Where the ladies at?

This post came from some thinking I’ve been doing in general about what I wrote yesterday (about defining your working ethics) and specifically in response to a lovely and honest comment from Meghan Williams a couple days ago (about how tough it is to be happy for your fellow female creators).

When I was in college and first starting the directing track, I only directed plays by female playwrights with all female casts. I did this for almost three years. It drove a few people around me nuts, even though I was at one of the most liberal colleges in the US, even though there were 6 women for every guy in the department, even though they were great plays well known to many.

I finally broke the trend on my final project in the directing course, our devised piece. I’d intended to use an all female group but for creative reasons ended up changing my mind and cast three women and two men. One of the actresses later confided she was thinking about backing out of the show until I had changed my stance on that.

Initially, I actually wasn’t trying to make a statement. I really just didn’t see as many men who I wanted to work with. I was low on the director totem pole and figured I’d get way better performers if I used the glut of women that hadn’t gotten a role in one of the department projects. I liked working with a lot of those people so I decided to do it again. And again. It was super weird. I remember being on break one semester in an acting course in which we literally had to find a creative solution to triple cast the sole meaty female in Brecht’s Man is Man while an actress gave me shit for doing another all female play.

And the weird thing was that I too started to doubt myself. You should make the best art, not art that just makes a statement. But now I think, what the hell, why does it have to be either or? And why does it make us so uncomfortable? Is there a world in which a female dominated production would provoke the same sleepy non-awareness as the plethora of the plays with 75% and up male dominated parts? Why is it a statement?

And the worst of it is that it is not the dudes who are the sole problem.

Have you read this study?

Is this not the most depressing thing in the world? Read the details, they’re too varied and complex without dominating this post, but do read them. One finding researcher Emily Glassberg Sands cites that is especially depressing to me:

Sands also sent out four previously unseen scripts by prominent female playwrights — Lynn Nottage, Julia Jordan, Tanya Barfield, and Deb Laufer — to artistic directors and literary managers nationwide. Each script was assigned two pen names, like Mary Walker and Michael Walker. The results were surprising: Female readers rated scripts with female pen names 15 percent lower than those with male pen names, while male readers rated the scripts equally.


Sand also used box-office grosses for Broadway plays over the last decade to measure economic success and audience appeal to show, for example that:

Women represented 60 to 70 percent of ticket buyers, and plays written by women sold almost one quarter more tickets per week than those by men, earning 18 percent higher grosses weekly. Yet even though plays written by men tend to earn less, they ran about the same amount of time as those by women.

Sands ultimately concludes that in fact there are in fact just fewer female playwrights, likely due to the many forces that disincentivize women to write plays. The ones that do, though they tend to write more female parts than men, often create smaller cast sized works to appeal to theaters.

There are bajillion books about female socialization and the toxic ways that gender stereotypes wiggle their way into our brains against our wills. I’m not going to try to break down the complicated dynamics that exist between women interacting with each other socially and professionally. But I do think it’s safe to say that there are clearly a lot of influences that can affect how women are treated in the world, especially how they are treated by other women.

I don’t think competition is a bad thing. I love to beat other people. I really like working hard to get better and there is no easier way to motivate me to do that than with a racing partner. What I don’t believe in is an unfair race. And I really hate the idea that I’m part of making the race unfair.

Take an anecdotal mental walkthrough of the major theater companies in town. We are not overwhelmed by dudes running theaters. Philly is pretty luck that way: to have a decent sized high level talent pool of women running companies and directing work. This has not always been true and is not true everywhere else.

Now take an anecdotal walk through the productions you’ve seen in the last year. I listed 10 Philly theaters off the top of my head, trying to come up with a mix of small to large in sized. I combed the online records of their last completed season (2011-2012) and made a list of the playwright, director and actor gender break downs.

