The Fourth Wall

Behind the scenes at the UCF School of Performing Arts

Female playwrights are being wronged

by Rebecca Kane, BFA Stage Management Major

A friend of mine made a Facebook status update a couple weeks ago, requesting any recommendations of female-centered plays by female authors. A few minutes passed.  One person offered Theresa Rebeck. A couple hours passed. The only other response by that time was damning the original Rebeck suggestion, saying “That was gonna be my answer!!”

I wanted to shout about the ignorance of these comments. Not that Theresa Rebeck is not a respectable and notable women of playwriting importance, but surely we can come up with more than that, we could fill up dozens of comments with suggestions from women of plays and playwrights for every genre of playwriting and for women of every race. I wanted to do just that and I wanted to “show people up” by doing it by myself.  I messaged the original poster, intending to flood her inbox with her scores of intelligent, well-recognized women of writing.

I came up with Sarah Ruhl and Diana Son and then I hit a wall. I want to claim that I’m a female playwright myself and a well-educated woman, but I still feel like I failed. I can’t help but wonder, though, is this because of a larger failure of the system in place? And if so, is that even a good enough excuse that I had to use Google to bring up the name of For Colored Girls…?

Theatre producers of New York City have recently come into the spotlight for not producing more works by women, accused of encouraging a system of inequality and have been challenged to do something about it. But it’s just too easy to watch the Tony Awards, see a long line of familiar white men for the Best Play category, and sit back and say, “Oh, that’s the problem, right there, it’s Broadway and the bigwig producers” instead of taking a closer look at the issue. The hard part is getting more diversity recognized and produced across the theatre spectrum, not just in New York, and not just on Broadway.

Shanel Sparr played "Anna", the main protagonist, in Theatre UCF's production of 'Baltimore Waltz' by prominent playwright Paula Vogel

Shanel Sparr played “Anna”, the main protagonist, in Theatre UCF’s production of The Baltimore Waltz by prominent playwright Paula Vogel. Photo by Tony Firriolo.

That’s where the Kilroys come into play.

This is the name of a team of fourteen women from eight different states (and one hailing from Mexico). They describe themselves “done talking about gender parity and ready to act”. To accomplish this, they have compiled a list of plays by female-identified playwrights that come recommended via an anonymous survey of theatre experts (male and female) from across the country who devote their time to seeing and investing in new works. Nationally recognized playwright and Kilroy member Sheila Callaghan says the list is an answer to “artistic directors who defend their season lineups by complaining they have no access to quote-unquote good plays written by females.”

Hearing the reason for their existence, I was shocked – was that really an excuse people were using? I found through studies done in 2009 in that not only was the excuse being used, but by fellow women in power at theatre companies across the country. After the studies were completed, economist Emily Glassberg Sands found that from an online playwright database called as well as in the Dramatists Guild, there were nearly twice as many men as women. In an additional study in which artistic directors and literary managers of regional theatres were sent the same play, but half were labeled with a male playwright and half were labeled with a female playwright. The study found that men graded the play equally no matter the playwright’s gender, but that females were harder on their peers.

The Kilroys released statistics showing that in 2012-2013, only 10.5% of productions on Broadway were written by women, with 21% in Washington, D.C. and 22% in Los Angeles. Here in Orlando, we’re obviously contributing to the recognition of female playwrights on a professional level, but the job is not done. Theatre UCF’s Fall season includes Baltimore Waltz, a play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paula Vogel. The Orlando Shakespeare Theater is debuting the new play Bad Dog by Jennifer Hoppe-House. Bad Dog was part of last year’s PlayFest, an annual festival of new plays that OST holds each year, and frequently includes up-and-coming women writers.

The Kilroys have a list. Orlando theatre has a couple. It’s not the all-female season I dream of seeing, and I don’t see a line of women coming out to accept the Tony nominations for Best Play, but it’s a start.


For additional information check out The New York Times’ article about Gender Bias in theatre.


The Kilroys-

Theatre UCF’s Fall Season-

Orlando Shakespeare Theatre-

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