Where Boston Stands for 2012-13

29 Apr

UPDATE 10/21/12:

Hello visitors! Thanks to HowlRound.com for giving voice to some of these questions about diversity in Boston’s theatre scene. Please see the newly updated figures for the 2012-13 season HERE.



After a flurry of tweets a week or so ago with Gwydion Suilebhan, David Loehr, Tony Adams, and other folks from the 2amt-sphere, I’ve been working on the stats for Boston’s upcoming theatre season. Where do we stand on diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity of playwrights and directors? In the midst of all this, the news about the Guthrie Theatre’s incredibly white, male season broke, and it went national.

So, where do we stand?

That’s a rough question to answer definitively. Most of Boston’s major theatres have announced their coming seasons, but those announcements aren’t always complete — some lack directors, some lack the full complement of shows that will eventually comprise the seasons. What’s more, when we’re looking at the representation of women (but not necessarily ethnic minorities) in Boston theatre, many are working in the fringe scene. I’m defining Boston’s fringe primarily as theatres that maintain membership in the Small Theatre Alliance of Boston, or STAB, and most STAB companies do not announce full seasons, but operate on a show-to-show basis.

So, where do we stand, right this moment?

Below are the theatres from which I drew data as outlined in official season announcements. (And here are some caveats: I’m looking at producing, rather than presenting houses. Actors Shakespeare does primarily produce Shakespeare, but has been  including new and newish plays in past seasons — including the premiere of local playwright John Kuntz’s Hotel Nepenthe which just scored at the IRNEs, so they’re in the pool. Central Square Theatre is the umbrella for the Nora and Underground Railway Theatres; they issue joint season announcements, so for the purposes of this analysis I an treating them as a single entity. Trinity Rep is in Providence, but for audiences from the suburbs south of Boston, Trinity is as valid a choice for a night out as the Huntington or ART. Also, as the other major regional house close to Boston, and accessible by public transit, I’m throwing them in the mix. And a final caveat about the designation “of color“: I am counting African-American and Latino/a artists who identify as such. I would also include artists of Native American, Native Canadian, Arab, Persian, Asian, and African descent, but there are no artists on this list who seem to meet these criteria. It’s tricky, since I’m operating largely from names, bios, and photos for the artists I don’t know personally or professionally. This method obviously has its faults.)

Large (annual budgets over $8 million): The Huntington, ART, Trinity Rep

Midsized (annual budgets over $1 million): Lyric, New Rep, Merrimack Rep, SpeakEasyWHAT, Actors Shakespeare Project, Central Square Theatre

Small: Fresh Ink

Other small companies I’d like to include, but which have not yet announced their seasons: Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and Company One.

Total number of plays being produced: 64
Total number of world premieres: 10
Total number of plays by local playwrights: 9
Total number of male playwrights/lyricists/composers: 61

Total number of female playwrights/lyricists/composers: 15

Total number of playwrights/lyricists/composers of color: 6   [4 are women]
Total number of male directors: 29
Total number of female directors: 15
Total number of directors of color: 2 [1 is female]

Some interesting trends:

• The work of developing and premiering new plays is largely being done next season by the tiny and brand new Fresh Ink Theatre, which has 5 world premieres of local playwrights.

• There are two directors of color on the lists for next season, one male and one female. The female director is helming a play by a female playwright of color. [Note, this entry was recently edited, thanks to an eagle-eyed reader who knew one of the announced directors, and alerted me that he identifies as Latino.]

• There is no company that has programmed a season where the number of female playwrights/composers/lyricist are equal to, or outnumber the men.

One company has more female directors than male directors, and  one company reached an even split.

• Most of the companies that have good representation of women on the directing side do not show a similar commitment to plays by women.

When Company One and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre announce their seasons, these calculations will shift slightly. If the companies keep to their missions, we’ll see a few more playwrights and directors of color, as well as more local work. When those announcements are made, I’ll post a follow up with revised numbers.

The raw data from my assessment of the season announcements can be found here, with full breakdowns by theatre.

