The Study

We have a number: it’s 20%

“It is impossible not to notice injustice where it glares out at us.”

Terence McFarland
Executive Director, LA STAGE Alliance

The results of the LA FPI Study in 2011 gave us a figure which represents the percentage of work on stages in the Greater Los Angeles area written by women.

  • A sampling of theaters who self-reported in the survey portion of the Study revealed that less than 20% of the plays produced or presented in workshops or readings for a ten-year period (2000-2009) were written by women.
  • Of the 4796 productions in LA STAGE Alliance’s database from 2002-2010, only 993, or about 20%, were written or co-written by women playwrights.

While slightly above the widely accepted national average of 17%, this figure is far from representative of the work that’s being created by Los Angeles playwrights.

“Sadly, the lack of productions for women playwrights isn’t even a trend. It’s the status quo.”

Larry Dean Harris
Los Angeles Regional Representative, The Dramatists’ Guild
  • According to baseline data from local playwright organizations, approximately 45% of members are women.
  • During the first decade of the 21st Century (the period covered by the survey), the 84 LA-area women playwrights who self-reported had a total 1,421 presentations (including readings and workshops) of their plays.
  • According to select LA Weekly stage listings, over 174 new plays by women were staged in the LA area in 2010.  This accounted for roughly 25% of the contemporary productions.
  • No women playwrights were nominated for Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle or LA Weekly Awards for their work in 2010.

New information is coming in across the country which provides context on local numbers, and commentary on the disparity nationwide.

  • The Chicago Gender Equity Report reported that in 2009, plays written by women constituted just under 19% of plays produced. (If plays co-authored or created by at least one woman were included in the statistic, the number would reach 30%. )
  • New York’s Guerilla Girls on Tour recently named 114 theaters across the country who will not be producing even one play by a woman on their mainstage during the 2010/2011 season. (Two LA-area theaters are represented.)
  • Over the last century, the disparity for women playwrights in America has gotten even worse. In 1908/09, only 12.8% of the productions on Broadway were by women playwrights.  Some 100 years later, the percentage of major New York productions written by women was 12.6%.

But the national conversation about gender equity is bringing new numbers, and new research, to light.

From a recent Broadway League Study, commenting on 2009/2010 audiences:

“Sixty-nine percent of those making the purchasing decision were female . . . Sixty-six percent of the audiences were female.”

Statistics support the fact that there is incentive for change on American stages, and that changes are happening – across the nation and, hopefully, in Los Angeles.

  • As reported in the New York Times coverage of the 2009 Sands study, Broadway plays and musicals by women on Broadway are 18% more profitable than plays by men.
  • Two recipients of Back Stage Garland Awards for playwriting in 2010 are women.

As a result of recent efforts towards gender parity in theater on on the East Coast, the NY-area theater scene seems to be shifting.

“We had a huge rise in the number of productions by women in 2010, and a far higher percentage of those female written plays were hits than those their male counterparts.”

playwright/activist Julia Jordan

  • Statistics from 21 of the Tri-State LORT Theatres in 2008-2009 revealed that 14.5% of productions written by living playwrights were by women.
  • The  same theaters in 2010-2011 seasons list 32% of their  contemporary productions as female-authored.

In addition, the National Theatre Conference recently announced the National Initiative to Celebrate American Women Playwrights. Spearheaded by award-winning writer Robert Schenkkan, the NTC is enlisting its members affiliated with producing organizations or theaters to pledge to produce at least one work each year for the next three years by a contemporary American female playwright.

What will happen in LA? That remains to be seen.  But now we have our number for Greater Los Angeles-area stages as a benchmark.  It’s 20%.

And here’s a new measure for Southern California’s competitive LORT Theaters who have an eye on what’s going on in NY:

  • 12 of the 53 mainstage contemporary works announced for the 2010-2011 seasons on eight of Southern California’s LORT stages are female authored, or 22.5%.

Check below for a results from the LA FPI  survey which, in addition to statistics, provides subjective data which gives us a glimpse  into the LA theater community and LA artists.

“As part of the survey, I asked theaters and theater companies to describe the LA theater community in one word. The word that came up the most?  ‘Struggling.’

Ella Martin,
LA FPI Study Director
  • When asked for one word to describe the experience of being a female playwright in the 21st Century, the overwhelming response on the LA FPI survey: “Challenging.”
  • The next most common response to the question above was “Exciting,” followed by “Frustrating,” “Frustrated” or “Frustration.”
  • More words from women playwrights: “Undervalued” and “Underestimated.” One word from theaters/producers: “Underfunded.”
  • The only responses common to both LA-area theatermakers and women playwrights:  “Passionate” or “Passion,” and “Tenacious” or “Tenacity.”
  • According to the LA-area playwrights – both male and female – who participated in the LA FPI survey, over half of their productions, workshops and readings were on stages outside the Greater Los Angeles area.

March, 2011

Click here to read about Ella and the Study in LA STAGE Times.

Click here for a copy of the results from the LA FPI survey and LA STAGE data for the Study.

Click here for a copy of the LA FPI Study Press Release.

Click here for new numbers on female theater artists from LA FPI.

Questions? Visit our FAQs.

Many thanks to the many playwrights who told us their stories, as well as the following theaters and theatermakers who participated in the online survey portion of the Study:

Actors Co-op Theater, California International Theatre Festival, Celebration Theatre, Grand Guignolers, Jewish Women’s Theatre, Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble, Macha Theatre/Films, Native Voices at the Autry, Pacific Stages, Psychic Visions Theatre, Rogue Machine Theatre, The Actors’ Gang, The Eclectic Company Theatre, The Ghost Road Company, The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival, The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project, The Victory Theatre Center, West Coast Jewish Theatre, Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Special Thanks to Terence McFarland & Douglas Clayton and LA STAGE Alliance; Deborah Behrens and LA STAGE Times.

And to Nancy Beverly, Mary F. Casey, Noelle Donfeld, Ester Elliott, Kitty Felde, Laurel Long, Tami Tirgrath, Lauren Dobbins Webb, Gail Witchert and especially Logan Walker – data collectors extraordinaire.

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