A Sisterhood With a Glass Ceiling

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by Melissa Silverstein
February 5, 2013 1:00 PM
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The NY Times devoted the top story in the Arts and Leisure section this past weekend to an exciting thing happening off-Broadway, the fact that women are being regularly hired to direct shows.

The fact that the NY Times needs to announce this as a huge story made me sad because it's 2013 and the fact that women are getting jobs as directors in the world's largest theatre city should not be something that needs to be heralded.  We all know that directing is a hard nut to crack and theatre world seems to be no different than film.  Now I know that this analogy is not perfectly comparable, but the fact that women are directing in large numbers off-Broadway is a bit analogous to heralding the successes that women directors are having directing independent films, especially in the area of documentaries.

Incremental steps forward are always important things to acknowledge, but the reality is, few of them get the call to direct on Broadway, just like their fellow female film directors hardly ever get the studio gigs.  The male farm team continues to be built and get their chances in the big leagues.  For example, Sam Gold directed for just five years before getting his Broadway break, and looking at Jo Bonney's credits, she has been directing off-Broadway since 1990. 

Women directors seem to have success on Broadway as directors of musicals.  Looking at what is playing now or coming soon women are represented as the directors of Mamma Mia (Phyllida Lloyd), Nice Work If You Can Get It (Kathleen Marshall), Pippin (Diane Paulus), Rock of Ages (Kristin Hanggi), and The Lion King and Spiderman (Julie Taymor).

The only women directing plays are Pam MacKinnon for the critically acclaimed revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and upcoming The Testament of Mary directed by Deborah Warner.  The fact is that MacKinnon brought her play from Chicago and Warner is a huge English director.   Tracy Letts and Bruce Norris both Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights from Chicago have worked with women directors Anna D. Shapiro and Pam MacKinnon for years and both cited the collaborative way they work together as important.  Both women have won Tony Awards and now are incredibly in demand. 

Liberal NY is really behind the curve when it comes to plays written by women on Broadway and it is seemingly impossible for women to get hired to direct a play on Broadway.  Women can't even get hired to direct Broadway plays by or about women.  The upcoming one woman play about politician Ann Richards is directed by a man, the revival of Annie is directed by a man, the one woman show starring Bette Midler about uber agent Sue Mengers is directed by a man, and even Nora Ephron's play is directed by a man.  

While it might not have been the intention of the NY Times piece to question hiring practices -- that's exactly what it did.  We celebrate the women doing terrific work off-Broadway but we ask the questionm where are the women's opportunities on Broadway?

Staging a Sisterhood (NY Times)

Meet the Directors (NY Times)

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More: theatre, Women Directors, Sexism

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