12 Responses to “Where Boston Stands for 2012-13”

  1. Ian Thal April 29, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

    A few notes:

    First of all, since many companies haven’t announced yet, you really can’t get a representative sample. Better to look at everyone’s 2011-2012 seasons to see where we are now.

    Most of the theatres you are surveying are fairly conservative in their offerings, so even when they are inclined to do work by living (or only recently deceased) playwrights, the work is going to be skewed towards what is sure to get butts in seats and pay their overhead, so they really can’t take artistic risks– and that simply is going to leave female playwrights and many playwrights from a minority ethnic background out of the picture.

    It also should be noted that ASP is an outlier: they are primarily devoted to the work of a single playwright, with only a once-per-season (and not always that!) presentation of work by someone who wasn’t born in Stratford-on-Avon in the 16th century.

    The other thing I would note is that “people of color” is a very arbitrary designation of minority status. Yes, skin color is the primary means by which we distinguish ethnic groups in the United States, but it is neither the only one, nor is it the primary means in other societies. I’d even go so far to say it’s a very arbitrary way of discussing ethnic diversity in America though since it points to some forms of “otherness” while ignoring “other kinds of otherness.” How do we fit in work by foreign playwrights, for instance? Especially those from outside the English speaking world?

    • monicaraymond May 6, 2012 at 12:43 am #

      “the work is going to be skewed towards what is sure to get butts in seats and pay their overhead, so they really can’t take artistic risks– and that simply is going to leave female playwrights and many playwrights from a minority ethnic background out of the picture.”

      Hi Ian,

      Apparently, Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler did the best financially of any play in Central Square Theater’s history. So it’s just not true that plays by women do worse at the box office.

      I think the Emily Glassman Sands research (admittedly flawed) also showed that plays by women actually do slightly better at the box office than plays by men.

      Plus I believe the theater audience is 60-70% women.

      Also, there’s a big difference between programming plays by women and minority members and “taking artistic risks.” Some plays by those folks take artistic risks (whatever that even means!) and some don’t.

      • Ian Thal May 7, 2012 at 7:09 pm #


        I’m not arguing that male playwrights are always the financial safe bet for theatres planning their seasons and that female playwrights are always a risky choice. Merely that due all sorts of historical factors that none of us need to sketch out in detail, most of the safe bets in the English language theatrical canon have been written by men. For instance, I am a male, mostly unknown playwright and no one can seriously argue that my gender makes my work a less risky programming choice than Melinda Lopez, or Annie Baker, or Paula Vogel all of whom have established playwriting careers. I merely suggest that for all the female playwrights who are more profitable than unknown playwright Thal purely due to name recognition, there are many more male playwrights who are more profitable than unknown playwright Thal purely due to name recognition– and many of these playwrights are long deceased established favorites of the canon (i.e. Shakespeare, Beckett, Miller, Brecht, et cetera.)

        More simply: There are many programing choices theatre companies can make in order to get butts in seats. Many of those safe choices have been written by women; more have been written by men– especially when we get to the safest choices of all.

        “Emily Glassman Sands research (admittedly flawed) also showed that plays by women actually do slightly better at the box office than plays by men.”

        Actually Emily Glassman Sands’ study did no such thing. She made this claim but did not substantiate it remotely as pointed out by Thomas Garvey (one of the few theatre critics who actually checked the math) in his analysis of her study. http://hubreview.blogspot.com/2009/07/opening-curtain-on-emily-glassberg.html.

        What Sands did demonstrate is that female literary managers are more hostile to scripts perceived as written by women, while male literary managers are less likely to be prejudiced against a playwright based of perceived gender. (Which is interesting, because it’s not how we expect sexism to work.)

        As to women making up 60-70% of theatre audiences, assuming it is true, it means that women are still attending plays no matter the gender of the playwright; I don’t see them boycotting productions of male playwrights until things change.

        As I said, I don’t think we can fairly discuss where Boston theatre stands for its 2012-13 season until the smaller companies announce their seasons this summer.

        That was remarkable

      • Ian Thal May 7, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

        Sorry about that last line “that was remarkable”; I thought I had edited that out before I had pressed “post comment.”

