Posts tagged: gender parity

The FPI Files: Women’s Stories at EST/LA, One Act at a Time

Is it just us, or has Ensemble Studio Theatre/Los Angeles been getting their femme on, lately? Including last year’s hit production of member playwright Karen Rizzo’s “Mutual Philanthropy,” Ann Talman’s “Woody’s Order!” earlier this year, and works presented through the company’s development programs, we’ve heard a lot of female voices coming from EST/LA’s space at Atwater Village. Now the 2017 One Act Festival is currently playing, with 50% of the works written by women. Time to chat with one of EST/LA’s Co-Artistic Directors, actor/producer Liz Ross, and Carole Real, playwright and former Co-Artistic Director.

Liz Ross

LA FPI: Needless to say, we’re big fans of gender parity. How did the plays for this Fest come to you?

Liz Ross:  All the submissions came from playwrights associated with our company either through the Playwrights Unit, NeWest Playwrights (which is our writers group for playwrights under the age of 30), and writer company members.

Our membership and writing groups are all pretty equally male and female voices.  I think we are around 50/50, to be honest. And we’re particularly proud this year that each play has been developed here through our programs such as Sunday Best, our monthly reading series;  Winterfest, our annual members project series; LAFest, our Los Angeles voices festival; Launchpad, a staged reading series; and True Story, our monthly storytelling evening.

LA FPI: Do you see differences in the stories women playwrights are telling, vs. male playwrights? Or differences in how they’re telling them?

Carole Real

Carole Real: I have all kinds of theories, but they are just theories and it’s never wise to paint with a broad brush. For instance, in my observation, the play with the twist ending tends to be written by a male playwright. But I bet our readers could come up more than one example of a twist ending play that was written by a female playwright.

One thing I think is objectively true is that women playwrights tend to have more female characters and more female protagonists in their plays than male playwrights. In addition, the female characters women write tend to have their own goals and aren’t just in the play to “help” other (male) characters or serve as plot points. And I think women playwrights tend to write female-female interactions that women audience members experience as truthful and moving.

Liz:  I’m finding that things seem to be shifting.  I think in the past women wrote more of the relationship stories, but now there seems to be a shift in this generationally.  Many of the younger playwrights are crossing those gender norms and exploring more plays about identity issues from both male and female voices.

And then there’s a play like “The Guard Will Escort You to Ruff-Ruff” by Carole Real [included in Program B of the Festival].  This play explores how our global economy can unknowingly make us complicit in the abuse of factory workers over even a small purchase, like toys with our favorite cartoon characters on them.

LA FPI: So let’s talk about the Festival selections, starting with your play, Carole. Why are you telling this story?

Stella Kim and Sharon Freedman in Carole Real’s “The Guard Will Escort You to Ruff-Ruff,” directed by Chuma Gault. Photo by Youthana Yuos.

Carole:  I became aware that foreign factories routinely break labor laws and violate safety codes of the countries where they are located — their own country’s laws — during the recession when I worked in a temp job for a large entertainment conglomerate. The job entailed reading foreign factory audits eight hours a day, five days a week. It was profoundly depressing and I became convinced that if people understood how these factories operate, they would feel differently about the global economy and understand that by turning a blind eye, we are complicit in the exploitation of vulnerable workers. It later dawned on me that I could dramatize the subject by creating a theatrical world where a factory auditor in China could “talk” to the temp worker in the US.

I absolutely love that the play has mostly women characters and that they attempt to work together to protect the most vulnerable of them! I know that in China, many factories are staffed mostly with teenaged girls, because they are hardworking and obedient, so factory safety and fair labor laws there is really and truly a women’s issue, and this is probably true in many other countries as well.

And I would be remiss not to give director Chuma Gault huge credit for the artistic success of this production. Chuma really saw the play as being about how women are penalized by being strong and smart in the office environment. This wasn’t something I was focussed on — that just seemed like “how it is” — but he picked up on that and made sure it was part of the story. Thank you, Chuma!

Liz: All three plays in Program B explore questions of conscience — from “Provenance” by Ian Patrick Williams to “Writing to Mrs. Otts” by Tom Stringer to Carole’s play, each play in this program asks us to consider what we’re willing to speak up about or against.

Program A had 5 plays that all explored relationships.  They ranged from Karen Rizzo’s “Darkest Place” which explored loss and crisis to Deborah Pearl’s short piece “Can You Hear Me Now” about miscommunication in the cell phone era.  Mary Portser’s “So Lovely Here on Earth” was a sweet piece about a woman trying to volunteer for a Mars Mission when her interviewer realizes that she’s just trying to escape her own misery here on Earth by “committing suicide by space.” Each of these plays, while being very different from each other and taking entirely different approaches, had a similar thread exploring our desperate need to be understood. I do think that women writers tend to invest in the search for understanding each other. Women write characters who watch and observe each other.

Program C has 4 wonderful pieces starting with “Things That Matter” a musical by Elin Hampton and Gerald Sternbach, “How Do I Get Get to Carnegie Hall” by Nick Ullett and directed by his wife Jenny O’Hara.  Then “My Jesus Year” a heartfelt piece by Tony Foster, and finishing with Katherine Cortez’ “Between Friends” which is about a many years old friendship between two older women who discover that they still harbor secrets from each other after all these years. Katherine is just coming off of a successful Fringe production of her play, “In The Valley of the Shadow” with Rogue Machine.  It’s a powerful piece that she developed with the Playwrights Unit and we had a reading in Winterfest.

LA FPI:  So it’s not just us! Seems like there are a lot of powerful women artists working as part of EST/LA?

