So in the past, I’ve tracked some of the upcoming seasons being presented by New York theater companies. I’ve pointed out, for example, that I’m excited about the Public’s 08-09 lineup. I’ve also pointed out that there seems to be a lack of diversity in many of the offerings; most theaters seem to be doing work written by white men. It’s been an informal study on my part–just skimming through the announcements and going off what I know.
But yesterday, I was handed a piece of paper listing the breakdowns of the upcoming seasons being presented by 13 major NYC theaters. I wasn’t a participant at the event where this breakdown was discussed, and I won’t name the event because I’m not sure if they want to publicize it like that, but I’ve got no qualms about publicizing it here. I’ll start with the general overview stuff, then break it down by theater at the end.
According to this paper (and it doesn’t cite the quoted stats, so I can’t tell you where the demographic info comes from), New York City’s ethnic breakdown looks like this:
Non-Latino Whites = 35%
Latinos = 27%
Blacks = 26.6%
Asians = 9.8%
Other = 1%
You can probably guess where this is going already.
The paper goes one step further, adding that Non-Latino White MEN make up 14% of NYC’s population. So my question to you dear reader, is if white men make up 14% of NYC’s population, what percentage of plays in the 2008/09 NYC not-for-orofit theater season do you think are written by white men?
There are fifty productions written by living American playwrights cited by the paper. (As best as I can tell, this list excludes productions created by groups–like Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Rambo Solo at Soho Rep–and plays by dead and/or foreign playwrights–like Sarah Kane’s Blasted at Soho Rep.) Of those fifty, FORTY are written by white men. Six are written by white women. Three are written by Black women. One is written by a black man. Seriously. Look at that list again:
White Men = 40
White Woman = 6
Black Women = 3
Black Men = 1
Latino Men = 0
Latina Women = 0 (although I question this statistic, as I believe Lisa Loomer, who has a play at Roundabout, is Latina)
Asian Men = 0
Asian Women = 0
Other Men and Women = 0
As I said recently when I dropped the door hook on my face and cut my nose open at four am in Chicago: Really?
Now, as the note above points out, I haven’t compiled this list on my own, and there may be some particular ethnic situations that could be somewhat clarified to reshape this list a bit, but the point remains–there is a serious gap at work here. No theater–NO theater–in New York City is doing more than one play by any American person of color. Only Playwrights Horizons is doing more than one play by American woman.
I’m not necessarily blaming theaters here. Choosing a season is difficult, and there are many factors to consider. Ethnicity is one small piece of the puzzle, as is gender. These theaters have cultivated relationships with many artists, and many of those artists happen to be white men. I understand all that.
I also understand that many of my favorite New York writers aren’t being represented in the New York theater at all, nor are the cultures that make New York the proverbial “melting pot.” And I look at other theaters in the US, and I see that it can be done. And while it’s possible that good old LAByrinth will come through and diversify things up a bit, that (a) won’t change the overall landscape and (b) shouldn’t fall to any one company.
The writers are out there. They are deserving. Why aren’t they being done?