The Kilroys Proving Effective In Increasing Number Of Women-Authored Plays Produced
"You've been saying all these years that you want to produce plays by women. Great! I believe you want to produce plays by women. Here's this list. The plays are here and easily available to you and they're also plays that have been recognized by your peers as [being] of excellent quality."
That, in a nutshell, is how Joy Meads, Literary Manager at L.A.'s Center Theatre Group describes the message put out by The Kilroys, a collective of women playwrights named for the iconic graffiti tag "Kilroy Was Here" that was first left by WWII soldiers in unexpected places, a playfully subversive way of making their presence known.
In 2014 The Kilroys started its annual THE LIST as a response to systemic gender bias in theater programming; a collection of industry-recommended works designed to bring worthy plays by female and trans playwrights to the forefront of American theater conversation.
The following criteria is used:
Theater professionals who have read or seen at least 40 plays in the previous year are invited to nominate themselves as respondents. Each industry respondent may recommend 3-5 plays, representing the best work they have encountered in the past 12 months.
A nominated play must be unproduced or have had only a single professional production.
A nominated play must be by an author who identifies as female or trans.
Plays on a previous year's THE LIST are not eligible.
Statistics show that THE LIST is being noticed and used in planning out seasons. As of June 2015, 31 out of 46 plays on the 2014 Kilroys' list have been produced in 53 productions overall. Playwrights such as Jiehae Park, Martyna Majok and Janine Nabers, whose stars have been on the rise since THE LIST's publication, credit the Kilroys for raising the profile of their scripts. As she explains to Ms. Magazine, Meads doesn't believe the enormous gap in gender parity regarding plays produced in America is intentional.
"I think it's just unexamined patterns [and] a lot of unconscious bias. We have had patterns of inequity going back a very long time, and even though there was a study that proved that plays by women tend to do better at the box office on average, people have seen more examples of successful male-driven and male-centric plays. So I think, unconsciously, that shapes their expectations about what a successful play looks like."
She tells of hearing a story from Lisa Kron, Tony-winning bookwriter and lyricist of FUN HOME, about asking a male artistic to think back on the last new play that he produced by a man and the last new play he produced by a woman and what was he excited about and what was he nervous about in each case.
"He realized that whereas he was seeing exciting potential in these male-authored new plays, he was concerned about lack of experience in the female authors. The playwrights themselves weren't much different, but his perception of their work was much different depending on gender of the playwrights."
When speaking of diversifying the voices heard in American theatre, Meads also includes male playwrights of color.
"When you're producing only, let's say, white men again and again and again," Meads adds, "the message you're sending out as a theatre is that you believe the stories of [white men] are more significant, more worthy, more deserving of attention."
She points out how, for nonprofit theatre companies, diversity is a moral obligation.
"Nonprofit theatre companies are subsidized by tax dollars... It's not just the white audiences that are paying those taxes-it's everyone... [When] you produce the same voices again and again and again, you're actually reinforcing an old inequity. You're saying, 'It's very important we understand this person's experience of the world because it means more or it matters more than everyone else's.' So who we put at the center of our stories matters."
"I want to see the population of each city reflected on its stages, in terms of gender identity [and] racial diversity. That has to happen. I do see progress, but not as fast as it should be. Throughout my entire professional life I've been hearing very passionate rhetoric about equality, which I haven't seen manifested into action. Or I have but it'll be in these ancillary programs and not on the main stage. It'll be like a festival of women's voices or writers of color on a second stage, but not on the main stage. But, I think people are [grasping] in a real way more than ever before that it's not enough to simply state the quality of the goal and assume the rest will take care of itself. It has to be an actively held goal. It's something you have to work for. It's not going to happen on its own."