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The Kilroys. (Photo by Elisabeth Caren)
The Kilroys. (Photo by Elisabeth Caren)

The Kilroys Make Another List of Plays by Women You Should Know

As the impact of their first list is still being felt, the group announces a new list that reflects steps to increase the diversity of voices.

Hansol Jung, who has three plays on this year's Kilroys list.
Hansol Jung, who has three plays on this year’s Kilroys list. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

NATIONWIDE: Sequels typically promise to be, though they seldom are, bigger and better than the original. In the case of the second iteration of the Kilroys’ “List”—a nationally juried selection of unproduced or little-produced works by female playwrights—both benchmarks have been met, with more nominators involved and consequently more selections along a wider range of plays, aesthetically, culturally, and geographically. This year’s list features 53 plays, recommended by 321 nominators, up from last year’s 47 and 127, respectively—and, as Kilroy playwright member and listed playwright Sarah Gubbins helpfully pointed out, this year’s list reflects just the top 7 percent of nominators’ choices, while last year reflected the top 12 percent.

The Kilroys are a Los Angeles-based “gang of playwrights and producers” who launched the list last year in response to the persistent gender disparity in theatrical programming. Well aware of a wealth of plays by women and transgender writers that awaited a first or second production, the Kilroys decided to create their own “pipeline”—or, to use a terrible but useful phrase from the 2012 presidential campaign, to compile a sort of “binder full of women,” in this case the work of female playwrights. Seeking nominations from artistic directors, literary managers, professors, producers, directors, and dramaturgs, the Kilroys came up with an initial list that included plays by authors ranging from Jackie Sibblies Drury to Paula Vogel, which had had at most a single production and in many cases hadn’t seen a stage at all, despite being in the new-play development mix.

The impact of that initial list is hard to measure precisely, particularly given the long lead times of some theatres’ season planning, but the Kilroys have reported that 28 of the original 47 plays have since been produced, and individual writers cited on the list have reported more interest and requests for their scripts, if not a spate of production commitments. One new feature of this year’s list: a partnership with New Play Exchange, an online play database, which will allow interested producers direct access to the listed plays.

While Gubbins noted that in gathering this year’s list the Kilroys strove to diversify the nominating pool to increase representation along class, ability, sexual orientation, and gender lines (including genderqueer, trans*, and other non-binary gender identities), another Kilroy, playwright Sheila Callaghan, emphasized the attempt to broaden the list aesthetically, as well.

“Last year a lot of people on the list were repped by agents,” said Callaghan, who had a play on last year’s list but not this year’s. “The selections were a little bit more mainstream. This year includes people that aren’t necessarily mainstream voices who experiment more with form.”

One entry that reflects this aesthetic broadening is a musical, the Kilroy list’s first, Girl Shakes Loose Her Skin, by Zakiyyah Alexander, a Kilroy, and Imani Uzuri.

“There are very few female musicals in the canon, and I was shocked to discover that was the case,” said Alexander, who noted the remarkable fact that the recent Tony win for the writers of Fun Home, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, was the first for an all-female-penned musical. “It feels like a huge step to even be acknowledged.”

Acknowledgment and canon-building are among the aims of the list, said Callaghan.

“More productions is the ultimate goal, of course, but there’s an importance to canonization, too,” she said. “The impetus for the group was to fight the notion that artistic excellence has to be in some way compromised for gender parity. These plays have been developed and vetted for artistic excellence; they just happen to possess the added bonus of representing a voice that’s currently being underproduced. It’s part of a larger movement to say: There’s an embarrassment of riches here.”

Callaghan also noted that, in addition to theatres showing interest in her work, she had requests from colleges, as well. “A school is doing a class on just the Kilroys plays,” she marveled. “That’s part of the movement, too.”

Gubbins agreed, calling the list just a “drop in the bucket in terms of of gender parity on the stage. It came from the impulse of asking, What was up with our female peers not being produced equally to our male peers? As much dismantling as it will take to move toward gender parity in America, I think it will take as long to smash the patriarchy in our theatre system.”

Clare Barron. (Photo by Tom Lehman)
Clare Barron. (Photo by Tom Lehman)

One play at a time is a start. Below is this year’s entire list, arrayed in order of number of nominations (the cut-off to make the list this year was four nominations). Interestingly, Clare Barron not only has the year’s most recommended play, she has two separate plays on the list, as do Lauren Yee and Hilary Bettis. Taking the top spot for most-listed playwright, with three highly recommended plays, is Korean writer Hansol Jung.

You Got Older by Clare Barron
Peerless by Jiehae Park
Small Mouth Sounds by Bess Wohl
The Ghosts of Lote Bravo by Hilary Bettis
Cardboard Piano by Hansol Jung
No More Sad Things by Hansol Jung
Kentucky by Leah Nanako Winkler
The Roommate by Jen Silverman
I Will Be Gone by Erin Courtney
Sojourners by Mfoniso Udofia
Ballast by Georgette Kelly
Feathers and Teeth by Charise Castro Smith
Fruiting Bodies by Sam Chanse
Girl Shakes Loose Her Skin by Zakiyyah Alexander and Imani Uzuri
King Liz by Fernanda Coppel
Still Now by Katie Bender
Wolf Play by Hansol Jung
King of the Yees by Lauren Yee
Miller, Ms by Boo Killebrew
Petty Harbour by Martyna Majok
Smart People by Lydia R. Diamond
Soldier X by Rehana Lew Mirza
The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe
Ugly Lies the Bone by Lindsey Ferrentino
Unseen by Mona Mansour
Sagittarius Ponderosa by MJ Kaufman
Sweat by Lynn Nottage
An Almanac for Farmers and Lovers in Mexico by Kate Tarker
Camdenside by Sarah Burgess
Colony Collapse by Stefanie Zadravec
Manahatta by Mary Kathryn Nagle
Native Son by Nambi E. Kelley
Romeo & Naomi Ramirez by Kathryn Walat
Residence by Laura Jacqmin
The History of American Pornography by Hilary Bettis
Nollywood Dreams by Jocelyn Bioh
Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus
Spill by Leigh Fondakowski
Bully by Amina Henry
Cocked by Sarah Gubbins
Dirty Crusty by Clare Barron
Fade by Tanya Saracho
Give It All Back by Calamity West
The Last Match by Anna Ziegler
Madame Ho by Eugenie Chan
Supertrue by Karen Hartman
The Ashes Under Gait City by Christina Anderson
The Insurgents by Lucy Thurber
The Tiger Among Us by Lauren Yee
The Undeniable Sound of Right Now by Laura Eason
The Wolfe Twins by Rachel Bonds
To the Bone by Lisa Ramirez
Today Is My Birthday by Susan Soon He Stanton


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