Wilma – Playwrights: M 3   F 1     Directors: M 1  F 3   Actors:  M  21  F 10

Arden – Playwrights: M 7    F 1      Directors: M 8   F 0   Actors:  M 36   F 22

Theatre Exile – Playwrights: M 3    F 1     Directors: M 2   F 2    Actors:  M 9   F 3

Simpatico – Playwrights: M 2     F 1      Directors: M 1    F2     Actors:  M 14   F 10

Lantern – Playwrights: M 4    F0      Directors: M 3  F1      Actors:  M15    F8

Flashpoint – Playwrights: M 2    F2      Directors: M 2   F 2    Actors:  M 7   F 6

PTC – Playwrights: M 4    F0      Directors: M 2.5   F 1.5 (One show co-directed)    Actors:  M 19   F 4

Plays &Players:  Playwrights: M 2    F 1     Directors: M 1   F 2   Actors:  M 12   F 10

Ego Po – Playwrights: M 1    F 1  (Note one ensemble script)    Directors: M 2   F 1  Actors:  M14    F 10  (This number is short four unnamed actors who’s gender I couldn’t find online)

Azuka – Playwrights: M1     F 2     Directors: M 2   F 1  Actors:  M 7   F 9

TOTALS –  Playwrights: M 30 (75%)   F 10 (25%)     Directors: M 24.5 (61%)   F 15.5 (39%)     Actors: M 154 (63%)  F 92 (37%)

Does that shock you? The sad truth is, probably not. I would guess this is not atypical.  But it should. It should horrify you.

I don’t think the people who run these theaters are doing this on purpose. But this is what I meant yesterday when I said you need to define what’s acceptable and know when you’re doing something that isn’t. Do you believe that women are 2 to 3 times less talented and capable of being writers, directors and actors? Of course not. But that’s what’s essentially being born out in this trend.

Listen people, especially you female artistic directors, we can’t keep going along with this. We need to point out that it’s not cool. When we’re in positions of power we need to work to do better. We all need to confront a little dissonance.

“But it’s the cannon.” Too damn bad. Make a new goddam cannon. Is the cannon worth diminishing more than 50% of the population? Is it worth undervaluing their stories 3 to 1? No, it’s not. And we need to pay attention that choices we make professionally will determine whether this trend continues. We have to do something. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s initially unpopular. (Though according to statistics, it won’t be, remember that female playwrights sell 18% more…)

I’m not saying down with men. I’m saying we need to balance this shit out. You want to produce a male playwright. Fine. Do three female playwrights for your following shows. You want to do a Shakespeare (aka dude heavy) show? Go ahead, but you better dig up a ton of pieces with badass female parts to balance the cosmic spectrum. Read a ton of plays by women. Decide to produce them at a higher percentage for a season or two or twelve. Intentionally hire some more female directors. Pick the show with a balanced gender ratio. And if you’re an actor for hire who doesn’t have a hand in programming, FIND the incredible plays by and about women and send them to the people that do. Write about how amazing they are and why they are so important to produce and demand they do so.

We are all responsible. We all need to teach the larger community that this is the kind of theater you believe in. Because if you aren’t you’re teaching the opposite. If you don’t create room then there will never be space for this to happen in the future. If there is a city it could happen in, I’d bank on this being the one.

Come on Philly. Say fuck yeah, we NEED some amazing fucking plays that are all or mostly women. And we need to do enough of them so that the next generation of directors don’t have to feel weird if they happen to choose a series of all women pieces. Not because they are super feminists. But because THAT’S TOTALLY NORMAL. Just as normal as if I’d happened to do Zoo Story, Art, or Glengary Glen Ross.


PS – In the the spirit of disclosure I thought I’d share breakdowns of works I’ve been had a major hand in shaping. Obviously the director stat is moot but here are their breakdowns by performers:

Ink and Paper – 1 woman

Joe Hill – 6 men, 1 woman

Echo – 2 men, 2 women

recitatif – 2 women

Giant Squid – 4 men, 1 woman

Owning Up to the Corn – 1 man, 1 woman

Neverboy – 1 man

Master and Margarita – 2 men

Purr, Pull, Reign – 3 men, 7 women

SURVIVE! – 3 men, 2 women

Lady M – 12 women

TOTAL: 22 men, 29 women

If you look at those same works for playwright collaborators it’s about equal in split (depending on what level you count ensemble members) between genders.


