There are two ways to change behavior: punishment and reward. The International Centre for Women Playwrights has chosen the latter route in it's first ever 50/50 Applause Awards. As many active in making theater have realized recently, plays written by women are often a scarce commodity on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and in local and regional theaters. Instead of scolding theaters that do not produce women playwrights, the Centre has chosen to create a special award for theaters in the United States that have at least 50 percent of their season written by women.
The Applause Awards are based on the previous year's season, so the first awards go to theaters for their 2011-2012 productions. Theaters whose mission is to produce women's work were not eligible. The winners are: Cleveland Public Theatre, Cleveland, OH; Little Colonel Theatre, Pee Wee Valley, KY; Nora Theater, Cambridge, MA; Playwrights Horizons, New York, NY; and, Symmetry Theatre, Berkeley, CA.
There is no money attached to the award, just the gratitude of members of the International Centre for Women Playwrights. The hope is that theaters will be able to boast of their diversity to their local audiences, display the award in their lobbies, and continue to build their reputations as theaters openly promoting gender equality when choosing their seasons.
Since women were actively discouraged from education until the 20th century, the ranks of classics are filled with male playwrights. This means plays by women are going to be newer work. And conventional wisdom is that new work by a "name" playwright is an easier sell to audiences. If that logic is followed to its conclusion, this creates a vicious cycle of plays by men. Breaking that cycle is a process that the International Centre for Women Playwrights would like to push along with their Applause Awards.
Since 2009, when Emily Glassberg Sands released a study called "Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender" which showed that only 18 percent of the productions done in the United States in 2008 were by female playwrights, task forces and special groups, such as the Dramatists Guild's "50/50 by 2020" organizations, have formed in response. Each time a new season is announced, women playwrights look for signs of progress. There have been some notable successes for plays written by women recently, including the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama to Quiara Alegria Hudes for her play, Water by the Spoonful. Yet, very few theaters offer their patrons the opportunity to see new plays by women on anything other than an occasional basis.
Women are training in MFA programs for playwriting at numbers equal to, or exceeding, men in almost every playwriting program in the United States. At some point, the idea of giving a special award for theaters that choose to produce at least 50 percent of their season from women playwrights will seem downright silly. But until then, the International Centre for Women Playwrights will be looking for theaters to applaud with their annual awards.
What can an audience member do to help this along? Send this blog to the Artistic Director at a theater near you! Let them know you'd love for your local or regional theater to get one of these prizes next year!
Want more information about the International Centre for Women Playwrights? Click here.