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Study Finds Persistent Off-Broadway Gender Gap

By Jon Sobel j.sobel@classicalite.com on Sep 10, 2014 10:42 AM EDT

The League of Professional Theatre Women (LPTW) has released a report on the percentages of women playwrights, directors and other professionals in Off-Broadway productions over the past four seasons (2010-2011 through 2013-2014) and found a persistent gender gap.

The LPTW analyzed 355 productions by 22 theater companies that consistently produce Off-Broadway shows. The study found that in most of the categories, men continue to hold large majorities of the offstage jobs.

Click here for a PDF version of the report.

In a few categories, traditional gender roles seem to have an ongoing ripple effect in theater. Most shows (between 58% and 80% depending on the season) employed women costume designers. In 2013-2014, for example, 81 of 115 costume design jobs, or 70%, were held by women.

Sound design, by contrast, was overwhelmingly a man's field, with only 14% to 22% of the jobs held by women, and the trend, if four seasons are enough to identify trends, is not upward. That won't come as a surprise to recording artists familiar with the domination of male music producers and recording engineers in the studio.

Lighting design presented an even bigger disparity, with only 8% to 18% of jobs held by women over the four seasons. With major technological components supporting the creative side of these jobs, sound and lighting design may be compared to engineering, and a study by the American Society for Engineering Education found that only 18.4% of Bachelor's degrees in engineering went to women in 2011.

Men also dominated set design, with its elements of the traditionally male fields of engineering and carpentry. Women held only 27% to 36% of the positions.

Perhaps most important and striking from the standpoint of the theater, men also held large numerical advantages in the central jobs of playwright and director. Female playwrights accounted for between 29% and 36% of the productions, of which women directed between 24% and 39%.

The majority of stage managers, however, are women.

The report also tracked gender balance among choreographers, composers, lyricists, conductors/music directors and projection/video designers, finding that men held most of these jobs in most of the seasons studied. But because of the relatively small number of musicals, the sample sizes for these categories were very small.

The introduction to the report quotes playwright and Tony Awards voter Lynn Nottage on the 2014 Tony Awards telecast: "Almost every year I have to manage my disappointment, not because the shows aren't good (which occasionally they are) but rather because the shows are by and large written from one perspective: the white male…Broadway is a closed ecosystem."

Strong words, but there's much truth to them. And clearly, as the the LPTW report shows, the disparity extends to the Off-Broadway tier, despite its greater willingness to experiment and the broader range of talent and creativity available.

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TagsLeague of Professional Theatre Women, LPTW, women in theatre, Off-Broadway, broadway, Lynn Nottage