  1. I love this post, Adrienne. Alot of what you’ve said here is why I am honored to work for who I work for. She is keenly aware of the struggles as she is an actor, director AND writer herself. In the 11-12 season, we (1812 Productions) hired more female actors than male, and this season is an almost even split, with one show having an 7-member, all-female, all-Philadelphia cast. And Jen Childs is planning on doing many events & outreach around the Women & Comedy Project–so the question is, how can we turn this conversation into one around the project? One of the reasons to do more events (like a one-night storytelling performance) around this show is to give women a platform for their voices–we have a space for April & May, what we don’t have (sadly) are the funds to cast the Women & Comedy Project with a cast of 25. (But how amazing would THAT be?) So…what should we do this Spring? Together?

    1. I actually noticed this as I was trying to collect stats. I couldn’t get a full season’s worth of info on 1812 to include for this post, but from trying to look at show’s breakdowns from online reviews it was clear that it was one of the few companies whose ratios were skewed to the other direction.

      I would love to expand this into a larger conversation. Drop me an email amackey1@gmail.com to set up a meeting.

  2. Not that I can explain why or what you might do with this information, but it may be worth noting that the companies whose cast splits did favor women are some of the smaller, younger companies in town.

    1. I think it’s true. Because I was interested I went back and picked over the Arden’s last 6 seasons (this current one to 07/08) and got this:

      ARDEN TOTALS (2007-2013):
      Playwrights: M 37.17 (86.4%) F 5.83 (13.6%)
      Directors: M 41 (95.3%) F 2 (4.7%)
      Actors (12/13 not included b/c cast lists not final): M 190 (63.8%) F 108 (36.2%)

      2 female directors compared to 41 men. That’s TWENTY times as many. Almost two actors employed for every one actress. Six times as many male playwrights. If the Arden’s mission is “bringing to life great stories by great storytellers” then I can only conclude that all the good story tellers are men.

  3. Sad how little this shocked me. All of this is just data confirming what I think we’ve all known anecdotally for quite some time. It’s like…. it’s like how I saw “Bridesmaids” twice in the theatre, because I was just so fucking happy that I could go see anything that was written, produced, and starring smart, funny women – and that it was GOOD. And mulling it over later, I couldn’t help but just be so sad that it was 2012 and the idea of a female-driven powerhouse comedy with both fart jokes and surprising depth was a novelty. I know I’m very much guilty of hearing things like “plays by women, for women, about women” and automatically assuming that it’s gonna be all Vagina Monologues up in there, whatever the actual subject matter, and staying home. Which is some shitty reasoning, and not easy for this smart, forward-thinking feminist lady to admit, and yet….. there it is. Almost none of the women I know live in the spheres popularized by Sex in the City or Lifetime Movie Network, and yet there IS this perception that all women write like that.

    (ps: I know you’re clearly many steps ahead of me on this one, but let’s go back to that marvelous line about dude-heavy Shakespeare shows and let me plug alternative casting. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to work on classic plays where ladies have been cast in some of those dude roles — inevitably it makes my design options open by leaps and bounds, and it’s a great way to bring all kinds of new approaches to the work).

  4. I have to admit to having the same gut reaction as Fritzy on the “plays by women, for women, about women” front. I’m definitely guilty of directing or creating some of those plays, too! I suppose we need to work harder to shift our own paradigms as we attempt we shift those of others.

    I wonder how this season’s offerings in Philadelphia would do in the Bechdel test.

