In this time of long-overdue comeuppance for sexual harassment and assault, I approached my annual reckoning of gender equity in theater with fresh eyes.
Nationwide, women continue to be devalued and underrepresented in almost all areas of theatrical creation, on and off stage. Surveys have found, for instance, that over three-quarters of professionally produced plays are written by men and focus primarily on male characters — despite the fact that women buy over 70 percent of theater tickets, and plays on Broadway by women consistently earn more than their male colleagues’ work.
So how do theaters in our own area measure up? In general, better than the rest of the country, though we’re still on the road to gender parity. This year, out of the 52 professional productions I saw in the Valley and Berkshires, 16 were written by women, 22 had female directors, and nine had women characters at their center. Overall, 60 percent of the shows appeared in one or more of those categories, and several of them scored a “trifecta” that hit all three marks.
The other statistical category I keep an eye on is people of color on the region’s stages. My encouraging report on this year’s representation was in my Stagestruck column of Sept. 21. To sum up, more than half the summer shows I saw featured actors of color in leading or key roles. Of these, 19 were women.
Women in the Lead
One way our region outdoes the rest of the country, where the majority of professional theaters are run by men, can be seen in the area’s 13 women-led companies, from the established Berkshire institutions to the Valley’s most recent arrivals.
This year’s Valley productions included Sheryl Stoodley’s Serious Play! Theatre Ensemble presenting Mairi Campbell in her musical autobiography Pulse and playwright Caryl Churchill’s cyber-inspired Love & Information. Double Edge Theatre’s founder Stacy Klein guided the Western Mass historical tapestry We The People. At Silverthorne Theater Company, led by Lucinda Kidder, half the four-play season was woman-directed: Stupid Fucking Bird by Toby Bercovici and Chapatti by Jeannine Haas. Linda McInterney’s Eggtooth Productions presented the performance-art trio Til Lalezar, and mounted this year’s Double Take festival with a majority of women creators.
Tense Vagina, Sara Juli’s riff on childbirth and motherhood, was featured in Sabrina Hamilton’s Ko Festival of Performance. Debra J’Anthony, continuing her commitment to mounting original productions at the Academy of Music, presented Sweet, Sweet Spirit by Carol Carpenter, directed by Sheila Siragusa. And there were two “trifectas,” from Real Live Theatre and TheatreTruck (see below).
In the Berkshires, artistic director Julianne Boyd’s summer season at Barrington Stage Company included This, by Melissa James Gibson, directed by Louisa Proske, who also staged Barrington’s Gaslight in the fall. At the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Mandy Greenfield produced Jen Silverman’s suburban sitcom The Roommate, starring Jane Kaczmarek and S. Epatha Merkerson; Halley Feiffer’s deconstruction of Chekhov’s Three Sisters (played by Rebecca Henderson, Cristin Milioti and Tavi Gevinson); and Sarah Ruhl’s suburban fantasy The Clean House, with Jayne Atkinson and Jessica Hecht at the center, directed by Rebecca Taichman (another trifecta).
Berkshire Theatre Group, helmed by Kate Maguire, presented Lauren Ridloff in the Broadway-bound revival of Children of a Lesser God. And Kristen van Ginhoven’s WAM Theatre, whose core mission is foregrounding women’s work, gave birth to a pair of triplets. Which brings us to…
Nine productions happily fulfilled all three of my criteria: written and directed by women and with women downstage center. Among these, WAM mounted two sprightly historical dramas, Lauren Gunderson’s Emilie: La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight, directed by van Ginhoven and starring Kim Stauffer, and Kate Hennig’s The Last Wife, with Nehassaiu DeGannes as Katherine Parr, directed by Kelly Galvin.
Lauren Gunderson was also represented by Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley at Shakespeare & Company, directed by Ariel Bock and focusing on the “plain” sister from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (The playwright achieved her own Western Mass trifecta, adding I & You at Chester Theatre Company to her area credits.)
S&Co gave us three more threesomes — Annette Miller in Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, directed by Nicole Ricciardi; Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, directed by Daniela Varon and featuring Nehassaiu deGannes; and a double bill of adaptations from Edith Wharton, Normi Noël directing Corinna May and Diane Prusha.
At the Majestic Theater, Cate Damon staged Crimes of the Heart, with Beth Henley’s trio of sisters played by Suzanne Ankrum, Emily Bloch, and Katie Sloan. Real Live Theatre revived its Shakespeare mashup, The Life and Death of Queen Margaret, co-adapted and directed by Toby Bercovici with an all-female cast. And TheatreTruck produced The Mill Project, about 19th-century “mill girls,” created and performed by an ensemble of women.
Chris Rohmann is at StageStruck@crocker.com and valleyadvocate.com/author/chris-rohmann.