Sara Israel, May 4, 2010
If you’ve perused this Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative site (and you should!) then you’re probably aware of Emily Glassberg Sands’ thesis, “Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender: An Integrated Economic Analysis of Discrimination in American Theater.”
Many friends got in touch with me when Emily’s work hit the news, not only because I’m a female playwright and literary manager, but also because I was a Mathematical Social Sciences major in college. (Yes. True.) I believe that the “whys” in life are best explained with a special blend of the quantitative and the qualitative (and even then, plenty of mysteries remain, which is a very good thing).
There were several “hot button” findings in Emily’s study. The most significant one amongst my circle of friends and colleagues was her conclusion that female artistic directors and literary managers are far less likely to select plays written by women.
Many, many theater professionals– especially women– could not believe this finding. Furiously could and would not believe it. But Emily’s math is there; her methodology is sound. It’s the qualitative that so many people bumped up against, their personal experience, relationships, and choices that seemed very emotionally to run counter to this charge.
But even in the qualitative realm, is Emily’s finding really that much of a surprise? A (qualitative) look at history shows that minority communities are extremely rigorous when it comes to selecting leading voices amongst themselves; each “choice” stands for so much more. That’s macro. Then, I think micro: How much higher my standards are for my friends and family– because they are associated with me.
These are ugly truths, perhaps (and of course I wish my friends and family all the best and all happiness for their own sakes). But there’s something to be extrapolated from both the macro and micro, I think. Female artistic directors and literary managers are more vigilant with female playwrights because they see the selection and subsequent judgment of those plays as a reflection of themselves, knowing– or at least feeling– that the rest of the world will be holding the choice under a microscope.
The challenge: Despite this, to somehow take these playwrights and their plays out of the minority.
My hope for LA FPI is that by empowering female playwrights, we end up empowering all playwrights. As a writer, director, producer, literary manager, and theater-goer, I want our world to be full of the very best plays (pretty darn qualitative, I know!) no matter the writer’s gender, age, race, geography, politics, economic status, or life experience. Call me Pollyanna, but if we truly say “it doesn’t matter,” then I think we get the best of it all.