How To Move Past Not There Yet

by August Schulenburg

in Critics & Reviews,Events

Post image for How To Move Past Not There Yet

“Back in 1918 before women had the right to vote, the percentage of new plays in New York, written by women, was higher.  It was higher before we had the vote.”

-Theresa Rebeck

In June 2009, Emily Glassberg Sands released her now famous report, “Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender (pdf)”, and the long simmering debate about gender equity in play selection boiled over. In her recent Laura Pels keynote address at A.R.T/New York, playwright Theresa Rebeck kept the heat on, saying “I really do believe that if enough people stand up and say this cannot go on, it will not go on.”

Well, people are starting to stand up. Marsha Norman’s impassioned take in our November 2009 issue of American Theatre outlined potential steps and prompted a flurry of comments and discussion. Her ideas ranged from a gender blind play submission process to an increased focus on gender equity from funders.

And now, others are taking direct action. 50/50 in 2020 is a group of New York City theatre artists advocating for equal representation in season selection by 2020. Using their thriving Facebook fanpage, 50/50 in 2020 is coordinating meet-ups of audiences to attend plays written by women. What better way to show producers that plays written by women have strong box office appeal?

Meanwhile in Chicago, the Chicago Storefront Summit created a Gender Equity Taskforce that just released a snapshot report. While the report reveals that only 18.8% of productions in Chicago in 2009 were written by women, it also outlines a number of provocative steps to change the balance. Ideas like a diversity report card and rewriting mission statements to include a focus on equality are a part of the Task Force’s exciting to-do list.

Thanks to, you don’t need to wait for a report on gender equity – you can see how theatres in New York are doing in real time. Not only do they feature a Plays By Women page on their website, but at the bottom of the page, a real time gender breakdown of listed plays written by women and men.

What other individuals and organizations out there are taking concrete steps to realize gender equity? Please share them in the comments below, and maybe we can celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment by achieving 50/50 in 2020.


By day, Gus is the mild-mannered Circulation and Customer Service Manager at TCG. By night, he transforms into August Schulenburg: playwright, actor, director, and Artistic Director of Flux Theatre Ensemble. His produced plays include Riding the Bull, Carrin Beginning, Other Bodies, Rue, The Lesser Seductions of History, and Jacob’s House.

  • ericziegenhagen

    Unless protests, boycotts, or public shaming are in order (as the Guerilla Girls did in the visual-art world), the most immediate solution is to lead by example.

    In Chicago this weekend, plays by Young Jean Lee, Rebecca Gilman, Dael Orlandersmith, Frances Limoncelli, Janet Burroway, Emilie Beck, M.E.H. Lewis, and Madeleine Olnek, as well as devised work from groups like The 2nd Story and the Neo-Futurists. Burroway was in Chicago last night, talking after the run of her play; Lee was at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Tuesday.

    A subscription series–or even a Twitter account–offering listings, events, and discounts, would draw audiences to this work, without gender having to be the central aspect of the production's marketing, while also recognizing and financially rewarding companies producing these plays. This may sound like a micro solution to a larger issue, but it involves raising interest and action instead of trying to change other people.

  • jeanmariesimpson

    Tennessee Women's Theatre Project is a wonderful and proactive company in Nashville. There are many grassroots efforts to produce women's work. Truthfully, though New York is our Mecca, in terms of getting exposure on a national/international scale, most of the produced theatre in this country is NOT happening in New York. I think it would behoove TCG to take a look beyond what member theatres and “regional” theatres are choosing to produce and see what women are producing on our own.

  • Margo Gray

    Also, Eric, don't forget the Guerrilla Girls' direct action on gender equity in theater:

    Thanks for continuing the momentum of this discussion, Gus. The Chicago Storefront Summit's Gender Equity Taskforce is continuing to meet and take action to move the needle on this issue. I encourage anyone who sees this is a problem to get involved: in Chicago, in New York, or wherever you are. I'd be interested to know how other American cities stack up in playwright gender equity. Chicagoans can watch for announcements about upcoming events here:

    After our Summit meeting this Monday, we had a lively discussion on Twitter (which you can follow with the #CSFS or #2amt hashtags) around the importance of articulating an action plan and of building on areas where we're already succeeding.

    Beyond just raising awareness, we hope to co-opt great ideas from elsewhere in the country (arrange meet-ups to see plays by women! tag online listings and reviews of work by women for easy sorting!) as well as develop new ways for our community to take steps to combat the imbalance (collectively market work by women! mentor up-and-coming female theatre leaders!) in a way that fits with our existing artistic ecosystem.

    The end goal in my mind is to move beyond the problem of inequity to an environment where stories of all kinds can be told without gender labels. Not “women's plays” or “guy plays,” just good work done well.