By: Megan McCasland
Women have been marginalized in the professional world; the theatre industry, unfortunately, is no exception. While it has become widely accepted for women to play male roles, like Hamlet or Peter Pan, it is rare to see successful or widely-known shows with females in leadership roles or positions of power. Here at Waco Civic Theatre, we are trying to change that tradition.
February 11, 2010. The Denver Post published “The 10 most important American plays.” They conducted a survey, asking 177 theatregoers/people in the theatre industry to rank the 10 most important plays ever written. The final list had only one play written by a woman, and further details of the survey revealed that of the 294 total number of plays receiving top 10 votes, only 21 percent of those plays were written by women.
September 4, 2015. American Theatre Magazine published an article titled “20 Most-Produced Playwrights of the 2015-16 Season.” Of those 20 playwrights, only 4 were women.
June 27, 2017. Actors’ Equity released its first-ever diversity study, which came to the conclusion that “women and members of color have fewer work opportunities and often draw lower salaries when they do find work.” Equity’s membership is evenly divided between men and women, yet they found that “consistently across all the on-stage contracts examined in this study, men were offered close to 60 percent of the on-stage contracts . . . [and] were offered 61 percent of national principal contracts.”
See a pattern?
In almost every position imaginable found in professional theatre, women are consistently hired less than men are. And when they do get hired, they reported in the Actors’ Equity study that they are given lower salaries than a man in the same position.
This is unfortunate once you consider that the majority of theatre-going audiences are predominately female. It is also shocking when you compare the professional industry to theatre in schools across America, where young women make up the majority of students found in the theatre classrooms and on the stage.
So why is there such a shift between what we see in schools and what we see in the professional world? Is it because the workforce does not think that women are capable of getting the job done? Are we still living in the early 1900s, where women weren’t seen as anything other than housekeepers?
I have to say, I am kind of disappointed in the theatre industry over this situation. Theatre has always been perceived as an industry that loves all people and encourages everyone to express themselves and be the best version of themselves that they can be. Theatre is supposed to be a place where it does not matter what gender, race, religion, political background, sexual affiliation, or whatever that you are and/or have. And the inequality problem doesn’t just end at gender bias, but it reaches out to include people of color, people who are overweight, and disabled actors, to name a few.
The theatre industry is trying to address the problem, as evidenced by shows like Hamilton (with its racially diverse cast) and Waitress (where the three main characters are female), or theatre companies like Deaf West and Smooth Faced Gentlemen (a female-only Shakespeare company in London).
Here at Waco Civic Theatre, the majority of the crew, musicians, and creative roles (the director, stage manager, and music director, for example) in our upcoming musical Dream On are filled by women. Two of the six shows this season have female directors at the helm, and we actively seek out female creative talent as well as encourage female talent on stage. Not only do we put up shows with predominately-male casts, like The Three Musketeers and Million Dollar Quartet, but we also put up shows with predominately-female casts, like Dream On and Beehive. In the 2014-15 season, the majority of the shows featured strong female leads.
Despite the efforts that many theatres and individuals are making, it is clear that the theatre industry still has a long way to go. The Waco Civic Theatre team agrees and is doing its best to foster better equity in Central Texas’ theatre community.
Photo taken from Google.