When looking at the number of females versus males credited with creative roles in theatre (direction, set/costume/sound/lighting design, writing, composing, adapting etc.), it is very difficult to understand why this discussion is not at the forefront of theatre minds worldwide. Much like the staggeringly uneven number of people of colour being represented on and off stage, it is incredibly sad to discover that in nearly any given professional show, the number of male creatives is at least three to four times more than the number of females, and the statistics are worse still for women receiving critical acclaim for their work.

For example, the following is a list of musicals that have opened and are still open on Broadway this season, and are in the running* to compete for Tony Awards in creative categories. **

  • Cabaret – Dir. Sam Mendes (1 female creative v. 9 male)
  • Bullets Over Broadway – Dir. Susan Stroman (1 female creative v. 6 male)
  • The Bridges of Madison County – Dir. Bartlett Sher (2 female creatives v. 4 male)
  • After Midnight – Dir. Warren Carlyle (1 female creative v. 6 male)
  • A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder – Dir. Darko Tresnjak (2 female creatives v. 9 male)
  • Violet – Dir. Leigh Silverman (2 female creatives v. 6 male)
  • Les Miserables – Dir. Laurence Connor and James Powell (2 female creatives v. 21 male)
  • Beautiful the Carole King Musical – Dir. Marc Bruni (2 female creatives v. 10 male)
  • Rocky – Dir. Alex Timbers (2 female creatives v. 9 male)
  • Aladdin – Dir. Casey Nicholaw (1 female creative v. 9 male)
  • If/Then – Dir. Michael Grief (1 female creative v. 9 male)
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Dir. Michael Mayer (1 female creative v. 8 male)

*Cabaret may not be eligible for nomination at all as it is a replica of the earlier revival, and therefore is not a new show at all

**All above information was gathered personally using individual show information tabs on Broadway.com

Out of the 12 shows that reach the above criteria, 106 creative roles are credited to men, and only 17 to women. In addition to this, only three women have ever received a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, even though the category has existed since the 1950s. With statistics like this, I am left to wonder… What does this say about the theatre content that we are viewing?

To know that an overwhelming percentage of everything we watch on stage has been written, composed, produced, styled, interpreted and directed from the viewpoint of predominantly upper middle class white men is hardly welcome news, especially as many women and minorities find the theatre to be a safe haven from the prejudices of the outside world. To be fair, many of the males in creative roles in the theatre industry identify as being gay or bisexual (which means that at least one minority is being represented fairly), but this does nothing to break the glass ceiling for women.

It is interesting to note that as you go backwards from what is deemed to be the most professional standard of theatre (Broadway, the West End), all the way down to regional Australian amateur productions, the statistics are reversed. In amateur and regional theatre, you tend to see many more females in creative positions, and less men in any roles in theatre (on or off stage), mainly due to fear of receiving a negative reaction from peers who have been raised with the idea that theatre is a weak profession and pastime for a man to pursue. It seems strange that women monopolise amateur theatre, yet when it comes to earning money and forming a career from their passions, thousands of years of oppressive thinking manages to stand in their way. Even in 2014, an art form that is seen as incredibly feminine is completely dominated by men.

I spoke to three young women hoping to have a career in professional theatre, and gauged their feelings on this topic. While two didn’t seem too phased by the statistics, Erin (25) noted that they “didn’t surprise her”, and that they were much worse than she thought they would be. Erin said that she had had problems in the past searching for monologues in which women were portrayed as three dimensional characters, and found that women were nearly always shown as much weaker than men. She said that sometimes she felt women were limited when it came to auditions and presenting in front of an audience, as her male counterparts had a lot more material to work with, and the themes covered in male roles were more diverse, while a lot of female characters were “pathetic”. She believes (as I do) that this stems from the history of theatre, with the vast majority of all theatre being written by men, and from the historical context of each writer being told that women were lesser. She believes that modern playwrights and composers are beginning to right the scale, and that much of the stronger material these days is being written and produced by fringe theatre companies and independents with less focus being put on production value and more on a shows content.  Rachel (21) stated that she believes that women are making headway in the world, and that hopefully by the time her generation dominates the theatre scene, society will have progressed further, making way for women in more dominant roles. Rachel believes that so far in her life she has been privileged in terms of her standing in society, and that these statistics will have a bearing on her professional theatrical life, but not in her personal theatre life. She believes that unlike in the past, education of both sexes is valued equally and therefore the women she is studying with are being afforded the same education as her male counterparts, and as a result, her second year Acting class at Federation University are on an equal playing field and will hopefully begin to advance in the theatre world together.

When I mentioned Melbourne Theatre Company’s Women Directors’ Program, Roxy (19) stated that it was a “really good thing” that there are professional groups out there who are working to bridge the gap and to help women attempting to make a living out of a very difficult career. She knows that she has chosen a risky career, but much like Rachel, hopes that society will adapt with her generation and will embrace women taking the lead.
It is clear that something needs to be done to close the gap on numbers of males v. females in creative roles in professional theatre, especially as a piece of theatre eventually becomes a piece of history and a snapshot of life in a different time. The theatre of the 21st century needs an equal amount of female and male minds to shape it in order to properly reflect women of our time, because one thing the world doesn’t need is another generation of weak monologues and underdeveloped female characters emerging from the minds of men. People of today need to spare a thought for the representation of women in theatre if they hope to make the theatre world a better place. The more fearless women in professional theatre, the better, as theatre (like all art forms) must continue to develop in order to stay relevant.

Are you a female creative? Theatre People would like to know your thoughts on the industry and opportunities for females in Amatuer and Professional theatre. 

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