If you had peeked into my home at 8 pm last Sunday night, you would have found my family and me sprawled out on our designated sides of the couch, eagerly anticipating what has developed into our favorite award show - the Tonys. Unlike the Oscars or the Grammies, which I usually glance at haphazardly while eating dinner to indulge my shameless fascination with Hollywood couture, the Tony Awards always require my full attention. The 3 hour long spectacle doesn’t seem to have a dull moment, suffused with such tremendous energy and authenticity, that can only be so flawlessly delivered by people in the profession of live performance. I laughed, I cried, and I stared blankly in sheer awe at Neal Patrick Harris’ audacious performance of “Sugar Daddy” from his two-time Tony Award-winning musical revival of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” But there was one thing about the Tonys that was deeply unsettling to my feminist brain, and that was the complete absence of female nominations in categories other than best actress.
Out of 56 of the nominees for non-actors, only 14 were women, 6 of which were for costume design, 3 for lighting design, 1 for scenic set design of a play, and 1 for direction of a musical. My first thought was to give Broadway the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps this isn’t a gender thing… perhaps this seasons best plays just happen to be written by men..? But that’s pretty hard to believe, considering that the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for theatre went to Annie Baker for The Flick and the runners up were Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori for Fun Home and Madeleine George for The Curous Case of the Watson Intelligence. But perhaps this isn’t the fault of the Tonys, but the fault of the Broadway community for failing to adopt the work of talented female playwrights. Back in the 2013-14 season only two dramas on Broadway were by women: Machinal, written by Sophie Treadwell in 1928, and A Raisin in the Sun, written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959. Of the original and revived musicals only Marsha Norman’s adaptation of The Bridges of Madison Country saw the stage. And the most disturbing stat of all: women were proportionally better represented in Broadway in 1909 than they are today. Like WHAAT?!? I’m sorry, but that is just insanity, especially since roughly 70% of ticket buyers are women.
Despite the lack of female playwrights and directors, there seems to be no shortage of female divas owning the Broadway stage. This particular season saw powerhouses Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, Kelli O’Hara, Sutton Foster, Rebecca Hall, Estelle Parsons, Michelle Williams, and several others. But it stands to reason that a male playwright may not be able to create female characters who are as strong or dynamic as they should be. When Lorraine Ackerman Boyle, who was involved in the production of Mothers and Sons and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, was asked about this possible implication she responded “I truly never thought about that. Maybe I should. But basically, I am looking for something that won’t lose my investors’ money.” And herein lies the hamartia of Broadway. All of the producers would rather stick with names that they are comfortable with, but unfortunately for female playwrights, these names are predominately male.
While Broadway seems to have turned its back on female playwrights, there are some theatre organizations that are targeted to counter this, such as the Women’s Project Theatre in NYC, which has been up and running for 36 years. In order to compensate for the deficiency of female voices on Broadway, this organization presents works written and directed solely by women. “It would be nice to go out of business, but unfortunately we are still vital. Still, I remain hopeful that the next generation will be more open” professes Artistic Director Julie Crosby.
Thanks to people like Crosby, hopefully someday feminist theatre junkies may see a more female friendly Broadway.