Diversity and Parity in Theatre: Notes from the Dramatists Guild Conference in San Diego

Note: I wrote this for San Diego Free Press in 2015. I had to re-post it in my blog because two years later, and it is like it happened yesterday.

By Alejandra Enciso Guzmán
City Count
Licensing, royalties, and writing were the main topics when the National Dramatists Guild  (DG) convened at Torrey Pines.  The Dramatist Guild is a community of playwrights, composers and lyricists dedicated to protecting, informing and promoting the interests of dramatists everywhere.
Hundreds of people came from different parts of the country and even the world this past weekend to passionately discuss  how when, where and why they are guided by the pen. The conference is held every two years in a different city.
There were many known names, those who have and are still writing what everybody is talking about (ahem FrozenWicked). Stephen Schwartz participated in several panels and shared his knowledge with newcomers and others who have been at the game for a while. Serving as President at the DG from 2009 to 2014, the composer and lyricist responsible for such hits as WickedPippin, and Godspell was the subject of celebration Saturday July 18th as part of the conference’s wonderful closing.
Other panelists included La Jolla Playhouse’s Artistic Director Christopher Ashley who discussed the playhouse’s mission and success. Husband and wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez , known for “Let it Go” from Frozen, shared their insights in a number of panels.
I loved to see how approachable everybody was. It was also interesting to pick up on the subtexts which were also present. The conference provided a  platform  for “The Count,” a national survey from 2011 to 2014 that shows which theaters are producing the work of women and which are not. During the Lilly Awards, (Recognizing Extraordinary Contributions To The American Theatre Made By Women) the study was presented by Marsha Norman, Julia Jordan, Lisa Kron, and Rebecca Stump.
Where are the women playwrights? While discussing the importance of parity it was pointed out that only  22.18% of playwrights who where produced in the past three years in the United States were women. The leads in producing ladies are Chicago, Washington and Kansas City.
Julia Jordan Rebecca Stump Lisa Kron and Marsha Norman
Julia Jordan, Rebecca Stump, Lisa Kron and Marsha Norman
“People just have to wrap their minds around the fact that diversity and parity is good for the bottom line, it is good for the art and it is good for the audiences. It is more exciting theatre and it’s where the hits are,” playwright Julia Jordan told me after the presentation.
“All you have to do is look at New York City, and the two hottest theatres right now: The Public and Playwrights Horizons have been producing parity and diversity for a long, long time. The Public just put out the biggest and most explosive season they’ve had. I think people should take a little cue from that” she added.
Jordan points out that when she started, people were sensitive to issues of race and racism,  but were not shy in saying that women did not write good plays and that was the reason why they were not being produced.
They had NO problem in saying that… and they do not say it anymore. There are just too many women out there writing amazing plays, and we see them now. They are being produced and produced well. These plays not only need to be produced, but have to be produced at the same level of collaboration. The director that you put with your female playwright should be as good and as accomplished and as exciting as you would give as director to a male playwright and that is how you are going to get the hits.
I also had the huge privilege to exchange a few words with Lisa Kron, writer of the hit Tony Award winning musical Fun Home. I asked her what she thought would happen with the release of The Count. “Theatre seems like a good place for that to change. There are more interesting plays then there are production slots already. Theatres that have gotten closer to parity are having great seasons. Just fix it! It is a no brainer”.
The logical question, if the benefits of parity are a no brainer, is why do we have only 22% of theatre production by female playwrights,  spread over three years? “Because it is change and people do not like change” Kron responded. “If we produce more women, we will produce less men. Nobody wants to give up their territory and I think we are all socialized to feel like when we get out of that 20% mark that we are out of kilter. This feels natural to us and it is not natural. It is scary when the status quo shifts. It has to be our new normal; I do not see why this could not be it in the following four years. There is not a reason not to have parity”.
Props to San Diego’s Moxie Theatre which has been producing women’s work for ten years now. Glad to say that has been normal for these ladies since 2005 and hopefully we will see more of those examples around the country. And a standing ovation to the Dramatist Guild for curating an amazing, intense and on point group of days.

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