  5. I’m glad Kate Tejada responded, because I do think 1812 has a better record on gender equality than most theater organizations in town. And I agree with Craig that there is some hope for change in the future with some of the younger artists and groups coming up. This article is making me reflect on the work I myself have done on the theater side of things. Here are my personal stats:
    Ivona – Playwright M 1, F 0 Director M 1, F 0 Actors M 4 F 4
    Suburban Love Songs – Playwright M 0, F 1 Director M 0, F 1 Actors M 3 F 4
    Pretty Pretty – Playwright M 0, F 1 Director M 1, F 0 Actors M 2 F3
    Chlamydia – Playwright M 0, F2, Director M 0, F 1, Actors M 0, F 2

    Not bad, really. So shouts out to Jen Childs, Karen Getz, Meg Williams and Gigi Naglak, and Joe Canuso, who directed a very feminist Sheila Callaghan play with sensitivity and grace. And let’s PLEASE keep this conversation going. It’s such an important one.

    1. I think it would be really interesting to have people compile their own stats to see how their work stacks up. I did it in part because I really had no idea how my own work metered out. It was nice to see that I wasn’t following the trend, but I think being aware might help me make choices in the future. Again, I think so much of this trend is because people DON’T take a moment and consider. If you know you’re work for the past 5 years has heavily selected against females, maybe it will push your choices in a new direction

  6. Amen! Adrienne Mackey!!! Thank you for finally putting in writing what we all knew. Going back to your post from yesterday and Meg’s comment I think the intense competition between women artists, specifically, is fueled by a large community of women vying for very few opportunities, especially 20-30 something women. Look at any university theatre department and in most cases women will out weigh men exponentially. The pool of women in any city is going to be saturated. Also, if you look back at most of the larger theatre companies seasons, I will bet that a good majority of the female actors are based in New York and not Philadelphia.

  7. Thanks for bringing this up, Adrienne. This is not just a Philadelphia issue–it’s a national problem. Folks who are interested should check out http://theatrewomen.org/5050-in-2020-parity-for-women-theatre-artists for info on an organization that aims to achieve gender parity among theater workers by 2020.

    One thing I think: although it’s a generous public service to point out to the companies who are not employing women and men equally, the best way to change the situation is to recognize that those companies simply may not share your/our values, so creating your/our own companies to do things differently is the most effective route to change. Most of the companies on your list have come of ager relatively recently and, except for one company that has remained embalmed here for hundreds of years, all of the professional theaters in Philadelphia have developed in the course of my life. Our field grows as new institutions are created and old ones either learn to adjust to a new landscape or else they fail.

    1. Mark, I totally agree with making the work you want to see. It’s why I don’t ever work at any of those companies. I certainly think that the work I make does it’s best to try to address the things I think matter. It’s the thing I spend most of every day trying to do.

      But, I do think there is a necessity in public-ness of discourse and of requiring the engagement from those that might not ever take the time to stop and notice these things. If no one challenges choices, how can we expect them to know we disagree. If we create a demand for works that equal out the gender gap, by asking for them, by high attendance of works that display that, by writing letters to the boards and leaders that we want to see change, I think it becomes an artistic and economic boon for them to do the right thing.

      The larger institutions are our cultural leaders. They set the tone for national discourse on what is produced and how. These theaters are non-profits and by definition are there to serve their constituents for the public good. I am part of that public. I disagree that they are fulfilling their stated missions when 50% of their constituents are being under-represented. There’s nothing about “bringing to life great stories by great storytellers,” or a commitment “to an authentic and intimate exploration of the human spirit” or engaging “artists and audiences in imaginative reflection on the complexities of contemporary life” that should have anything to do with gender.

      The biggest part of my impulse to make the conversation public is that I think I see so many of my peers (male and female) accept this situation resignedly as simply the way things will always be at these theaters. I see those same peers making that belief part of the fabric of how they work, blithely making jokes about how life will always be harder for women in the arts than their male counterparts. I’ve done that myself. I see it weigh on our psyches and in many cases slowly bring the women I know to believe they actually aren’t as talented.

      I look at the theatrical landscape right now and see that gender parity isn’t something most major theaters make a high priority. The effort to change the usual season and artist selection process is greater than the demand for a different model. The inconvenience of finding new female plays, directors and designers is bigger than the pain of justifying unequal representation. I can’t decrease the pain it takes to change, but I CAN make the ease of continuing in the current fashion a whole lot harder.

