It’s time for some facts, and not the fake news facts. During the Chicago theatre season of 2015-2016, 25% of shows produced had female authorship. Only 36% of plays were directed by women. Someone reading might think that 36% isn’t all that bad and maybe it’s a step in the right direction. Well, let's put these numbers in perspective.
This was a study undertaken by Kay Kron and Mariah Schultz as part of Kron’s Master Thesis at DePaul University. These stats were part of the study that were included full Jeff eligible season of Equity and Non-Equity theaters nominated for a Jeff Award in any category during Chicago’s 2015-2016 season. What does that even mean? Glad you asked.
That means, 52 theatres, over 250 plays, which resulted in over 4,500 data points. Now, let's put those earlier numbers into perspective. That 36% means that about 90 women directed plays. 62 out of those 250 plays produced had female authorship. Here’s a few more numbers for you: 43% of actors hired were female. 89% of costume designers were female. Stats like these are the reason, as well as the current political climate, that people are speaking up.
Dani Bryant decided to channel these numbers, as well as the spotlight that gender equality is currently under, into the fantastic show that is Gender Breakdown. Now, before I go any further I want to say that I am a 31-year-old white male. I am the demographic. I have never experienced discrimination of any kind.
Gender Breakdown is 10 female identified performers telling their stories of the misogyny, segregation, and overall disrespect they have experienced throughout their careers. These women bare their soles on stage trying to shed a light on what it’s really like. Not only are these women sharing their stories, but a compilation of over 200 Chicago theater artists is played throughout the show sharing stories about how they have had to deal with the misogyny and typecasting within the Chicago theater system.
Brianna Buckley, Jazmin Corona, Kamille Dawkins, Rula Gardnier, Kate Hawbaker-Krohn, Priya Mohanty, Siobhan Marguerite Reddy-Best, Carolyn Sinon, Aimy Tien, and Mia Vivens each command the stage with powerful performances retelling their own experiences that they have had. Each performance shows that they are not just a woman, but much more. They are dancers, intellectuals, mothers, daughters, performers. Strong women who don’t need to be told who are what they are because they already know who and what they are.
One such segment of the show that stuck with me was the retelling of casting ads. They play it as if it’s a game show where the “host” will read REAL casting calls. Then the women play along to see if they meet the “criteria.” When I say criteria, I mean the actual outlandish bullshit that some producer, casting director, or even director scribbles down for how they see the female role. Such “criteria” ranges from: seeking a middle age woman (which apparently means 26-32), a cute, but dorky girl, must be willing to perform nude, skinny (as in 105 lbs), and any other type of superficial surface level adjective or phrase one can think of.
While being a woman within the theatre, or entertainment community overall, is hard because men are running the show, it can be equally hard when you’re a minority within the minority. Priya Mohanty, who has here MBA from Duke in case you were wondering, spoke how she is often typecast since she is from India. Or that Kamille Dawkins might be better served playing the black servant instead of the lead because it’s a part that fits her better.
While sitting through each performance I can remember laughing during many of the sets. For instance, the casting call bit that was mentioned earlier was played with a humoristic approach. I can remember several times where my laughter turned into a sudden realization that I was laughing at the degradation these women, all women for that matter, have faced. That realization soon turned into an uncomfortable feeling. That uncomfortable feeling though was welcomed because it helped bring on empathy. I can never be able to relate to any of these women’s stories (31-year-old white male remember), but the power to get the audience to empathize with these performers is the accomplishment. To understand where their rage, sadness, optimism is coming from is the mark of something wonderful.
There is no doubt that there needs to be a massive overhaul within the entertainment industry as whole. Productions like Gender Breakdown helps show the general public what really is going on, which can then hopefully enact change within the system itself. Gender Breakdown is just one step down the long road to progress, but it’s the right step.
Collaboraction Theatre Company’s Gender Breakdown is being performed at the Flat Iron Arts Building in Wicker Park through March 19th. For more information click here.
*Now extended through April 1st