Carole: Yes! And I’d like to thank Liz Ross for the work she’s currently doing as one of the three Artistic Directors, and the work she has done in the past for EST/LA as an actress, producer and creative director. I’d also like to give a shout out to the other strong women who have made our company run, including Jenny O’Hara, Board President, Gates McFadden, Laura Salvato, Risa Bramon Garcia and Deb Stricklin (all former Artistic Directors), Heather Robinson who currently heads the Members Committee and all the other women who make EST/LA go. Without them, we’re nothing!

Liz: We have increased the diversity of voices within our membership and playwrights groups and this past year and actually have a very long history of producing women playwrights. Right now, we have so many projects in development that we can’t possibly produce them all so our focus is to serve their process; we’ve become a major incubator of plays, so to speak. We’re very conscious of including women’s voices equally to men’s and we do have a wonderfully strong and vocal community of women within our organization so I expect we will continue that way for a long time to come.

EST/LA’s 2017 One Act Festival continues through July 16 at the Atwater Village Theatre complex. For more information visit or call (818) 839-1197. Reserve tickets at


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Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LA FPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Report from the Colorado New Play Summit

By Kitty Felde

The delicious set for THE BOOK OF WILL by Lauren Gunderson. Set design by Sandra Goldmark.

This is the third year I’ve flown to Denver for the annual festival of new play readings. In the past, I’ve attended Humana, CATF and the National New Play Festival, but the Colorado New Play Summit at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is my favorite. Seven new plays in three days! It’s like a combination of cramming for midterms, eating everything in sight at a buffet table, and using all your season subscription tickets in a single weekend.

As a playwright, I find it extremely helpful to see that much new work all at once. It allows you to see trends and fall in love with new playwrights and come away with 101 ideas for your own plays.

Here’s a few trends spotted at this year’s Summit:


It was a particularly good year for new plays in Denver. Strong writing, big thoughts.


THE BOOK OF WILL by Lauren Gunderson is a love letter for every Shakespeare theatre in America. The late Will’s friends race against time and lawsuits to publish as many of his scripts as possible. It’s a big cast show, a perfect complement to a season of TEMPESTs and HENRY IVs. Round House Theatre in Maryland has already announced it will be part of its 2017-2018 season.


Don’t ask me why, but I’m fascinated with titles. Maybe because I’m so bad at writing them myself. This year, the trend seemed to be plays with two word titles. HUMAN ERROR and BLIND DATE were two of the new plays featured in readings. THE CHRISTIANS and TWO DEGREES were onstage for full performances.


I predicted that we’d get a flood of anti-Trump plays NEXT year, but they were already popping out of printers by the time I got to Denver. Political plays were everywhere.

The cleverest of the bunch was Rogelio Martinez’ play about Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the battle to come up with a nuclear treaty in BLIND DATE. Call it ALL THE WAY for the Reagan years. Very well researched, very funny. Martinez carries off an interesting balancing act, portraying a much more savvy and sympathetic Reagan than you’d expect, perhaps looking back at him with different eyes now that there’s a very different sort of president in the White House. Bravo. (I’d vote for a better title, but that’s my only complaint.)

The politics of Nazi Germany were the focus of a play by the man who wrote ALL THE WAY. Robert Schenkkan’s piece HANUSSEN is the tale of a mesmerist who dabbles in Nazi party politics. It has a highly theatrical beginning, and ends with a pretty blatant rant against Donald Trump.

Schenkkan pulled off a very difficult trick: bringing Adolph Hitler onstage and allowing him to come off as a rather likeable character. Perhaps it’s because he followed the Hollywood solution to making villains less unlikeable by giving them a dog. Hitler’s relationship with his annoying dog was quite delightful. (One wag of a fellow playwright at the conference observed that our new standard for unlikeable characters is now to ask: is he/she more or less likeable than Hitler?)

TWO DEGREES by Tira Palmquist is a climate change play. It received a fully staged production this year, after its debut as a staged reading at last year’s festival. It featured a set with panes of ice that actually melted as the play progressed.

There was also a nod to the protestors in pink hats (I actually spotted one or two of those in Denver) with Lauren Yee’s play MANFORD AT THE LINE OR THE GREAT LEAP. It’s a lovely piece about a young man’s search for an absent lost father, basketball, and Tiannamen Square. How can someone that young write that well? MANFORD is terrific and should get productions everywhere.


Two of the five new play readings were by female playwrights, as were two of the three fully staged productions. (Thanks to Artistic Director Kent Thompson who established a Women’s Voices Fund in 2005 to commission, develop, and produce new plays by women.)

Yet, despite the healthy representation of female playwrights, there was a decided lack of roles for the ladies. Of the 34 named characters, fewer than a third were female. And with the exception of the terrific family drama LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, few plays featured roles of any substance for actresses. Nearly every one flunked the Bechdel test. The sole female in one particular play will likely be best remembered for her oral sex scene. Sigh.


I always come away from new plays with new ideas about what I want to steal for myself. In this case, the overlapping of scenes in different times and places happening at the same time on stage. Lauren Gunderson’s BOOK OF WILL very cleverly juxtaposed two scenes on the same set piece at the same time and it moved like lightening. Look something similar in the play I’m working on.


The man who made the New Play Summit possible – Kent Thompson – is leaving. Kent’s gift – besides putting together a rocking new play festival – was making playwrights like me – those of us not invited to bring a new play to his stage – feel welcome. At the opening luncheon, all playwrights – not just the Lauren Yees and Robert Schenkkans – are invited to stand and be recognized by the theatrical community with applause from the attendees. That may sound like a small gesture, but it’s symbolic of the open and kind community Kent created. He made every one of us who pound away at our keyboards feel that we are indeed a vital part of the new play community. Thank you, Kent.


