All but daring American theaters to put on more new plays by women, an advocacy group of female writers and producers released a list of 46 such works Monday that have been recommended for production by dozens of other playwrights, dramaturges and artistic directors.
The list is an attempt at creating a supply pipeline for an industry in which many leaders say they want to put on more new plays by women. Still, for whatever reason, they produce a relative handful. Sheila Callaghan, a playwright (“Port Out, Starboard Home”) and a member of the advocacy group, which calls itself the Kilroys, said the list was to help artistic directors who have good intentions while confronting others who she said she believed were biased in favor of male playwrights.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with artistic directors who defend their season lineups by complaining they have no access to quote-unquote good plays written by females or people identifying as female,” Callaghan said. “The list lets us deliver 46 great plays to people who can’t seem to find them.”
To compile the list, the Kilroys – which formed in Los Angeles last year and is named after the subversive graffiti left by World War II soldiers and others to make their presence known — asked 127 theater leaders to recommend plays written by women that have had one or no productions but were among the best they had seen or read over the previous year. Participants included Martha Lavey, artistic director of Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago, and Adam Greenfield, director of new play development at the off-Broadway Playwrights Horizons. The survey yielded more than 300 plays; the 46 on the list were the most recommended.
The list includes plays by famous or familiar names, like the Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel, as well as Tanya Barfield and Halley Feiffer, and many more who are less established, such as Janine Nabers and Anna Ziegler. The modest track records of some writers on the Kilroys’ list are sure to be an issue for many theaters, which tend to produce new plays or classics by well-known writers that their audience members might know, or works that ran off-Broadway and can be billed as New York-tested. But Lavey of Steppenwolf, whose current season has several plays by women (including a world premiere by Mona Mansour), as well as by men (Bruce Norris, Kenneth Lonergan), said the list was important to get artistic directors thinking more about a diverse mix of plays and producing new work that might appeal to their female-dominated audiences.
“Some of the spikiest, most trenchant writing I’m reading lately is by female playwrights,” Lavey said.
Surveys and studies regularly find that plays by women make up a fraction of theaters’ productions. One 2013 survey found that at nine major theaters in Southern California, only 16 percent of the shows that season were written by women (and the same proportion were directed by women). The Kilroys cited similar percentages for Broadway and Washington.
The recently concluded 2013-14 Broadway season did not have any new plays written by women. While this is a fairly rare occurrence nowadays, other seasons usually still feature only one or two such works. The last new play on Broadway by a woman was “Lucky Guy,” by Nora Ephron, which ran last spring, with Tom Hanks starring. None of the new plays announced for the 2014-15 Broadway season are by women, but it is still early.