Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Women Playwrights Are What?

I was interested to see the article in today's New York Times ("Rethinking Gender Bias in Theatre,", and the item in this week's New York Magazine's Vulture column (link above) about the prejudices against plays by female writers. The studies may all be true, but I've certainly got questions. Like, how can you determine that women are less prolific playwrights than men, using the Dramatist Guild and Neither the Guild nor doollee (and I'm very loyal to both) keep track of unproduced plays, only produced plays. The tests of sending out plays by women under male and female pseudonyms is an interesting experiment, but surely it wasn't large enough to be statistically significant. I don't doubt that there are women artistic directors and literary managers who don't hold women playwrights in high esteem; several come to mind. But I expect there's a whole lot more going on there.
What I had expected (and didn't see) was a semi-replication of the NYSCA study of several years ago, which looked at regional theatre productions (as opposed to Broadway) of plays by women. It also found that it was the same women (the usual suspects we all know and love) getting productions in these theatres. The new studies also assert that there are fewer women playwrights than men (certainly true), but also that one can draw the conclusion that there are fewer good plays by women than there are by men, and that's why fewer women's plays are produced? I simply don't believe it. I know too many women with good, unproduced plays. I've also heard Marsha Norman say (to me and a hundred other people) that her male students from Juilliard consistently have agents when they graduate, and her female students consistently don't. Is it because she and Christopher Durang can't tell the difference between good and bad writers? I doubt that.
I think that great kudos should be given to Julia Jordan, for laying out these questions as she did at the first town hall meeting about this at New Dramatists last fall. But I think these studies have raised at least as many questions as they've answered.

1 comment:

Barry Rowell said...

You had a lot of the same thoughts about the article that I did (although I didn't know about the males getting agents over females info). I don't think we're going to get a "definitive study" conducted on this topic because there are just so many variables: the published/produced work vs. un- being a prime one. The notion that male administrators rate male and female written scripts with more parity than women is an interesting one to me: I was more skeptical about that suggestion when I read it than about any other but I didn't look at their data and how they arrived at this conclusion (the Powerpoint presentation is available at if you want to peruse it... I'd like to but haven't had time yet). I was part of a Facebook "discussion" (read: someone posting the article a few of us commented on it) and a male playwright's sole participation was "zzzzzzzzzz" which underlines to me why we're going to continue to have this discussion for a long time: the jerks in the world skew all of the non-empirical data...