Battle Cry: 50/50 by 2020

American Theatre, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Battle Cry: 50/50 by 2020


NEW YORK CITY AND PRINCETON, N.J.: All the signs keep pointing to the rise of a new grassroots movement rallying around the issue of gender disparity in the American theatre. As this magazine reported in Dec. '08, playwright groups and developmental organizations have taken to task producers and artistic directors for what they found to be a glaring lack of representation of women in their seasons. When the findings of a study conducted on the topic by Princeton's Emily Glassberg Sands were misreported in the press and hotly debated online, the crisis flared up anew.

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In early August, a joint NYC conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and American Alliance of Theatre & Education organized several academic panels devoted to the state of women in the theatre. That same month, three groups--League of Professional Theatre Women, New Perspectives Theatre Company and Women's Project--sponsored a panel and working-group event which sought to harness the wave of serious concern, anger and frustration and transform it into a launching pad for a 10-year initiative called "50/50 by 2020: Parity for Women Theatre Artists." Then, in September, the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University used Emily Mann's 20-year anniversary as McCarter Theatre Center artistic director as an occasion to contemplate how women artists have made a difference in the U.S. nonprofit resident theatre movement.

Jill Dolan, the Princeton professor of English and theatre, says that the Princeton conference was a coming-to-terms about what has been achieved so far: "A great deal of energy was spent on genealogy: Mann's visibility at the conference demonstrated the way she's mentored a generation of women directors, playwrights and artistic directors." The names Paula Vogel, Maria Irene Fornes and Zelda Fichandler were also invoked. Adds Dolan, "Another interesting thread was how women theatre artists worked with each other to make things happen collectively--they worked with people they knew and developed projects with friends instead of waiting to be invited to do work. …

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