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Glenda Frank

The Women’s Initiative

It’s a good time to be a woman in the arts – or rather, it’s a better time. On Sat. Dec. 4, the Women’s Initiative, composed of members of the Dramatists Guild, will hold its first symposium titled “Women in Theater: Achieving Gender Parity” at the Players Club, 16 Gramercy Park South (at 20th Street), New York, NY from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm.  Two years ago at a Town Hall meeting of the New Dramatists, playwrights Julia Jordan and Sarah Schulman gave speeches that inspired a new wave of activism. While 46% of the members of the Dramatists Guild of America are women, only 13% of all produced plays are written by women. The Women’s Project and the League of Professional Theatre Women, both founded by Julia Miles, have been fighting for equity since their incorporation in 1978 and 1986.

In Dec. 2009 Dramatist Guild playwrights Barbara Masry, Cynthia Cooper, Catherine Gropper and Andy Landis, facilitated by Janice Maffei, created the Women’s Initiative to develop strategies to get their plays – women’s plays – produced. Although artistic directors, agents, literary managers, perhaps everyone in professional theatre recognize the situation, the statistics prove little has changed. The symposium is an important step in the dialogue for finding successful tactics for securing a production.

The two panels in the symposium address systemic and personal paths to production. On the first panel, Tessa LaNeve, literary manager of Primary Stages; Linda Chapman, associate artistic director of New York Theater Workshop; Beth Blickers, literary agent with Abrams Artists Agency; Emily Mann, artistic director of McCarter Theater; and Charles Weldon, artistic director of the Negro Ensemble Company, will discuss “How Plays Are Really Selected: The Scoop!” .  The second panel, “Creating Your Own Opportunities” features Joe DiPietro, 2010 three-time Tony award winner (Memphis); Lisa Kron, 2006 Tony nominee (Well); laywrights Annie Baker (Circle Mirror Transformation and The Aliens); and 13P member Winter Miller (Paternity and In Darfur). One of the new approaches of the Women’s Initiatives is to welcome men to the discourse – as advisors, mentors and patrons.

The keynote speakers and panel moderators are also role models. Julia Jordan is a Jonathan Larson and Kleban award-winning playwright. Panel moderators Julie Crosby is the producing artistic director of Women’s Project, and Tina Howe is an Obie and Outer Circle Critics Award winner and Tony nominee. 

“This is a great occasion to bring together dramatists and professionals from the theatrical community to explore gender inequity in the professional theater,” said Barbara Masry, chairperson of the Symposium. “Our aim is to increase awareness of the number of talented women writing.

Admission is free but reservations are recommended. Reservations and inquiries can be sent to: womendg@yahoo.com.  Please include your name, DG membership number (if applicable) and number of guests.

Spring 2011 will bring another celebration in the battle for gender equality in theatre, the Lilly Awards, named for playwright Lillian Hellman. Last May a group of theatre activists -- Julie Crosby, John Eisner, Gary Garrison, Tina Howe, Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman, Theresa Rebeck, Susan Rose and Tim Sanford and the Dramatists Guild of America – decided a time for action had arrived. Rather than seeking awards, they themselves would "celebrate the work of outstanding, successful and up-and-coming women playwrights, directors, designers and advocates in the theater." The long list of recipients included Kristin Chenoweth, Melissa James Gibson, Jane Greenwood, and Sarah Ruhl. Among the presenters were directors Mark Brokaw and Michael Mayer, playwrights Tina Howe and Doug Wright, and actor/playwright David Greenspan. Several of the awards were presented in honor of earlier women in the arts, such as Dorothy Parker and Margo Jones. The room was packed, and women who learned about the ad hoc event after the fact are planning to attend this year’s ceremony. The Committee for Recognizing Women in Theater will have to rent a larger hall.

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