Women Leadership in Theater

Original Concept & Research by Aria Schuler (Transcendence Summer Intern)
Edits by Transcendence Staff

Women in executive leadership roles has been a societal challenge for a long time. As of 2017, only 2.4% of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs were women. Only 25% of U.S. legislators are women. Unfortunately, the theatre industry too, has its own difficulty with gender bias. In 2013, a study was commissioned by Wellesley Center for Women in tandem with San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) to examine the lack of female representation in artistic leadership at the time. The study found that female artistic directors at major regional theaters, or League of Resident Theaters (LORTs), had never surpassed 27% at any point in history.

But why have women in theater leadership positions been few and far between? Unfortunately, much of it is cyclical, there is a lack of women mentors to show up-and-coming women directors, writers, and producers how to navigate the world of creative and administrative theatre as a woman. Another critical reason is that for female directors (a career path that often leads to artistic direction), the work they are given tends to be narrowly focused on issues of identity, preventing them from building up a wide repertoire of work. Finally, many of the women who have climbed the ranks of higher artistic management were hired in-house; suggesting that major companies may require women to build up a reputation within one organization, while it is not uncommon for male candidates that can be hired from outside companies instantaneously.

However, there has been admirable progress in the industry since the study was conducted. It was reported of 85 open jobs, in 2015, in major regional theatres 41% were filled by women. Creating a more diverse representation among artistic directors in the country. This upward trend has allowed for major LORT theatres to break the gender cycle. Women in power are more likely to create minority-empowering workspaces, allowing for less bias in the selection of plays and more importantly, the hiring process itself. Whether it’s Stephanie Ybarra at Baltimore Center Stage or Nataki Garret, the sixth artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, or Amy Miller of Transcendence Theatre Company, women in the arts have pushed past the stubborn 27% that has existed for years, and we’re so lucky to have one of those great female leaders right here in Sonoma Valley.

Works Cited

Cedar, Ineke, and Sumru Erkut. “Women’s Leadership in Resident Theaters: Active Projects: All Projects: Projects Wellesley Centers for Women.” Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley Centers for Women, 2013, https://www.wcwonline.org/Active-Projects/womens-leadership-in-resident-theaters.

“Difference Between Male and Female Leadership Qualities.” The Women’s Code, Chelette Enterprises , 12 June 2018, https://thewomenscode.com/female-leadership-qualities/.

“Eight Traits Every Powerful Female Leader Possesses.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3 Oct. 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/yec/2017/10/03/eight-traits-every-powerful-female-leader-possesses/#18078f0b608f.

Erkut, Sumru, and Ineke Ceder. “Why Are There So Few Women Leading Theatres and What Can Be Done About It?” HowlRound Theatre Commons, Emerson College, 1 Dec. 2015, https://howlround.com/why-are-there-so-few-women-leading-theatres-and-what-can-be-done-about-it.

Paulson, Michael. “Doors Open for Women and People of Color at Top Ranks of American Theater.” New York Times, 19 Mar. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/19/theater/theater-directors-women-minorities.html.