      I know that what they chose to do about that is up to them and that only my works are a reflection of the values I hold. But, at least if they continue in the pattern they do, they’ll know that they’re doing it. It’s like the movement of many playwrights to make a point to write in role descriptions that parts can be cast by any ethnicity rather than just writing in race when it’s not Caucasian. That imbalance should be a conscious choice, not the unstated default.

  8. I agree with *almost* everything you say, Adrienne. Two quibbles that are (I think) interesting:

    First, I don’t think that the larger institutions are our cultural leaders: the real advances in our field are made by small ensembles and by individuals. In particular, almost all of our larger non-profit theater companies are on perpetual creative life-support. Those companies feed on young talent to try to keep themselves relevant but, apart from Blanka, almost none of the administrators who run them are able to keep themselves artistically invigorated. One of the principal reasons that the gender problem exists for playwrights is that these theaters fall all over themselves trying to book what was “edgy” last season, so if a man gets one production at Theater A, he gets three more at companies B, C, and D the following year; these large companies are followers of the trends and innovations that come from the work of artists who work in contexts in which risk can actually be taken.

    Second, and I don’t mean to pick on the Arden, but their slogan about Great Stories shows their allegiance to “greatness” and to narrative, two ideas that saw their heydays in the early-mid 20th century. They are artistically a reactionary company, making “new” work in a style that is, from the standpoint of the evolution of the art form, decidedly nostalgic. I think an allegiance to these two (patriarchal) ideas makes it very hard for them to stage the work of women artists whose concerns often (not always) extend to ideas beyond their own “greatness” or to the trajectory of a story. I think about (my beloved) Gertrude Stein as an extreme example of this, but Maria Irene Fornes, Adrienne Kennedy, Suzan-Lori Parks, Caridad Svitch, Ruth Margraff, (I could go on)–these are women for whom the “greatness” of their “stories” is simply beside the point, and their work is not likely to be playing at the Arden anytime soon.

    By all means, let’s call out the offenders and let’s give them a chance to change. And also, let’s make the work that changes everything. (But first,let’s have coffee.)

  9. Pingback: Stick in the Mud |
  10. I’m a month late to this party, but that god someone else out there says things like this. I used to be more involved in the Philly theater scene, but shifted to music composition a couple of years ago, and my focus is vocal music. In particular, at the moment, I’m writing an opera for my dissertation at Penn, so I’ve been seeing and studying operas and musicals, particularly contemporary works.

    A couple of years ago, I composed/produced/directed/conducted a show called the Gonzales Cantata in the Fringe. It was about the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of Alberto Gonzales. I was mad that the SJC at the time was made up of 19 men and 1 woman (it’s not much better now), and I also knew a lot more women I wanted to work with, so I reversed the gender of the main roles. People thought it was a gimmick, and I suppose in a way it was, but that’s understating the depth of my outrage that in an industry in which the unemployment lines and pool of talent are female dominated, there are still huge imbalances in the roles offered. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen operas – and musicals – where the female leads are better performers than the male leads simply because their audition pool is so much more competitive.

    And yet, I keep seeing new operas churned out by male composers which are filled with male roles. My husband is used to me opening a program and muttering, “Men men men men men men men” whenever we’re in an audience. My friends on social networks are apparently sick to death of me talking about it, and I’ve gotten very real pushback from people (men and women) who claim that my observations are confirmation bias. But last week, I saw Book of Mormon, which a lot of people keep telling me is the best show on Broadway — 24 men, 6 women. Last night, I saw Silent Night, a new opera by Kevin Puts that won last year’s Pulitzer, and one of only a handful of contemporary operas that large opera companies around the country gamble on staging — 47 men, 2 women. And those 47 men (I think, it was hard to keep count during curtain call) were then joined by the conductor (male) the director (male) and the composer (male) for a grand total of 50. 25 times more men than women on the stage at the end of the night.

    The big new opera at the Met this season was Thomas Ades’s The Tempest — main roles: 9 men 2 women. Another new opera that made a big splash recently was Moby-Dick by Jake Heggie. Oh, how nice, there’s a pants role for a single soprano.