In the interest of full disclosure, I will share that I had my agent send my LA Riots play WESTERN & 96th to the New Play Summit this year. It was not selected. I never received an acknowledgment that it was even received or read. But the non-rejection does not diminish my affection and admiration for the Colorado New Play Summit.

Delivering cake for gender parity!

As an LAFPI blog reader, you are probably already familiar with The Kilroys, the gang of 13 Los Angeles-based playwrights and producers who, in their own words, “are done talking about gender parity and are taking action.” They make news every year when they publish The Kilroy’s List, an aggregation of the most recommended unproduced or underproduced plays by women and trans playwrights. In a way, they do this to call out any theatre that’s lagging in gender parity – simply by saying, hey, look, we did the work for you. Are you saying you can’t find great plays by women or trans writers? Produce one of these plays, to start with.

But the cool thing about The Kilroys is that they also show appreciation where it’s due. Hence the 2015 Kilroy Cake Drop for Gender Parity.


Earlier this week Joy Meads emailed and asked if I could do The Kilroys a favor – could I deliver a chocolate cake to the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Thursday? It would be part of a nationwide celebration – thirteen theaters around the country would get delicious cake delivered to them by an ambassador playwright, to celebrate their leadership and commitment to gender parity.

As it happens, I have a special connection with the LATC myself since they co-produced my play In Love and Warcraft this season, in association with Artists at Play. I was thrilled to do it.

So along with twelve other playwrights across the country, I picked up a specially baked cake and delivered it to a theatre that means a lot to me. The lovely people at LATC, under the leadership of Jose Luis Valenzuela and Evelina Fernandez, are doing excellent work for under-represented communities, and they deserve cake every day! (Or whatever treat they please, this cake was DELICIOUS but I might not be able to have it every day.)

Check out all the photos from the various cake drops today by following the hashtag #parityraid and #cakedrop on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

In closing I’d like to echo the request that The Kilroys have made today.

Don’t see your favorite parity-achieving theater on the list? We hope you’ll show them some love. Send a social media shout-out (or a cake!) and buy a ticket to celebrate their commitment to producing work by women and trans* writers.

Let’s get to it then. The work continues!



On Awards, and Fringe Accolades

by Jennie Webb

I’m not a big awards gal. As in, I don’t personally watch the Academy Awards and if you have an Oscar party I probably won’t come. Tonys are not really on my radar, and I pretty much stay away from local theater awards & ceremonies. (How clever of me to personally avoid any recent nominations, huh? Right. Let’s not go there.)

Awards MarqueNow I know awards are kind of a necessary not-so-evil. They’re a very useful tool for artists. In the best sense of the word, I think they can celebrate our art. And they mean a lot to a whole lot of people – just because there are winners does not mean the rest of the world (read “us”) are losers, right?

Okay.  Admittedly, I have not been above posting awards on my own damn resume. So I should just get over my fine socialist self, keep an eye on my over-developed empathy gene (why can’t everyone win?) and put this all into perspective.

Which brings me to the Hollywood Fringe Festival Awards. And a question about LA FPI’s contribution to them.

Awards are a big deal at the Festival, and when we first began to partner with the Fringe (thanks to an introduction by the incredible, soon-to-be-leaving-LA Cindy Marie Jenkins – thank you, mama!), the subject of sponsoring a Fringe Award came up. But wait: LA FPI can’t be choosing one artists or project over another! (See “socialist,” above.)

Still, we didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to celebrate female artists.  So we tried to  figure out how to give an award that would let us highlight numbers, give accolades and create some good old gender parity awareness.

NOTE Fringe Award

Thanks to Tiffany Antone for her “Most Wanted” design

Here’s what we thought up: We’ll give our awards to venues, not artists. We’ll tally the numbers to determine the overall percentage of Fringe shows written by women, and give “Most Wanted” Awards to recognize venues that had over 50% shows by female playwrights.

Well, we’ve done it for the past four years, and the numbers we got each year told us that about 39% of the scripted Fringe shows each year were by women. We gave away a few “Most Wanted” Awards every year and that was all well and good.

But for the first time, this year over 50% of the venues got LA FPI Awards – 10 total, the most ever. Also in 2015, we found that over 46% of the overall Fringe shows were femme-penned. Statistically, that’s a pretty significant leap… in the right direction!

I was ridiculously excited about this – thrilled at the reaction by the Festival peeps (Ben, Stacey & Meghan are my heroes for making this madness happen every year) and the Fringe Femmes. And so grateful to Madison Shephard & Julisa Wright (Constance Strickand behind the scenes) for graciously presenting the 2015  “Most Wanted” Awards.

Award Presenters

Julisa Wright & Madison Shephard at the Fringe Awards

I heard the Fringe Awards Ceremony this year was a blast and then some. Hooray for accolades, congrats to all of the “winners” and so glad LA FPI was a part of it, again! (Even though my ass was conspicuously absent, again – see “over-developed empathy gene,” above.)

So here’s where I am now with Fringe award-ness: When we first thought up the LA FPI Award we dreamed that in the best of all possible LA theater worlds, venues would proudly post them on their walls and compete for women artists to book in their spaces so they could get them. I’m not sure that this is quite happening, but I am gratified that theater operators have come up to me and told me that they deserved one, despite the numbers (tee hee hee).

What are your thoughts? Especially if you have a healthier attitude towards awards than some of us, is the “Most Wanted” Award something that gets our message out in the best way? Is there another way we can celebrate the work of the Women on the Fringe, and the theaters and theatermakers that are actively supporting that work?

Let us know. We’ve got awhile to think about it. And in the meantime, accolades to all the Fringe Femmes from LA FPI – you’re all winners and we want you ALL!


