The Count is an ongoing study that asks the question, “Who Is Being Produced In American Theaters?” It is presented here for the first time using three years of data from productions in regional theaters in America. As you will learn later, only 22% of those productions were written by women. This means that if life worked like the theater, 4 out of 5 things you had ever heard would have been said by men. That means you would have missed a lot, given the kinds of things you learn from women. And why are we missing the voices of women in the theater? There is one simple answer: artistic directors and producers choose not to present their plays. Our task from here on is to determine how best to change the way people make the choices that silence the voices of women.
Sadly enough, this silencing is not limited to the theater. At NPR, for example, in a survey much like our Count, it was found that the percentage of women being interviewed, doing the interviewing or being the subject of the story – was exactly 20%. In the art museums, 80% of the art hanging on the walls is by men. The women’s work is stored in the basement. In orchestras, until the advent of blind auditions, 20% of the players were women. This 20% number is the real ceiling we are fighting in our lives and in our careers today. So what do we miss if we do not hear the voices of women? Half of life, that’s what. It would be like ignoring the stories of everything that happens in the night. Or the day. Women have lived half of the experience of the world, but only 20% of it is reported in the theaters. Imagine if the newspapers only presented 20% of the news. Well, we can argue about how much they really cover. And I’ll tell you already, if you hadn’t guessed, that 20% of the news stories concern women, and are written by women. What we want is 50% of the airtime, 50% of the walls of the museum, 50% of the stage time in the theaters and on the movie screens. We want life in the arts to represent life as it is lived in the world. We want to hear the whole human chorus, not just the tenors, basses and baritones.
Let’s talk about the dangers of not hearing the voices of women. There are countries where the voices of women are completely silenced or drastically imperiled or threatened. Kept hidden and cloaked. Kept inside. And these countries, mainly in Africa and the Middle East are what? That’s right, they are constant battlegrounds. Because women are not allowed to speak or to participate in the speaking, the men are just out there killing each other all the time.
When women’s voices are silenced, the culture goes into what a UN friend of mine calls testosterone poisoning. I don’t have to explain what that is, do I? It fills up the TV screens night after night. And until women’s voices are heard in those lands, they are doomed to eternal warfare. Because it is women who say, let’s try to understand people who are different from us, let’s listen to what they have to say, let’s find a way that they can live their lives and we can live ours. Let’s work it out, so the children can survive. When men’s voices are the only ones heard, the children are in grave danger. A world run by women would be a vastly different place. I am not saying the American theater is overcome by testosterone poisoning. But I am saying that when women’s voices are silenced, it is not a safe world for anybody. Women are the safety valve on the culture.
When women first began writing for the American theater – that is what I call the modern era, when Beth Henley and I started writing, we assumed this whole fight would be over with by now. But it isn’t. So I am challenging all of you to help us hear the voices of women in the world. That is the purpose of the Count. Not to establish quotas, not to shame and blame those people who continue to produce only the plays of men, but to assure that the voice of women will be heard in this land. The graph to your left illustrates this problem and shows exactly who has been produced and in what percentage over the last three years in America. And the data was so clear, we didn’t even have to use last names.
The above is an excerpt from the current issue of The Dramatist magazine at Dramatists Guild of America. For public accessible version issue, click here.
Graphic used by permission. Designed by Bekka Lindstrom for The Dramatist.