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Internet Uproar Prompts NY Theater to Announce Woman-Written Play Early

Internet Uproar Prompts NY Theater to Announce Woman-Written Play Early

The Manhattan Theatre Club has been announcing its season piecemeal since December, but an uproar over the lineup caused the company to reveal the play filling its final spot before contracts have even been signed.

So what caused all the fuss? Seven of the eight plays slated for production had been publicly announced, all of them written by white men.

Cue (warranted) outrage from the online world, much of it directed at the theater’s artistic director, who you may be surprised to learn is a woman, Lynne Meadow. Pulitizer Prize-winning playwright Paula Voge tweeted, “For a woman in theatre who attended Bryn Mawr, where is your sisterhood?” (Bryn Mawr is a women’s liberal arts college.)

The outcry prompted Manhattan Theatre Club to announce its eighth play ahead of schedule in an effort to calm the storms. Of the eight plays being produced, it turns out that one is in fact written by a woman — Penelope’ Skinner’s “The Ruins of Civilization.” (This still puts the theater below the national average. A recent study shows that only one-fifth of productions performed at nonprofit theaters nationwide are written by women.)

Lila Neugebauer is tentatively attached to direct. Meadow told The New York Times that both the company and the playwright felt strongly about having a woman direct “The Ruins of Civilization.” If all goes according to plan and Neugebauer ends up directing, the season will include two female directors out of eight plays (Meadow is the other woman director). 

Women and minorities accounted for 43 percent of playwrights and directors of the Manhattan Theatre Company’s last four seasons. Activist and playwright Zakiyyah Alexander noted that the company’s commitment to inclusion in the past may have played a part in the controversy. “I think if they had not done that, there would be less criticism right now,” she said. “We’re sort of watching someone go back in time that was slowly moving forward.”

The continuing marginalization of women playwrights may be attributed to ongoing fallacies about how we view male and female writers differently. Commenting on the uproar surrounding the MHC, Victoria Meyers who heads The Interval, a hub for female voices of the theater, explained to The Guardian, “We don’t talk about women and their work the same way we talk about men — and we don’t celebrate it the same way. We don’t call women geniuses, we don’t call them cool, we don’t call them important. We call them hardworking and we call them nice.” This way of thinking contributes to a culture where male playwrights are favored, and as Vogel notes, this bias is often “unintentional and unrecognized.” 

[via The New York Times

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