2015-06-17 13.32.17

With Cindy Marie Jenkins & my favorite, award-winning, honorary Fringe Femme – we’ll miss you CMJ!

5 Sirens: Women Rock!

By Guest Blogger Alex Dilks Pandola 

I’ve produced over 10 productions that feature short plays written and directed by women. So, I was intrigued by 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks and excited to learn more about the 5 playwrights (all women) who joined forces to produce this show.

Graduates of the USC Master of Professional Writing Program, the 5 Sirens are: Sarah Dzida (Don’t Panic), Autumn McAlpin (Ten Years Left), Kiera Nowacki (Spock at Bat), Caron Tate (Whatever Works) and Laurel Wetzork (Out of Here). They realized that by pooling their resources and sharing in the production responsibilities they had the skills to tackle everything from advertising and publicity to fundraising (check out their super-successful Indiegogo campaign) and contracts on their own.

5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks features 5 10-minute plays centered around theme of miscommunication and longing for connection. What’s wonderful about the production is that the audience is treated to five distinctly different styles and approaches to the theme.

Director Laura Steinroeder had previously worked with Laurel Wetzork and came on board to direct the five plays. Wetzork says, “she was very brave to take on five different, very strong women and make this show work.” Though directed by one person, Steinroeder allows each piece to live in its own world, so that the audience can experience the progression of a debilitating disease through a rhythmic pattern in one play (Ten Years Left) and move seamlessly into the next play about the inter-species communication between intelligent and not-so-intelligent life (Out of Here).

What I find most inspiring about 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks is that these five women, a group as diverse as can be, banded together as a community to support each other and produce their own work. Now, they are confident that they can produce a Fringe show on their own, individually. I’m certain that whatever productions they do in the future, 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks will be an experience that proves to be both unforgettable and invaluable. Through June 27th at Theatre Asylum.

One-Woman Fringe

By Guest Blogger Alex Dilks Pandola

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is a fringe-purist’s dream where content is queen and storytellers work their spreadsheets to self-produce their show.

The first play I produced for Green Light Productions was for the 2003 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. It was a two-person show about the tumultuous and creative relationship between Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald called Boats Against the Current. From rehearsals in living rooms, costumes from Goodwill and one-hour techs to packed houses and standing ovations, I learned how to create magic on a shoestring budget by putting the story first.

This year there are over 20 one-woman shows in the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

At the last LAFPI meeting at Samuel French I was treated to a preview of Snack by Megan Dolan. In the hysterically funny world of Snack, Dolan traces the roots of her smoothie addiction back to her childhood, posing the question “How do you parent yourself and your kids at the same time?” Snack runs until 6/27 at Theatre Asylum.

This weekend I saw Jennifer Bobiwash’s Indians in a Box: There’s No “I” in NDN where Bobiwash sets out on a journey to discover what it truly means to be a modern American Indian. Through the laughs of Bobiwash’s story, we begin to understand the many complexities of her identity and how it’s shaped her life. NDN runs until 6/17 at Lounge Theatre.

There is an electric energy during the fringe, as artists become Olympians and audiences become active participants in the creation of these raw, intimate, now-or-never productions. Check out the “one woman show” tab on the HFF site where you’ll find an amazing group of storytellers who are the true heart and soul of this year’s fringe.

The Female Science Fiction Writers of Tomorrow

by Korama Danquah

It’s not a secret to anyone that science fiction writing has, in the past, been a boys’ club. I can’t really tell you why. Perhaps it’s a carryover from the gender gap in science education or maybe it’s just that women feel it’s more productive to construct a real-world society of equality before creating elaborate fictional future worlds. Whatever the reason, there are 20 H. P. Lovecrafts for every Ursula Le Guin.

This weekend, however, marks a momentous step forward for women in science fiction writing. Five young women will have staged readings of their science fiction short stories at Sci-Fest LA’s Tomorrow Prize. These LA high school students will have their stories (1500 words or less) read by prominent sci-fi actors and all five finalists are women.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 4.58.39 PM

Finalists from Left to Right: Ashley Anderson, Erica Goodwin, Janeane Kim, Ruby Park, and Athena Thomassian

The five finalists are a beacon of hope for female sci-fi fans. For decades women in science fiction have been seductive aliens and, more recently, captains and starship officers, but we have not often been the authors of these fantastical stories. These finalists and others like them are saying no to the boys’ club of the past and carving a place for themselves in the annals of sci-fi history. It is often said that “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and these young women are making themselves visible for female science fiction writers of today and of tomorrow.

The Tomorrow Prize readings take place on Saturday, May 16th at 4:00 at Acme Comedy Theatre (135 N. La Brea Ave, Hollywood). Tickets are available for $10 online and $15 at the door. All box office proceeds and any additional donations received that day go to the winner’s high school science department. 

Do We Really Need This?

GLO 2014 Casting

Jen Bloom, Allie Costa, Liz Hinlein, Alex Dilks Pandola & Katherine James casting for GLO 2014

Guest blog post

by Alexandria Dilks Pandola

I started Green Light Productions in 2003 to create new opportunities for women in theatre. As of 2008, Green Light has exclusively produced plays written and directed by women.

This year, Green Light completed The Shubert Report to examine the 349 theatres that received $16.4 million in grants last year from the nation’s largest private funder of the performing arts. We found that only 26% of the plays being produced were written by women and that 125 of those 349 theatres weren’t producing ANY plays written by women.   Foundations, especially those as large as The Shubert Foundation, play a huge role in sustaining American Theatre – most of which is classified as nonprofit. Imagine the impact it’d have if they required applicants to produce seasons that had 50% female writers and directors?   Imagine the impact if just one major theatre a year decided to do a season of plays by women.   Just that one step…

In 2005, I took that step. Heather Jones sent me her one-act play “Last Rites” about a life-long friendship between two women.   It’s a beautiful play and I walked around with Heather’s script in my bag for month thinking about how it could be produced. I had the idea to create a festival of one-act plays all written and directed by women: GLO,  Green Light One-Acts.   And since the first GLO in, we’ve given world premieres to 15 one-act plays with productions in Philadelphia, New York and now Los Angeles.

