Saturday, March 20, 2010

Read Rebeck's Speech on Female Playwrights

Earlier this week, Theresa Rebeck gave the keynote address for ART/New York's vendor awards. And she killed, giving a hard-boiled lecture on female playwrights in American theater. Read it over your morning coffee; it'll tell you more about the state of the art than any feature you'll skim in the weekend Arts & Leisure section of the NYTimes.

Most of her speech is tough-minded and anecdotal. But she backs up her experiences with facts. An excerpt to whet your appetite:
Generally, over the last 25 years the number of plays produced that were written by women seems to have vacillated between 12 and 17 percent.

This is a disastrous statistic, and it is related to another disastrous statistic, which is the number of women writers and directors in Hollywood. This year 6 percent of films were directed by women, and 8 percent of produced screenplays were written by women, or women had a shared credit on them. That means 88 percent of all plays were written by men, 94 percent of all movies were directed by men, and 92 percent of all movies were written by men.

Women playwrights like myself have a lot of anecdotal evidence to support some pretty coherent theories about why this is the case. People in the power structure seem more mystified and often they don’t seem sure that there is a problem. (One of them actually said to me, not to long ago, “But Theresa, where ARE the women playwrights?” Seriously, he looked me in the face and said that.) Several artistic directors have expressed concern at the idea of 'quotas,' they really don’t like the word 'quota.' I don’t like that word either. Another word I don’t like is 'discrimination' and, 'censorship,' and I wish I could get them to dislike those words as much as they dislike 'quotas.' 'Boys club' is another couple of words I could very well live without. But since there is so much murky territory in language, I think this discussion of numbers is very useful.

Earlier in the speech, she points out a hard irony: “Back in 1918, before women had the right to vote, the percentage of new plays in New York written by women was higher. It was higher before we had the vote.”

In the spirit of fairness, Rebeck also notes that the '09/'10 New York season does offer a number of very good plays by women (and incidentally omits a few, like Suzan-Lori Parks' current show at the Public and Sheila Callaghan's upcoming one at the Womens' Project). Her list includes some of the best shows of the season.

Go see them. See the plays that women write, talk about them to your friends (especially those in artistic management!), interview the writers and build features around their work. Pay attention to this speech, circulate it among theater artists and audiences, and work on changing the facts it presents. It's the 21st century; time to act like it.


Jeremy said...

Here's the link to the NYT review of Butterfly Collection that she references at the start of the speech.

Micheline Auger said...

Thanks for sharing Theresa's speech. Another interesting statistic: 70% of all theater tickets are bought by women and women make up 60% of the audience.