If you’re involved in making theater at all, you probably know that the ladies have been bitching about the lack of gender parity on American stages for some time. The lady writers are pouring out of grad schools, just like I did a few years back, and demanding that their work be taken as seriously, and produced as widely, as our gentlemen counterparts. You can google to find the fallout from all this chatter, but the short version is “we’re mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore!” (Is it ironic that I’m quoting guy writer Paddy Chayefsky?)
I don’t believe in affirmative action in arts consumption, or even presentation, and don’t think ladies should get shows up just because they’re ladies. But the gender disparity is real, and since getting a show up is a whole big process, with lots of people able to yay or nay a show along the way, any relevant effort to address the disparity must look at the root causes.
Why aren’t these plays by women getting produced? There are certainly plenty of ladies (hi), and we write a hell of a lot of plays (case in point).
An argument has been made by some of the deciders (thanks for that vocab addition, GWB) that they don’t know where to find the work by lady writers, that the ladies just aren’t visible. So how can they produce that which is not visible? The argument seems a little flat to me, because if you’re involved in making theater, on basically any level, I’m sure you’ll agree that we’re, y’know, not just visible, but actively, visibly, making work happen. The question then becomes: to whom are we invisible?
Enter The Kilroys.
Pretty much everyone in theater noticed when The Kilroys launched last week, and like 80% of the people on my social media feeds had an opinion on it. Since my opinion was “fuckin A ladies, let’s get this shit done!” I figured I’d get in touch with Kilroy co-founder, lady writer extraordinaire, and old grad school chum Daria Polatin to find out what The Kilroys is all about.
The Kilroys is a new collective of LA-based women writers and producers. The site says you are mobilizing in order to leverage, what does that mean? Can you talk about what you’re going to do?
We started The Kilroys last year over an informal conversation at a friend’s house, discussing the fact that there was a lack of programming plays written by female authors in the American Theater. Regional surveys routinely show significant bias towards production of plays by male authors on our stages. However, rather than complaining about it we thought: Let’s do something about it.
Our first order of business became to start The List. For years we have been hearing from theater professionals that there is a desire to address the undeniable gender disparity on our stages, and yet the problem persists. We decided to take action and create a tool that Artistic Directors can use in planning their seasons, and make highly recommended female-authored new plays readily available. Inspired by the Hollywood Blacklist of unproduced screenplays, we surveyed over 120 influential theater leaders for their favorite 3-5 new plays they’ve encountered in the last year by writers who identify as female. We’d like to continue to publish The List annually in the future, with new plays every year. Beyond that we have ideas about how to continue to create community and advocacy for female writers, and are excited to share those projects as they arise.
Our website, which we’re keeping updated with all our info, is here.
How did you choose the influential theater leaders? Aren’t they the ones who haven’t been producing women? Was part of the idea to make these people aware of their own negligence by showing them so completely the work they were ignoring?
The nominators were a wide array of theater professionals – artistic directors, artistic associates, literary managers, dramaturgs, directors, a handful of playwrights who are attached to institutions. (It’s important to note that none of the Kilroy members nominated plays – we were facilitators in the process.) We reached out to about 250 people and got back 127 responses. Everyone who nominated plays had to have read or seen 40 plays within the last year, and they each recommended their 3-5 new favorite plays by female authors.
Regarding the people who were nominating the plays, we included a broad range in the size of the theaters/institutions that the recommenders were affiliated with, if any, and a range in the types of material the recommenders produced/encountered. We wanted to cast the widest net for discovering new work. That’s also why we decided to additionally include all the plays that were nominated – around 250 – on our website as well, to include voices that may not have been on the radar of some of the larger institutions.
If anyone would like to send qualified recommenders our way for next year, here is the link to the form on our website: http://www.thekilroys.org/to-participate-next-year/
What is it about women writers that you feel is essential? Is it just gender parity or is there something else?
If we, as a theater community as a whole, are aiming at broad audiences for our work, and plays that are to be relevant for generations to come, we need the widest perspective in our storytelling. That doesn’t mean we need to see more plays by women on our stages because women only write plays about women and men only write plays about men. But it does mean that we ought to be as inclusive as possible regarding who is telling our stories and how stories are being told. Plays are about the human experience, and every writer brings her/his own background and unique perspective of the world to her/his work. Our artistic efforts as a whole are richer for having the most ample array of viewpoints.
The idea of bringing “The List” out there indicates that there’s a feeling that the influencers in the theater community have the same ethos toward parity. Do you think that’s true? Do you think the influencers, in general, are interested in including women and that those potentially salable plays just need to be brought to their attention?
I think the intention of influencers in the theater community is there for parity. What we were hearing from some decision makers, though, is that they weren’t encountering as many plays that were written by women. That’s why we decided to create easy access to industry-recommended plays that are un- or under-produced. The List is a programming tool.
Do you think there will be a point in entertainment media where the gender of the creator doesn’t matter?
In my view, it would be great if the gender of the creator wasn’t an issue, but I don’t think that can happen until there is a level of equality reached, or “gender fluidity,” as Kilroy Sarah Gubbins put it. Gender bias is systemic in our industry and our society, unfortunately, but it has been changing and it will continue to change. We’re aiming to perpetuate that change toward a more fluid system, and will continue to ride the wave of inclusivity so that we eventually land in a place where the gender of the creator doesn’t matter.
Would that be a situation where people’s gender isn’t considered a relevant part of their identity? Sort of like hiring/choosing a season in a “gender blind” way?
Gender is relevant to who a person is – that’s inevitable. But once a level of fluidity is reached and all genders (including trans and gender-queer) are represented, it hopefully won’t be something that will have to be addressed as a specific inclusivity issue because it won’t be a problem.
It’s obviously an ongoing conversation, and we invite people to join the discussion with the hashtag #parityraid on social media.
What are you working on these days?
I recently finished my new play IN TANDEM, and am percolating an idea for a historical piece. I’m looking forward to a staged reading of my play THE LUXOR EXPRESS that Golden Thread in San Francisco will be doing in the fall. The play is inspired by my father’s life growing up in Egypt.
I’ve also been working in TV the last few years developing pilots, and most recently have had the opportunity to be part of an upcoming new series for Starz, “Flesh and Bone.”
While continuing to work with The Kilroys on our next steps, I’m also trying to get to know the LA theater scene better. After living in New York for many years it’s been exciting to discover new work out here. There are so many wonderful playwrights in LA, and theaters/organizations producing and supporting new work. It’s thrilling to watch the community flourish.
I’m in cyberworld at www.dariapolatin.com and @dariapolatin.