In GLO 2014 we introduce to the world 4 new plays written by female playwrights based in Los Angeles – Allie Costa, Jennie Webb, Julianne Homokay and myself – with directors Liz Hinlein, Jen Bloom, Ricka Fisher and Katherine James. I have met the most incredible women just working on this first Green Light show here and I am so excited to plan our next steps here in LA.

Alex with artists at first GLO 2014 Read Thru

Alex with GLO 2014 Artists at First Read Thru

Getting here wasn’t easy. While I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with hundreds of women who support our mission, over the years I heard a surprising amount of negative feedback – much of it from women who felt that the theatre didn’t need companies like Green Light. A female journalist actually responded to one of my press releases with “Do we really need this?”

Yes, we do. And we need YOU!

I hope that by forming new collaborations, asking lots questions, challenging those who need to be challenged and producing work by women, Green Light will continue to have a valuable impact on artists and audiences. And I hope you’ll be part of it.

Mark Your Calendars: November 6-9, GLO 2014, 4 plays written and directed by LA women artists at Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica.

Be part of Green Light Productions first foray into the LA theater scene (after mixing it up in NY and Philly).  Join the FB Invite here (LA FPI tix for only $10!). This femme-fest is Green Light Production’s annual event, but the company is looking for more women artists moving forward. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact


Happy Anniversary: LA FPI Turns Four!

Four years from March 6, 2010 and still going strong!  We’ve grown a lot, learned a lot and stayed the course…


The Los Angeles Females Playwrights Initiative (LA FPI) was started by Laura Shamas and Jennie Webb.  We thank these ladies for their leadership and greatly appreciate them for igniting the fire…

LA FPI started with the Study to see what the figures were in gender parity in theater in Los Angeles, we still find ourselves  taking Stock and looking at/for changes regardless of the size.  We continue to celebrate women on stage, we question theaters with seasons void of the female voice, and always look at the numbers problem and why it matters to us and should matter to everyone else.

Thank you for joining us.

Support us by donating at Fractured Atlas:



The Numbers Problem and Why It Matters

By Laura A. Shamas

Last month, a popular entertainment blog caused quite a stir when it flashed a hopeful headline and post that misstated women playwrights wrote “half of the plays being performed in the upcoming season across the country.” After two days, the blog post was corrected; it was unintentional, a misreading of a New York Times report about Theatre Communications Group’s Annual Top Ten Most Popular Plays of the Season list; half of this year’s list is female-authored (and there are 14 plays on this year’s list due to ties). Until the entertainment blog was corrected, many people were expecting that a 50/50 level of gender parity in production had been achieved in U.S. theaters for female and male playwrights. Not so.  But it raises the question: then what are the actual statistics for female and male playwrights in American theater seasons for 2013-14? Here’s the truth. No one knows, because national data collection on this topic is not currently funded in the United States by any single research entity or institution.

Earlier in 2013, LA FPI volunteers Stephanie Hutchinson and Jan O’Connor undertook what has become an annual measurement task performed by our Los Angeles advocacy group: tracking the League of Resident Theaters [LORT] seasons of nine theaters in Southern California, to find out how many female playwrights and directors are working on their stages. You can read our results from 2013 and 2012 here.  The numbers are down significantly this current season from last: only 16% in both categories.  These are terrible numbers, quite disheartening, miserable. Everyone at LA FPI is very grateful to Stephanie Hutchinson and Jan O’Connor for taking the time to complete the season count for this yearly total, which we use in an attempt to discern any gender parity progress (or lack thereof) in our local theater scene.

Yet, this 16% number is really not an accurate picture of the complete theater scene here, nor were any of our previous annual LORT counts. Here’s why: a SoCal LORT count does not nearly encompass all of the theaters in the area who use professional artists, including Equity actors. If SoCal is defined as the large region from Santa Barbara to San Diego, there are at least 20 “professional” companies here who use full Actors Equity [AEA] contracts –not just 99-seat waiver agreements.  Not all of these companies are members of LORT. Should we be counting the annual seasons of these theaters instead of LORT? Maybe.

Moreover, there are many other companies in this area who are not LORT members, nor using full AEA contracts, yet they could or would say that they, too, are “professional” theaters because they use artists in all disciplines who are members of professional unions. How many of these companies are there in SoCal?  According to a reply tweet to us from Los Angeles STAGE Alliance  on October 14: “Well, we estimate we have around 350 companies working with us in a given year. But we also have a list of 230-some others.”

So, let’s just say that each of those 350 companies (and the sometimes additional +230 groups) produce several shows a year. Who’s counting all of these LA theatre season rosters for gender parity stats? No one.

So do we truly have any understanding of the complete theater scene in terms of gender parity and statistical breakdowns in Los Angeles or SoCal?  No, we do not. And it’s not just here in southern California. Try finding 2013-2014 season data related to gender parity for New York City shows—New York, the exciting heartbeat of our American theater scene. Can you find them? (If you do, please add them to the comments sections of this blog post. Because I could not.)

When LA FPI began, it was in part a response to Julia Jordan’s 2008 decision to calculate the numbers of female playwrights in the New York seasons per non-profit theaters, and her finding that only 12.6% were female-authored. Our website has a “Facts” page where we have attempted to aggregate gender parity/theater data links in the past few years, but I haven’t tried to update it in awhile. I don’t know what data or studies to add, because there are no precise new annual national numbers to report.