    Of course, say the apologists. Of course they’re full of men! They are shows about Mormon missionaries, and wartime, and Shakespeare, and Moby-goddamn-Dick. They have to be full of men! What do you expect, a female Prospero? Well, aside from the fact that that Julie Taymor didn’t think that was such a bad idea, why are these subjects being chosen for opera in the first place? Male men telling male stories full of men. Meanwhile, one of the best sopranos I know is on food stamps. It infuriates me.

    The opera I’m writing for my dissertation is evenly split, but the women take the lead in the story and singing, and it’s a woman’s story. But next time, I want to write an opera with 47 women and 2 men on stage during curtain call. And me makes 48.

    Sorry about the rant.

    1. I think there’s a big difference between a rant and a well thought out argument. In fact I think that women even feeling like pointing out obvious discrimination is a “rant” is just a sign that there’s something seriously wrong. Sort of like when I hear a woman say she’s not a “feminist.” I have no idea what she thinks a feminist is, but it’s hard for me to imagine how ANYONE wouldn’t want to be that.

      Part of the reason I’m interested in using numbers (https://swimponypa.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/true-story/) is so that we can define such an argument on terms that any person can see. Numbers, for better or worse, hold an objective power that anger and frustration seem not to punch through.

      I encourage all of us to take this data and send it back to the people who perpetuate it. It’s the next phase of my personal plan. If not now, I’m not sure whenever, anyone is going to bother to make a change.

      Funny that you should mention female Prospero, actually. It’s exactly what I’ll be doing for Shakespeare in Clark Park this summer. Along with a female Caliban and many of the royals.

      1. I feel like I’ve been made to feel bad for being angry about my observations in the past. So it’s partly that, and it’s partly that I don’t want to hijack your own very-well-thought-out blog with my own frustrations. Which, by the way, continued to scroll through my mind long after I finished typing, bringing up more and more reasons why the status quo is unjust. Isn’t it interesting that a 47-women/2-men opera would instantly get reams of press about being a women’s opera; I haven’t seen anyone in the press talk about Silent Night as a men’s opera. Also: the Philadelphia Opera Company production of Silent Night that I just saw has many black cast members — which is great. We need to see more racial diversity on our opera stages. What this means, however, is that apparently black German and black Scottish WWI soldiers is believable, but women playing these parts isn’t. What?

        Thanks for the link to the pie charts. I really need to do this for opera specifically. Maybe I’ll propose writing the paper part of my dissertation on the subject so I can study it properly. A few months ago, a friend of mine who disagrees with me started putting together statistics to try to prove me wrong. When his numbers weren’t helping him, he began to argue that pure stats were meaningless because the female roles were *musically* more important. So I guess, in order for some people to be convinced, I might have to start counting and measuring the goddamn notes. (Pretty sure the numbers would still fall my way.)

        Anyway, this has increased my fervor so much that I have to take some kind of immediate action: I have right this instant decided that I’m going to pants-role one of the high tenor characters in my own opera. Seriously. Today, I’m going to go through that role and make sure that a female singer will get that check. I’m really excited about it.

        An unapologetically angry feminist.

        P.S. This might be too much of a pain in the arse, but if there’s any way WordPress does this easily, it would be awesome if you were able to add tags/labels/categories to your blog entries so that when I’m linking to you on a specific subject (which I will), there would be an easy way to access all your posts related specifically to that subject.

        1. Indeed. In fact, my hope with the cross gender casting is to downplay it this summer as much as possible. I don’t want that choice to define the production any more than the traditional gender breakdown would.

          I’d love to hear any research you come up with in the opera world. Even having only dipped toes into it, it seems like it’s got as much work as theater does, if not more, to do.

          And as for the tags, I actually didn’t even know such a thing existed. Consider me tagging from here out. It’ll take me a bit to get back to everything I’ve written so far but in a few days you should be able to search for stuff.

          A few other posts that might be of interest:



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