THEATER TALK: Women On Broadway
As I'm the kind of person who likes to do this kind of thing, I went back through my Playbills and counted how many male actors were in the show and how many female actors were in the show. The results were more than a little disturbing. For all five shows, there were a total of 60 male actors and 21 female actors, or just shy of three male actors for every female. And that number is not even taking into account the roles those actors were playing; more often than not, most of the female actors were playing supporting or very minor roles, usually with the exception of the love interest(s), who had a more principal role.
I find that incredibly depressing. As a woman, I like seeing stories about other women. I understand that most shows are written by men, who want to write what they know, but I could still hope for better female representation (and, by the way, that extends to the creative team—I'd love to see more female composers, lyricists, playwrights, and directors). After one of the shows, I was talking with my friend, a female playwright, and she was saying the burden lies on her ilk to write stories with many strong female characters, and I agree. But I think she'd agree with me in saying that male writers also have a duty to include more strong female characters.
If you're familiar with feminist film criticism, you've probably heard of the Bechdel test. For a movie to pass, it needs to fulfill three basic requirements:
- There are at least two women in it.
- The women talk to each other.
- They talk to each other about something besides a man.
That seems simple enough, right? But the thing is, so many movies don't pass it. And surprisingly, a lot of plays don't either. This past weekend, I wasn't consciously looking to see which shows passed, so I'll have to double check, but I don't think most of them did—and if they did, they just barely passed. Take "Death of a Salesman," for example: a classic American play, but the only time two females are on stage is when two call girls are waiting for Biff and Happy. The female protagonist, Linda, in addition to being something of a doormat to her husband, also never talks to another female during the events of the play. While I'm not suggesting that someone should go back and write in a character with whom Linda could have a heart-to-heart (that would probably be terrible), I find it disturbing that Linda lives isolated in a world of men—there's never even a mention of Bernard's mother/Charley's wife, her wife. Again, I'm against going back and revising the text just for the purposes of my feminist agenda, but I do wonder why she is so cloistered to begin with.
I guess I'm just surprised by the lack of a female presence on Broadway. It's not like theater has ever been known for it's dearth of feminist writers (see: Wendy Wasserstein, Suzan-Lori Parks, Beth Henley, Lynn Nottage, et al). And there's certainly no lack of aspiring female performers, either. So then why are still so few female roles? I don't know, but I would love to see more female-centered shows. If "Newsies" can get away with having 24 males and 4 females, I'd be interested in seeing a similarly fun show with 24 females and 4 males—and no, "Annie" doesn't count, I really dislike that show and thus cannot call it "fun." It doesn't need to be a family drama (who doesn't already have enough family drama in his or her personal life?), but why not tell a story about women?