  2. itsdlevy April 29, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    If you do a round two of this, I’d be curious to see this mapped against companies with women (and POC) in high-up positions such as Artistic Director and board chairs.

  3. ilanaturgy April 30, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    David – that would be very interesting. I’ll let you know if I’m able to do that analysis at some point.

    Ian – I don’t think that ASP is really an outlier. They just won at the IRNEs for Hotel Nepenthe, a new play by a local playwright. They’ve declared their intent to produce works other than Shakespeare, in dialogue with Shakespeare. And while Shakespeare isn’t a woman or person of color, their directors can be. (This season they’ve chosen a Will Eno piece as the non-Shakespeare.)

    And you’re right, “person of color” is a bit arbitrary, and while doing the count, I was only able to determine an artist’s POC-ness based on bio, name, and photo, if I didn’t know them in real life. It’s an imperfect system for sure. However, I think the issue of diversity (not just ethnic) is so important that it’s worth the time to try to do a preliminary count, even though methodologies may be wanting.

    • Ian Thal April 30, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      In the case of ASP (for whom I ushered for maybe four seasons or so) there were only three non-Shakespeare plays in that whole time and one of those plays was by John Webster, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, so I really don’t expect them to spend a lot of time promoting contemporary playwrights. And of course, “Hotel Nepenthe” was going to be a safe bet for ASP (despite being a premiere) simply because the playwright was John Kuntz, a key member of the acting company and thus, a favorite amongst many in ASP’s audience.

      And the POC designation bugs me mostly because it narrows the way diversity is measured; for instance, I’m about to travel to Kosovo, where the ethnic conflict was over differences that had nothing to do with skin color.

  4. Jessie Baxter May 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    I’m so glad you’ve gathered this info, Ilana, and I’m curious to see how it changes once more companies announce seasons and directors.

    I did want to throw in a quick clarification about the Fresh Ink season as it relates to this bit:

    “There is no company that has programmed a season where the number of female playwrights/composers/lyricist are equal to, or outnumber the men.”

    Fresh Ink is doing three productions and two readings next season, all new plays by local writers. If you take all five plays together, then the above statement is still true. However, if you consider only the three plays that are getting full productions with us, we actually do have more female than male playwrights in our season.

    It’s a small distinction and doesn’t change the fact that more ladies need to have top billing, but I thought I’d point it out none the less. We had an almost even number of female and male submissions this year — the excuse that there isn’t as much quality work by women just isn’t true.

    (If you want to see more of our submission stats, you can check them out here:

  5. Jason July 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    There’s a little info missing about Merrimack Rep’s season.

    “Half ‘n Half ‘n Half” is a World Premiere. “Homestead Crossing” is a rolling World Premiere produced in co-ordination with the Berkshire Theatre Group and Portland Stage Company. MRT is also producing “Beat Generation” in a workshop format. It is the World Premiere of Jack Kerouac’s–a son of Lowell, and therefore “local” playwright–only play.

    “Memory House” and “Shakespeare’s Will” are also Regional Premieres, bringing the works to the area for the first time.

    MRT has a commitment to doing new work and bringing recent work to the area.


  1. Curating for Myself | Gwydion Suilebhan - June 4, 2012

    […] I think we theater practitioners need to stand together to create change, not fight one another. I am inclined instead to find and share and support and emulate bright spots. I also happen to believe that simply calling attention to the imbalances we see, year after year, is eventually going to effect change. I’ve tried to do my part by digging up what data I have time to find, sharing it with the world, and cheering when others have done the same thing. […]

  2. A Decade in the Trenches, and a 30,000 Foot View by Ilana M. Brownstein | HowlRound - October 21, 2012

    […] made great strides in this respect over the past ten years, but the numbers are stark. In an analysis of twelve different theaters’ seasons, taken from across the sector, there are seventy-three productions scheduled for 2012–13. Of […]

  3. Interview with Lydia R. Diamond, Melinda Lopez, and Kate Snodgrass by Jessie M. Baxter | HowlRound - October 24, 2012

    […] Lydia: It would be interesting to see how the numbers break down in Boston, in terms of new productions and where. Ilana Brownstein compiled stats at Playwrights’ Commons. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: