Top 11 Most-Produced Playwrights of 2012-13 Season

by August Schulenburg

in American Theatre magazine,Diversity & Inclusion

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Every year, the October issue of American Theatre features a list of the nation’s upcoming seasons, including which plays are slated to receive the most productions. That information will be released in October, but yesterday on the IM Wire and now here on the Circle we’re able to share another important piece of data – the top 11 most-produced playwrights of the 2012-13 season:

David Lindsay-Abaire, with 19 productions     
Matthew Lopez, 15
David Mamet, 15
Donald Margulies, 15
Bruce Norris, 15
August Wilson, 14
Katori Hall, 13
Brian Yorkey/Tom Kitt, 13
David Ives, 11
John Logan, 11
Ken Ludwig, 11

Some immediate good news: the list is dominated by living playwrights. With the exception of August Wilson and, of course, Shakespeare (who is so dominant we don’t count his 123 productions), the rest of the top 11  are among the quick. However, one look at that picture above reveals something disheartening: only one woman (Katori Hall), and two living playwrights of color (Hall and Matthew Lopez), are represented. Without taking anything away from the other extraordinary playwrights on this list, we must acknowledge this list doesn’t look like the America – or the American theatre – that many of us know or wish to see.

An important caveat: this list does not represent the full scope of American theatre seasons, but is based on season schedules self-reported by TCG Member Theatres by press time for the October issue.

Still, no caveats can take away from the painful questions raised by such a list. To gain some perspective, let’s take a look at last year’s list from the 2011-12 season:

John Logan, with 27 productions
Yasmina Reza, 25
Sarah Ruhl, 20
Donald Margulies, 15
Tennessee Williams, 12
Annie Baker, 11
Tracy Letts, 11
Eugene O’Neill, 11
Geoffrey Nauffts, 11
Tom Stoppard, 11

It’s a little better for women, with three out of the ten slots, but not a single playwright of color appears on the list (August Wilson almost makes it with ten productions).

For the 2010-11 season, we counted adaptations (hence, Patrick Barlow and his 39 Steps dominating the list), and the familiar theme continues:

Patrick Barlow, 26 productions
Tracy Letts, 20
Sarah Ruhl, 19
Annie Baker, 17
Lynn Nottage, 17
August Wilson, 17
Edward Albee, 15
Steven Dietz, 15
Tennessee Williams, 15
George Bernard Shaw, 13

Three women, two playwrights of color – which could be considered the most diverse of the four years we’ve been tracking playwrights in this way.

The year before,  Rob Weinert-Kendt got this whole ball rolling by sharing the 2009-10 list (using, I believe, a slightly more inclusive methodology) on his blog, The Wicked Stage:

David Mamet, 19 productions
Steven Dietz, 17
Sarah Ruhl, 17
August Wilson, 17
Neil Simon, 14
Terrence McNally, 13

Arthur Miller, 13
Tennessee Williams, 13
Jeffrey Hatcher, 12
Noel Coward, 11

You know how this tune goes – one woman, one playwright of color.

As often happens, when these lists emerge, conversation ensues, much of it valuable and insightful. And then, the next year rolls around, the next list rolls out, and it all begins again. How can we break out of this cycle and achieve a truly inclusive, equitable and diverse theatre field?

That question is a major part of our upcoming 2012 Fall Forum of Governance: Leading the Charge.  What working models exist to diversify our artistry, staff, board and audience? How can we practice inclusion across the many intersections of difference, including age, gender, race, class, culture and ability? Please join us in New York City from November 9-11 as we explore how to power our theatres through the charge of diversity.

If you are unable to make it, please consider joining the conversation on our year-round conference platform, Conference 2.0. Part social network for theatre people, part theatre wiki, 2.0 is a great way to mobilize all the great work being done on these issues locally into a national movement. Join Groups like Gender Equality and Allies Eliminating Racism In Theatre to help us model the movement and lead the charge. Email me to learn more and set-up your profile, and let’s see if together we can help make next year’s list feel like the beginning of something new.


August Schulenburg is the Associate Director of Communications at TCG. He is also the Artistic Director of Flux Theatre Ensemble, winner of the 2011 Caffe Cino Fellowship Award. He is a playwright whose produced plays include Riding the Bull, DEINDE, Carrin Beginning, The Lesser Seductions of History, Dream Walker, Rue, Jacob’s House and Other Bodies. He is also a director (most recently Ellen McLaughlin’s Ajax in Iraq) and actor (the recent film, The Golden Scallop). Learn more here.

