5 Female Directors On Why the Theatre Industry Struggles With Gender Equality | Playbill

Special Features 5 Female Directors On Why the Theatre Industry Struggles With Gender Equality And the simple solution staring us in the face.
Whitney White, Leigh Silverman, and Rebecca Taichman

To kick off 2018 right, Roundabout Theatre Company partnered with StubHub and The Interval to present Women in Theatre: Resetting the Stage, a panel addressing some of the challenges and inequities faced by women in the theatre industry.

In the wake of the deluge of reports of sexual harassment in Hollywood and American culture at large and the overdue conversation about gender equality, moderator Amy Sherman-Palladino (creator of Gilmore Girls and now Golden Globe-winning series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) turned to her panel of women directors—Margot Bordelon, Kathleen Marshall, Leigh Silverman, Rebecca Taichman, and Whitney White—and asked the hard question: Is the theatre industry any more progressive than film and television when it comes to parity in the workplace.

Margot Bordelon Jenny Anderson

Silverman was quick to set the record straight. “It’s a fantasy,” responded the Tony nominee for Violet. “Theatre has always been an all-white-male boys’ club. We can and should be a place of inclusion and change but we’re not.” Her impassioned response set the stage for what was a candid and eye-opening discussion around some of the barriers prohibiting women from reaching positions of power and leadership and how to overcome them.


One issue which the panelists returned to repeatedly was the felt lack of trust that obstructs certain opportunities. “I feel my head hitting up against something and I want to say: ‘Take this chance on me as a black female director,’” explained White.

“There’s a feeling of scarcity in this business,” she continued. “That there aren’t enough resources, enough space, or enough playwrights, and so you see institutions and producers unwilling to take a chance on something they can’t trust—which can often mean a woman or a person of color.”

While White has now worked with the likes of Sam Gold, Anne Kauffman, and Dan Sullivan, she said she felt a “disproportionate” amount of pressure upon getting that “first in.” “I definitely feel that the bar is really high and that the likelihood of my returning upon failure is probably lower than a white, male counterpart at the same level as me,” she said.

There have been times, explained the director, when she felt that women directors and artists of color were not being held against the same scale as white male directors with regard to reliability and dependability. “We’re not really evaluating these artists against the same rubric,” she said. “That’s just been my experience thus far. Whether that’s perceived or actual, I’m not sure.”

But the other women on the panel echoed her sentiments—pushing that it’s not just perception. “You can’t deny the numbers. The extreme inequity,” said Tony winner Taichman (Indecent, Time and the Conways). Numbers like the results of last year’s first-ever diversity study conducted by Actors’ Equity, a three-year survey which showed that women and people of color have fewer work opportunities and make lower salaries both on and Off-Broadway. Or the League of Professional Theatre Women’s 2015 study which showed that less than half the jobs on New York productions were held by women.

So what’s the solution?

“It’s really simple. Gender parity can happen if people hire more women. That’s the answer,” said Silverman as a call to action for artistic directors, directors, and producers. “Hold yourself accountable. Do you have an interest in prioritizing gender parity?”

“This is the moment to rise up as a community,” added Taichman. “What’s happening in our country right now is so extreme. It’s shocking and painful but it will hopefully create enough energy to topple the machine. It’s visible now.”

Watch the complete discussion below:

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