To be completely clear, the numbers used most often to describe the typical American female playwright’s status are New York-based stats. In 2011, Ella Martin, Jennie Webb and I partnered to investigate data from the Los Angeles area for the beginning of the twenty-first century. We wanted to find out what the percentage number was in SoCal for productions by women playwrights. Thank goodness for the Los Angeles STAGE Alliance and their willingness to hand count into their 2002 – 2010 records for us, because without their generous efforts, we never would have had a basis for our 20% result, reflecting the 993 shows that were female-authored and produced here during those years.

Some of the problems that plague an accurate assessment of any gender parity stats in American theatre are:
1) lack of funding or resources for any such studies;
2) uniform metrics, methodology and data sources of what should be counted and when.
I’ve shared some samples of these types of questions in the early part of this essay. One of the more famous American studies that garnered attention in 2009 was Emily Sandburg Sands’ report which relied on the database, a source criticized by some as incomplete. You can find Sands’ “Opening the Curtain” report here.  And yet, as Doollee is incomplete, where will more accurate data come from?

Fortunately, there are heroic theater datakeepers in various places around the world who are trying to amend the numbers problem by keeping track of what’s going in the communities where they live, as related to gender parity and diversity.

One of those people is Niall Tangney of Sydney, Australia. Tangney is a long-time hospitality employee and theatre enthusiast who has “rediscovered his love of theatre in his middle-age.” He promotes theatre free of charge to the theatre community of Sydney and NSW via the Theatre in Sydney website [found at], which he runs as a fairly intensive hobby. Niall writes: “I am a regular theatregoer but am not involved in making theatre in any way, so I am able to stir the pot in a way that no one can accuse me of it being self-serving. I think perhaps this is part of the problem. Regarding speaking out on the issue, I think (but do not know for sure) that some female playwrights may not want to be seen as simply complaining that their particular play was not selected or got rejected by a major company… but if no one speaks up, nothing will change.“ Here’s Tangney’s tally of the 2013-14 season as related to gender parity. For the 2013-14 season, Tangney found that from a total of 59 shows of five state-funded theaters, approximately 30% are plays written by female playwrights, and approximately 30% of plays will be solely directed by female directors.

Tangney thinks that collecting the numbers does matter, related to fairness:  “The issue has been discussed in Australia for a number of years already, particularly by this group of playwrights called 7-ON  who raised the issue as a collective. I also have three sisters, none of whom are writers by the way, but they give me a fair insight into things as well, in terms of equality. So I just say to myself…’if I was a woman would I think that was fair?’  One thing I have been thinking about with this issue is that, where theatre companies receive state funding, you could argue that since taxpayers are funding the art, and governments are committed to equal opportunity, that the theatre companies should be required to represent the genders equitably in their choices of work by (at least, living, and taxpaying…) playwrights. But it is a tricky question, and not being involved myself in theatre I have no idea how you would implement this practically. But it is worth thinking about. If people in theatre are smart enough to put on all this great theatre, which I love, surely they are smart enough to work this out.”

In 2012, a major report on Women In Theatre was released by the Australia Council, in hopes of raising awareness about the current state of gender equity in the art form, and advocating for action to bring about change. Those who authored the report found “no progress over the decade since 2001 and there is evidence that the situation for women in creative leadership deteriorated over that time” (pps 4-5).

Hilary Bell also makes a strong case as to why it matters to keep track of gender parity-related stats.  Bell writes for theater, radio, film, TV, opera, and music theatre; she graduated from Julliard in 1998 and lives in Sydney, Australia. Bell responded to me on behalf of  the “7-On” Playwrights. Bell wonders what would happen if 16% male quotas were proposed for theater seasons, such as: “’In our next season, we will give male directors 16% of the productions.’ There’s an unconscious bias towards giving creative roles in theatre to men. The only way to redress the balance is to make employers conscious. Rightly, there’s a hue and cry about women being underrepresented on boards, in business and government. In the arts – supposedly inclusive, progressive, liberal – women artists are consistently marginalised. An all-male playwrights season raises no eyebrows; an all-female season (were anyone to ever propose one) is seen as a provocative statement. This, despite an equal number of female artists and a majority of female ticket-buyers. The ‘merit’ argument is as spurious as it is insulting. Only when artistic directors see the numbers, over and again, will they wake up to the fact of this discrimination, and do something about it.”

Another theatre data keeper here in the U.S. is Gwydion Suilebhan of Washington, D.C.; he’s a playwright, transmedia artist, arts advocate, and digital strategist for arts organizations. Suilebhan is part of the new D.C. company “The Welders, A Playwrights’ Collective.” Suilebhan has partnered with playwrights Patricia Connelly and David Mitchell Robinson to keep track of theatre demographic data from the area. The season results for 2013-14 are here. You can access the full study, launched in 2012, here. From the 2013-14 results: “Of the plays being produced in D.C. in the 2013-14 season, 73% were written by men, 27% by women. By comparison, in the 2012-13 season, 79% of the plays were written by men, 21% by women.”

Of why the numbers matter, Suilebhan writes: “Looking at data is like looking into a well-polished mirror. It shows us exactly who we are, whether we like what we see or not…and helps us make reality-based decisions. If we really want to achieve gender parity in the American theater, we have to know exactly where we’re starting from…and monitor whether our choices are really making a difference or not. That’s why I gather data.”

