Harnessing Data to Combat Gender & Racial Inequality in the American Theatre

Playwrights and theatre professionals across the country are fed up with the lack of diversity among writers produced on the American Stage. These activists are armed with years of pent up frustration... and lots and lots of data. But what strategies should they take to accomplish their goal?

What's the Latest?


Two years ago, Washington-based playwright Gwydion Suilebhan began collecting racial and gender data on playwrights whose work was getting produced during the 2012-13 DC theatre season. His findings revealed a stunning lack of diversity: only 18% of plays had been written by women, only 15% by playwrights of color. Suilebhan, aided by a pair of new partners, expanded his research for the 2013-14 season to include information about directors and new play development. Again, his data indicated that DC theatres have a diversity problem. The lack of representation for women and people of color isn't just a civic issue -- it's something that affects all of American theatre.

Although Suilebhan isn't the only person to have conducted this sort of research, his shrewd use of social media and presence on the theatre commons website HowlRound has helped keep the diversity discussion on the forefront. His work has inspired additional studies including recently announced national initiatives by the Theatre Communications Group and the Dramatists Guild, among others. In an article posted today on HowlRound, Suilebhan advocates for a collective approach to data-mining.

What's the Big Idea?

Social media offers a platform like no other for the spread of ideas. It's also a medium by which a much rarer form of advocacy can be cultivated: collective action. Take the Kilroys, for example. They're a group of Los Angeles-based theatre professionals who proclaim themselves as "done talking about gender parity and ready to act." In response to a common claim that gender parity is unattainable due to a lack of female-penned plays "in the pipeline," The Kilroys today released a list of the 46 most recommended new plays by female writers. The highlighted works were decided via a survey of 127 influential theatre professionals from across the country. Suilebhan's data is listed among the inspirations for the formation of the list. 

The Killroys' list has already garnered the attention of The New York Times, a reflection of the issue's importance as well as the abilities of a collected group to harness data and take action.

Keep reading at Howlround and The New York Times

Photo credit: Lance Bellers / Shutterstock

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