Diversity in theater: does it matter?

Diversity in theater: does it matter?

Is there a "war on women" in theater?

While reports of a “War on Women” have percolated through this election cycle, American theater appears to have its own controversy about gender and race. When The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis announced its 2012-2013 season, there were hardly any women or people of color in the season. Critics and the theater community alike were also aghast at the safe selections of classics and crowd-pleasers. Was the mostly male and white season another symbol of safety?

 

American theater has long had problems with race and gender. Since the early 2000s, the community has discussed how female playwrights seem to have a difficult time getting productions. In 2009, Princeton graduate student Emily Glassman Sands conducted a study about gender bias in theater. She found that it was, indeed, harder for female playwrights to receive productions. African-Americans and Asian-Americans have also openly discussed problems around stereotypes and bias.

While many people agree that there are diversity problems in theater, others believe that the issue doesn’t exist. They say that there is no conscious effort to exclude women and people of color. Instead, artistic directors are simply picking the best stories. Those plays just happen to be written by men who are white.

In the past few weeks, there has been discussion about boycotting theaters that have excluded women and people of color from their seasons. Guerrilla Girls, an arts advocacy group, has created a list of theaters not producing plays written or directed by women. They are also organizing protests in New York around this issue.

Ultimately, the general public will have to decide whether they value diversity. Does it matter who creates the shows you see on stage? Many people say no. Others would like to see characters more like them onstage. They would also like to see stories that resonate within their communities. After all, we all don’t see the world the same way. Why should American theater reflect only one perspective?