Performer Valerie Weak tallies data from the San Francisco area in monthly posts called “Counting Actors.” In a Tactics Interview with Amy Claire Tasker posted earlier in 2013 on the “Works by Women Blog,” Weak said: “The big tactic with Counting Actors is to let the numbers speak.  When I do my monthly blog post, I don’t say anything about how the numbers make me feel, about what’s bad or what’s good.  I just say here are the numbers, please talk about them.” Weak’s count may be found here. In one of Weak’s recent posts, she reports: “There were 56 shows (56%) that were on [AEA] contracts that use health weeks.Those shows had: 46 male directors, 21 female directors (67%, 33%), 58 male writers, 15 female writers (79%, 21%), 274 male actors, 208 female actors (57%, 43%).”

In the United Kingdom, Professor Maggie Gale made headlines this summer at a National Theatre panel in London with an assessment that women playwrights there are produced in the 8-12% range; this estimate is especially discouraging when compared to “18.4% in 1923, 20.4% in 1936, and 22% in 1945.”  (For a response to Gale from a different perspective, please read Katy Brand’s view.)

Wendy Thomson, Editor of, an online U.K. magazine promoting women in the arts, pointed me towards several key sites with research on gender parity and playwrights, such as the excellent Archives of the Sphinx Theatre, which lists on its header: “35% of actors, 17% of writers, 23% of directors…52% of the population.”  Thomson also referred me to this excellent Datablog piece in The Guardian from December 2012, about the 2:1 ratio of men to women working in theater, compiled in collaboration with Elizabeth Freestone: 35% of new plays in this Datablog are female-authored.

Another great U.K. site with specific regional data is the 17Percent Blog. In a guest post by Lindsay Nicholas, Nicholas writes that keeping track of what’s happening is purposeful: “For now, it seems to be down to writers themselves, such as Sam Hall at 17Percent, dedicated to changing a very bad statistic through regular showcases of women’s writing, to explore the issues. She suggests that close monitoring of gender ratios in theatre writing could bring about improvement. This has worked well in Sweden, for example, where in 2011 46% of new plays were written by women.”

Thomson, too, believes there’s value in keeping track of parity-related data. “It is important to monitor on a regular basis if gender inequality is decreasing or increasing and this activity should be funded! The public must be aware so they can celebrate when things get better and campaign when things get worse, we can never be complacent. There should be equality on stage just as in every walk of life. There can be rapid deterioration of women’s rights and achievements and that is why we need campaigners like Malala for girls education and LA FPI for Los Angeles playwrights.”

What of Canada? I do not have specific data from any regional sites to report. But here are some recent studies that address the general topic of Women in Theatre.

1) “…only 27 percent of the plays produced in Canada are written by female playwrights.” – “The Status of Women in Theatre: Disturbing Reports from Australia, Canada, and the US” by Sarah O’Conner, August 2012, Vol. 1, No.2, published in Women in TheatreFrom March 2011, the same 27% stat for female playwrights is quoted in “Females Try to Smash Glass Ceiling” by Kathleen Renne, but there’s also a mention that most stage managers and costumers are female.
2) The 2006 Study on the Status of Women in Canadian Theatre  – “Adding It Up”
3) The 2009 Equity in Canadian Theatre Report, from Professional Association of Canadian Theatre [PACT], discussed here.

Rebecca Burton, of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, shared an update on overall 2012-2013 stats and plans for a new Canadian initiative: “The Playwrights Guild of Canada (PGC) has followed-up every year since then [2006] with a straw poll to see how women playwrights are faring. This year, for the 2012/13 season, women constituted 23% of the produced playwrights (men were 61% and mixed gender collaborations accounted for 16%). These stats suggest that the situation is regressing rather than improving! PGC has plans to launch an industry-wide Equity initiative next year to help combat the problem.”

One global organization for women playwrights is the International Centre for Women Playwrights [ICWP]. They feature a research page for gender parity data on their site.

Margaret McSeveney is a writer, poet, and playwright who resides in the U.K. McSeveney has been an ICWP Board Member since 2000, was ICWP President from 2009-2011, and ICWP Vice President from 2011-2013. McSeveney, too, feels that data should be collected on gender parity in theatre: “It matters a great deal because the figures will show the progress (hopefully not the lack of progress) theatres are making towards treating women playwrights fairly, as artists worthy of equal treatment and human beings worthy of an equal share of the commissioning and production funding used to support the theatre industry.”

Winding back to New York City, I have discussed these same gender parity data issues recently via e-mail with several members of the League of Professional Theatre Women. There is a desire for a more formal study about gender parity in theater from LPTW members, and there’s a hope for future funding. Jenny Lyn Bader is a playwright and author, a Dramatists Guild member, the Artistic Producer at Theatre 167, and an executive board member of the League of Professional Theatre Women. Bader generously shared some of her thoughts about data collection related to gender parity arts stats, or lack thereof.

In regards to New York stats, Bader writes: “It’s shocking how little hard evidence there is to document this problem that so many are aware of — and how difficult it is even to find a record, not just of gender breakdowns in our industry, but of everything in our industry! It’s nearly impossible to find a comprehensive list of all Broadway and Off-Broadway openings. And forget Off-off-Broadway — we’re talking about 2,000 productions. “

A methodology for data collection is also daunting, related to the shows produced in New York. Bader notes: “I realize that the statistics are not easy to compile. For example, just look at new plays on Broadway in 2012. I found one list that seemed comprehensive. But it included Rebecca, which never even opened. So I narrowed it down to shows that opened. But does that include musicals? It might be easier not to count musicals since they are frequently co-authored. But then how do you count a play with music? Do you count one-person shows? Does Kiki Tyson count as a female playwright, since she co-authored, with Randy Johnson, Mike Tyson’s one-man show? Does the comedian Lewis Black whose Running on Empty played 8 performances on Broadway during its tour count as a male playwright? Should William Shatner’s one-man show count as a play? What about Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which has been produced on Broadway four times? Should that still count as a new play? Should Wit, by Margaret Edson, previously produced Off-Broadway and already having won the Pulitzer, be counted as new? Maybe since Edson and Albee are both alive, they can be put in the ‘new play’ category, but then how do we count Nora Ephron, whose play was produced posthumously but was new?  In the end, using any consistent method, it still looks like women playwrights wrote fewer than 15% of new plays produced on Broadway in 2012. But how do we decide on what the method is?” And of course, any variance in data collection methodologies may mean that the data is not directly comparable.