  • Andy

    At 46 productions and counting, 44 Plays for 44 presidents (by Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston, and Karen Weinberg) looks like the most produced play this year. Check it:
    http://playsforpresidents.com/festival-participants/ Why not give them the love TCG? What’s up with that? You even wrote about the Festival in American Theatre Magazine. Comment?

  • Nicol Cabe

    It strikes me that this list reflects theatres’ desire to go with popular playwrights and well-known plays, rather than cultivating new, local playwrights. It’s not the whole problem, but it’s part of it.

  • Gus

    Andy, I hope you saw this note in the post: “An important caveat: this list does not represent the full scope of
    American theatre seasons, but is based on season schedules self-reported
    by TCG Member Theatres by press time for the October issue.” The challenge of putting together a list that is completely comprehensive of all theatrical activity in the country is a worthy goal, but we’re not there yet. Nonetheless, congratulations on being so widely-produced!

  • Andy

    No I missed it! It does make perfect sense. And thanks! But did you know that tcg already knew about the Festival and covered it in American Theatre Magazine last month?

  • Paris

    I wrote a blog post about this… check it out at http://www.3hillproductions.com I think theatres are afraid to produce new work.

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  • Checkoff

    Plays are produced for the audiences who will consume them. There is a nascent audience willing to pay for and watch cutting edge American theater. There is even less of an audience in the minority community. The plays that are written that address any cultural issues do so with either a specific social bent that alienates the paying, and aging, playgoer, or with a gross accommodation to the play going audience that loses the impact of intent. To fault companies attempting to stay afloat for choosing plays that they know will draw the audiences they so desperately need is not only short sited, its pyrrhic in nature. Every one of these theaters choose shows not just based on content, but on presenting content that is compelling enough to their audiences that it keeps the door open.

  • anaiscolette

    I love how there’s this assumption that there is “even
    less of an audience in the minority community”. I will only speak for the
    African American community by saying that the urban theater market has proven this
    point to be a fallacy for decades. Somehow these writers have been able to figure out their audience in the African American community and they come by the thousands. These shows gross more money PER WEEK than
    even a Broadway house show selling out venues larger than regional theaters.
    Henry Louis Gates’s study of this market in his article “The Chitlin’
    Circuit” had countered these shows gross upwards of $600,000 a week. No, that’s not a typo. So, I
    guess the regional theater market doesn’t mind missing out on the black dollars
    they could be acquiring by investing in programming that might tap into some of
    these dollars. I’m not endorsing that I’d like to see these shows on a main
    stage somewhere as I think they promote some dangerous stereotypes, but I think
    “nascent audiences” are not going to be enough these days to keep
    these theaters from eventually going under if they don’t begin to change with
    the shifting racial landscape in America. I think the change has to be
    multi-pronged. Instead of relying on simply regional theaters to do the
    producing we have to be cultivating relationships with independent producers as
    well. Our theatrical landscape has shifted from this model from the past and
    given way too much power to artistic directors to decide who’s produced and who
    isn’t. Also, this landscape of workshopping plays to death it seems has also
    shifted the ability of writers that would’ve normally had to work on their
    plays during a production and have now relegated them to a workshop environment
    meaning that a lot of times their play will never make it to a main stage. I’d
    be curious to see the swath of writers of color and women who are workshopped versus
    how the production landscape looks. In other words, are these writers simply
    being workshopped and never produced. It’s a complex matrix, but a doable one
    and hopefully we won’t have to keep having this conversation.

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  • Taryn

    I don’t think we should be trying to see how we can get more female and writers of color onto our top lists of produced playwrights. Why can’t we just produce the best works, no matter who writes them? In our fully diverse world of the theater, there’s no chance of racism or sexism being the issue. Reward the best, and others will fight their way to the top.

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  • Liz

    No chance of racism or sexism being the issue? I want to come live in your fairyland.

  • Brian

    For a variety of reasons, the relationship with audiences of color is not a priority until grant time. Or one-night-stand diversity: one great project and them no calls the next season.

    To be fair, you just might not know enough of the literature or the communities in question. Your one black friend from drama school might have answers for you in the current market.

    Relationships, people. Listening. Yes, you gotta pay the bills. But on issues of race, gender and (and racialized, gendered sexuality)….choosing blindness and naïveté is not cute. It won’t be cute in 2050, when the audience will be more brown.

    Apologies. This you already know. I shouldn’t throw grenades when I do not know where they land.

    I do wish that we use our best skills and talents on our community’s problems. Is it happening? Yes. Soon enough……?