(Photo Credit: Ryan Maxwell)
(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)
Diversity & Inclusion blog salon: Gender Parity in the American Theatre
JACQUELINE LAWTON: Year after year, research shows that approximately 17% of all plays produced in the United States and the United Kingdom are written by women. We’re stuck at this number and it’s hard to comprehend. Last year, Forum Theatre convened a symposium to investigate the gender imbalance in theatre and posed this question: Is there a female dramaturgy (ie. a specific point of view that female writers bring to theatre)? If so, what does it look, sound and feel like? Who holds the agency for it?
LAURA ESTI MILLER: I believe there are female dramaturgies, plural. There are multiple points of view that female writers and artists bring to theatre. There are as many approaches to writing and interpreting a play as there are playwrights to write it and other artists, readers, and audience members to create, design, read, and interpret it. Women have many voices – not just one.
Many female artists who attended Forum’s symposium last year stated that they often felt marginalized or as if they were filling the token female role, either as the only female playwright in a season — that is, if a theatre could slot them in — or often as the sole woman on a production team. This is something our local community is currently discussing and looking for better, more lasting ways to rectify. Since Forum built part of our mission around discussion and connecting with our community, we know it is our responsibility and honor to reflect our community’s diverse perspectives on our stages and staff.
Agency belongs to everyone. Everyone interested in making sure that women’s voices are heard needs to do their part to ensure that we produce more female playwrights. There is not just one thing that is going to break down the door for the unheard, the under-heard, the marginalized. But we can all do something.
JL: Where do you live? How do you feel your community has addressed the issues of gender parity? How has this particular issue impacted you and your ability to practice your craft?
LM: I live in Northern Virginia, right outside of Washington DC, and work in theatres in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. I also teach in Virginia and Maryland. I am the Literary Manager for Forum Theatre, and know that at the time of the symposium, we wanted to open our theatre’s doors to the entire community and be a place to continue the conversation surrounding gender imbalance in theatre. As soon as it was clear that our own production history was not so well balanced, we knew we needed to make changes. From the time of the symposium on, Forum made the commitment to showcasing seasons in which at least half the productions are woman-driven. Usually that means the playwright is a woman, but in season 9, for example, Natsu Onoda Power created THE T PARTY, which she wrote, directed, and designed. As the Literary Manager and a dramaturg, I love being able to support and promote women artists.
JL: Do we need gender based theaters? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community? What is lost?
LM: Until there are just as many theatres producing all female seasons as all male seasons, I think we do need gender based theatres. We have not reached anything approximating equilibrium, so we have a long way to go.
This might be a bit too on the nose, but what you gain when you have artists in a community tell stories about that community is the insider’s point of view. You get details – the nitty-gritty, the micro. What you lose is the external view, the macro. There is a trade-off.
JL: What practical action steps would you recommend to local, regional and national theatre companies to address issues of gender parity?
LM: Everyone who is taking steps to address gender parity is doing it a little differently, which speaks to me. Address the problem in your own community and do something that works for your community. Your community might commit to opening a gender-based company, or each theatre might commit to promoting strong roles for women in plays written by women, or companies could partner together across the country to work on the same play that asks big questions about gender roles and then conduct discussions about it online.
JL: Why is it important that we continue to have these conversations to address issues of gender in theatre?
LM: Whatever companies and organizations choose to do, they cannot be one-time events. We need to think of ways to make an impact now so that gender imbalance will no longer be something we need to fight in the future.
Laura Esti Miller is a dramaturg, literary manager, writer, and educator. She is the Literary Manager for Forum Theatre, a Partner-in-Ink with The Inkwell, and an associate member of Pinky Swear Productions. Her devised dance-theatre piece, Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc, has been produced twice with Urban Garden Performing Arts. She has worked for numerous productions and companies, including The Kennedy Center, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and The Public Theater‘s 2007 production of Romeo and Juliet. Laura is the former Creative Development Director of the off-Broadway company Electric Pear Productions. She is a graduate of Brooklyn College and James Madison University.
Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com