And even though issues of collection, such as funding and methodology, are challenging, it is necessary that we collect the data, according to Bader. “We’ve exploded glass ceilings in so many fields, but not in this one. There are different numbers, but everyone can agree that of produced plays, a minority are written by women, while women make up the majority of the audience. So women are coming to see these plays mostly written by men. At some point, that has an impact. It’s a question of putting women’s stories at the center of stories and not just on the sidelines, of privileging voices from both genders, of not teaching young women always to be considering things from the male point of view. It seems surprising and bizarre that we have not reached gender parity in a field such as theatre which is normally not perceived as exceptionally traditional or conservative. Indeed it seems so surprising and bizarre that many knowledgeable people don’t even believe it. That’s why the numbers matter. It’s important to collect them.”

With so many people in so many places agreeing on the need for gender equity data collection in theater, isn’t it time we start a serious conversation about ways to solve this numbers problem, so that studies may be executed to encompass all communities of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and the entire world beyond–including the vast number of non-English language theaters? And shouldn’t we extend our data numbers to embrace all positions held in theater, including designers, stage managers, costumers, etc.?

In closing, and in an attempt to answer the question I began with, about the ratio of female to male playwrights in American 2013-14 theater seasons, I do have one final piece of data to share. A volunteer in Los Angeles (who wishes to remain anonymous) counted all productions listed in the American Theater magazine 2013-2014 season preview, pages 48-97 of the October 2013 issue. This is only an estimate, as some slots were To Be Announced or listed no authors, and thus were unable to be tracked. These are the current seasons of 500 Theatre Communication Group member companies only, spread over 47 states. The data encompasses some non-English language shows. In keeping with other counting methods, any plays by William Shakespeare were not included.  This estimate found that 35% of the shows listed for 2013-14 were female-authored, and 65% were male-authored (female-authored shows, 446.93; male-authored shows, 1,274.77).

Again, this is only an estimate.

© 2013 by Laura A. Shamas. For permission to reprint or repost this article, please inquire: blog(at)lafpi(dot)com

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(If you have more links to share, please let us know in the comments and we will add them below as we can.)

Career Playwrights: (Australian) Working Women Dramatists, 1928-1968, by Michelle Arrow, University of Sydney
Seven On
Theatre in Sydney, Niall Tangney’s Site
2012 Women in Theatre Report by the Australian Council

Playwriting Australia

The 2006 Study on the Status of Women in Canadian Theatre: “Adding It Up”

From Rebecca Burton of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, on 2012-13 stats:
“The Playwrights Guild of Canada (PGC) has followed-up every year since then [2006] with a straw poll to see how women playwrights are faring. This year, for the 2012/13 season, women constituted 23% of the produced playwrights (men were 61% and mixed gender collaborations accounted for 16%). These stats suggest that the situation is regressing rather than improving! PGC has plans to launch an industry-wide Equity initiative next year to help combat the problem.”

Playwrights Guild of Canada, Women’s Caucus

Statistics on Women Filmmakers

Gender Issues for Female Playwrights and Filmmakers

Sphinx Theatre Archives
The Guardian Datablog in collaboration with Elizabeth Freestone
The 17percent Blog

The Blog of the Playwrights’ Commons – 2012-13 Stats
Company One – Season 15, 2013-14, all female playwrights

Gender Equity Report, 2010

8 of 10 shows at Cleveland Public by women, 2013-14: Cleveland Public Theatre

Los Angeles
2011  LA FPI “The Study,” lead by Ella Martin
2013 – “News”

New York
June 2013, Scream into a Bucket Alert – Guerrilla Girls On Tour
“Why Playwrights Horizon Isn’t Talking About the Gender Imbalance in Their Season”

North Carolina Triangle Theaters
2012-13 Data Compiled by Jules Odendahl-James, Resident Dramaturg, Duke University
“Women writers & directors representation in the 2012-2013 seasons of 20 Triangle NC Producing Theaters/Theater Companies.
94 shows announced. For 21 of these shows, directing staff unknown as of July 21, 2012.
27 women directors. (Some of these are directing more than one show in a season, e.g. Meredith College; some also creators of the work so they are given credit for directing and writing.)
2 women co-directing shows with men. (A Christmas Story, Haymaker’s Elektra).
13 female playwrights.
17 women working on projects as co-writer/part of devising company.”

San Francisco
Counting Actors by Valerie Weak

Washington, D.C.
DC Theatre Demographics, 2013-14, collected by Gwydion Suilebhan, Patricia Connelly and David Mitchell Robinson
DC Theatre Demographics, Full Study

2002 – “Report on the Status of Women: A Limited Engagement” by Susan Jonas and Suzanne Bennett
2010 – Discrimination and the Female Playwright by Julia Jordan and Sheri Wilner
2011 – Karen Kinch’s data on 2011 LORT counts, as cited in a 2012 post by Diane Grant
2012 – The VIDA Count 2012
2012/2013 – Guerrilla Girls On Tour Annual Girlcott List

With special thanks to Niall Tangney, Hilary Bell, Gwydion Suilebhan, Wendy Thomson, Margaret McSeveney, and Jenny Lyn Bader. 

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