What are we missing out on by not having more female voices and perspectives on our stages?

As we make our way to the culminating event in Forum Theatre’s current Female Voices Festival, I thought it appropriate to step back and give some explanation as to what led us to producing this festival and what it means to the past, present, and future of both Forum itself and the American Theatre.

It started with an embarrassing admission.

As we were discussing the 2011/2012 season and what shows we wanted to produce, someone from the company called us out for not having a very good track record when it came to diversity in our past seasons. It had been a conversation for several seasons at Forum and the challenge to produce a more diverse season (when it comes to playwrights) was one that I thought we had been making some decent progress in. I instinctually responded by citing the various plays that we had produced recently that showed more diversity–plays by hispanic writers, writers of Arab descent…hadn’t we at least improved?

“No, I mean more women. We’ve hardly produced any female writers.”

Before I opened my mouth in defense, it dawned on me–maybe smacked me in the head is a better analogy–that of the 21 plays we had produced to that point, only THREE had been written by women. And of those three, Caryl Churchill had written two of them (Naomi Wallace, who we were producing at that moment, the other).

How had I never noticed that? As ridiculous as it sounds, I can honestly say that I had never realized the fact that we were so male-writer-heavy. I don’t say that as some sort of a defense. It’s the part that maybe worries me the most.

That conversation continued as we examined the issue and i started to do some real soul-searching: Did I have some sort of mental block that led me to only think of male writers? Was there something in Forum’s aesthetic that drew us to male voices, primarily? And was that a problem?

The need to produce more women writers wasn’t engrained in my knowledge of how to curate a theatre season. If it wasn’t a part of my artistic director’s ethical core–and I consider myself to be a fairly progressive, democratic, person–then how many others were just like me?

Recent studies show that both in the US (and in the UK, thanks to the Guardian), only 17% of all plays produced in non-profit theatres are written by women. Looking at DC, a colleague just shared on Facebook that “From 9 DC area theatres with their own venues, offering 66 productions total: There are only, 10 women playwrights and 17 women directors represented.”

Going back to our season discussion, we has already decided to produce THE ILLUSION, by Tony Kushner, at that point, but by the end of our planning, we had chosen three other plays to make up the 2011/2012 series, all written by women–Julia Cho, Young Jean Lee, and another Caryl Churchill script. We wanted to see what a more female-writer focused season would feel like and to explore what we’d been missing out on, all those seasons before.

And that’s where the idea of this Female Voices Festival came from and more specifically, the idea to hold this symposium and really delve into the topic, more fully. I welcome you to join the conversations going on this weekend by following our feed @forumtheatre and the ongoing conversation under the #2femt and #2amt hashtags.

  • February 24, 2012
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