or about 20%, were written or co-written by women playwrights.
With these numbers as a starting point, LA FPI and allied partners are drawing Los Angeles into the national conversation about gender parity on American stages. The issue was the subject of a keynote speech and panel at the recent National Conversation led by The Dramatists Guild of America June 9-12, will be addressed at the upcoming Theatre Communications Guild National Conference in Los Angeles on June 16-18 and also in a panel discussion as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival on June 23.
A new awareness of the gender parity movement sheds an interesting light on what's happening in Los Angeles during our current "festival season." LA FPI's research shows that of scripted shows featured in the 2011 Hollywood Fringe Festival (June 16-26), 39% were written by women; women wrote 50% of the plays in the 2011 Young Playwrights Festival (June 2-26); six out of nine scripted productions in the 3rd Annual National Asian American Theater Festival (June 16-26) are by women; and two of twelve text-based works in RADAR L.A. (June 14-19) are primarily female-authored.
"No matter who you are, it's difficult to get your plays produced," says study director Martin. In addition to statistics, the LA FPI Study's inclusion of subjective data also provides glimpses into the LA theater community and artists. "But whatever the reasons behind the numbers," she adds, "It is clear that in LA women playwrights are almost as numerically present as male playwrights, but that their work is far less frequently seen on local stages."
As a grass-roots initiative which serves as a nexus of community support, LA FPI hopes that the Study and other recent efforts help to instigate positive action towards fair representation of women playwrights in Los Angeles. If Broadway is a relevant indicator, producing more plays by women could be a beneficial for local theatermakers in many areas, including the box office. The latest Broadway League Study found that in 2009-2010, 63% of the audiences were female and 69% of ticket-buyers were women. And historically, Broadway plays written by women earn more than those written by men - during the 10-year the period covered by the Sands study, they were 18% more profitable.
"Numbers are powerful. I think it is important that the numbers get out there so that people start asking questions and become more aware of the fact that things aren't functioning perfectly as they are," says Martin.
To quote playwright and activist Marsha Norman, “A theater that is missing the work of women is missing half the story, half the canon, half the life of our time. That is the situation we have now.”
For more information on the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative and the LA FPI Study, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit lafpi.com. The site is set up as a hub for theater artists as well as theatergoers, with Resources and Involvement Opportunities, and details about using the LA FPI Logo – an easy way to spread the word which acts as a signal of change.
NOTE: Eye Spy LA's M.R. Hunter wrote about this issue last August
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