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Theatergoing is still generally considered a pastime for the privileged, and not only because of the high cost of tickets. In large part, the perspectives, situations, vocabularies, and ideologies conveyed on so many stages tend to be written from a white, male, Western perspective. That might not come as a shock, considering that American theaters favor the art form that flourished in a patriarchal and imperial Europe. But theater companies and directors are to blame, too, given their tendency to keep drawing water from the same well.
So how insular are D.C.’s stages now, in a time when theater isn’t as exclusive as it once was? To find out, playwrights Gwydion Suilebhan, Patricia Connelly, and David Mitchell Robinson examined plays opening locally this fall, looking at the playwrights, types of works, and directors behind D.C.’s 2013-2014 season. (This is the second year Suilebhan has published his findings; he posts them on his website, suilebhan.com.)
The playwrights haven’t finished the job yet; the statistics they collected reflect only 39 companies (roughly 40 to 50 percent of D.C.’s active troupes) and 179 plays (about 85 percent of works expected to be produced this season). So far, they’ve found that D.C. stages are still blindingly white and stubbornly male, with only a slight change from last year. Is the moderate improvement promising or depressing? “There are many things about this data that I would like to change, but I wouldn’t call myself depressed,” Suilebhan says. “I’d say I’m impatient for the revolution.”
D.C.’s 2012-2013 theater season, as examined by Gwydion Suilebhan, Patricia Connelly, and David Mitchell Robinson:
76 percent male playwrights (In 2012-2013 season: 79 percent)
70 percent male directors
84 percent white playwrights (In 2012-2013 season: 86 percent)
84 percent white directors
25 percent dead playwrights
18 percent world premieres
11 percent local playwrights (in 2012-2013 season: 16 percent)
73 percent local directors
Photo by Flickr user DeaPeaJay used under a Creative Commons license