Gender Bias In Theater

In case you don’t read all the theater blogs as fervently as I do, here’s what everyone’s talking about today. The New York Times has an article about a Princeton study on gender bias in theater; specifically, why female playwrights are produced less than male playwrights. There are two parts people find surprising. The first:

Artistic directors of theater companies have maintained that no discrimination exists, rather that good scripts by women are in short supply. That claim elicited snorts and laughter from the audience when it was repeated Monday night, but Ms. Sands declared, “They’re right.”

And the second, that women readers tend to rate plays by women lower than men do:

Ms. Sands sent identical scripts to artistic directors and literary managers around the country. The only difference was that half named a man as the writer (for example, Michael Walker), while half named a woman (i.e., Mary Walker). It turned out that Mary’s scripts received significantly worse ratings in terms of quality, economic prospects and audience response than Michael’s. The biggest surprise? “These results are driven exclusively by the responses of female artistic directors and literary managers,” Ms. Sands said.

Amid the gasps from the audience, an incredulous voice called out, “Say that again?”

Ms. Sands put it another way: “Men rate men and women playwrights exactly the same.”

The great thing is that you can dig into this for hours. The NY Times article is here. Then there’s a PDF of the slides from the meeting on Monday where the study was presented. And you can even download and read the entire 173 page thesis (PDF).

Interesting responses abound, most especially from Matthew Freeman — who correctly notes that doollee, while a fantastic site, is not always up-to-date and seems to glean most of its information from a sweep of blogs and websites, both of which tend to skew male — and from 99seats, who wonders if female literary managers working with male artistic directors have be tough because “if all you bring to your AD are plays by women, even if they are the best plays, you’re not going to keep that job for long.”


3 Replies to “Gender Bias In Theater”

  1. I’d be interested in knowing if the study examined different types of theatres. Were only LORT theatres in the study? I wonder if the production rates vary between those large theatres and smaller theatres.

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