Parity Raid: World Premieres, Written by Women

by:  Thom Dunn at 06/17/2014

If you've been anywhere near the internet lately (or at least, my internet), you've probably noticed that there's (rightfully) been a lot of conversation about diversity and representation, especially in relation to the arts and creative industries. This issue was particularly prevalent in the theatre this year: while all four Pulitzer nominees were female writers (with Circle Mirror Transformation playwright Annie Baker taking the prize for The Flick), there was not a single women or person of color represented among this year's Tony Award nominees for Best New Play. Ruined playwright Lynn Nottage discussed the disparity in a recent op-ed for The New York Times:

"I am a Tony voter; it is an honor that I take seriously. Each season I enter the process with a degree of enthusiasm and optimism, which dissipates as I slowly plow through show after show. Almost every year I have to manage my disappointment, not because the shows aren’t good (which occasionally they are) but rather because the shows are by and large written from one perspective: the white male . . . As Theresa Rebeck noted in The Dramatist recently, not a single new Broadway play this season was written by a woman or person of color, and of the 47 bookwriters/composers and lyricists represented on Broadway, only six of them were women . . . The fact remains that Tony voters, like myself, are being asked to reward a community that has continually denied us access to the stage. For years, Broadway has operated with a built-in bias that un-self-consciously excludes the voices of writers based on race and gender.

"If the Tony Awards want to remain relevant in the American theater conversation, then they need to embrace the true diversity of voices that populate the American theater. It is time to establish the best new play and musical categories for Off Broadway theaters, thereby sending a powerful message that the best new writing is not the domain of white men alone."

Following up on this, Ms Nottage offered a new play suggestion via Twitter:

And so we decided to crunch some numbers and take a look at our most successful premieres. Here are our Top 5 highest-grossing premieres (world, American, or regional) at the Calderwood Pavilion in the last 10 years since we opened the building as the Huntington's home for new plays:

  1. Sonia Flew
  2. Smart People (as of June 13, 2014)
  3. Stick Fly
  4. Rapture, Blister, Burn
  5. Becoming Cuba

All five plays were written by women, and all but one were written by and about women of color. Granted, two playwrights each wrote two of the plays represented — although we could also statistically say that 2/3 of our most successful world premiere playwrights were women of color. But regardless of how you choose to quantify it, the numbers don't lie: audiences want to see diverse voices onstage.

Even more recently, an LA-based theatre group called The Kilroys conducted a survey of excellent new plays by female and/or genderqueer American writers. You can follow the crowdsourced conversation on Twitter with the #ParityRaid hashtag, or check out the Top 46 plays on their website. The complete list of nominated plays includes a number of scripts that have either been developed at the Huntington, or were written by Huntington Playwriting Fellows or other members of our extended family, including Bright Half Life by Tanya Barfield, Tania in the Getaway Van by Susan Bernfield, Ether Dome by Elizabeth Egloff, four different scripts by Luck of the Irish playwright Kirsten Greenidge, 123, a play about abandonment and ballroom dancing and We All Fall Down by Lila Rose KaplanSagittarius Ponderosa by MJ Kaufman, and Merit and The Many Faces of Nia by Lenelle Moïse.

Diversity has always been at the core of the Huntington's mission, both onstage and off. In addition to our award-winning education programs, initiatives such as our Community Membership program help us to reach underserved communities to make our audience better reflect the city of Boston itself. This past season included 3 female playwrights (43%) and 3 female directors (50%; Maria Aitken directed 2 shows), and next season's offerings feature 1 female playwright, 2 playwrights of color, 1 female director, and 1 director of color, as well as plays about Jewish, Irish, and Black experiences in America. And while we're certainly proud of those numbers, it's still an ongoing mission, and we continue to strive for diverse representation onstage.

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About me

Thom Dunn is the Web & New Media Manager at the Huntington, meaning it's his job to play around on the Internet and make things cool. He handles all of the video content and social media as well, and has the biggest computer monitor in the office. Like, ginormous.

Outside of the Huntington, Thom is a writer, musician, and homebrewer. It's all pretty cool. You can find out more about it at thomdunn.net.

 
 

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