CHICAGO: A new independent study shows that when it comes to gender parity, Chicago’s theatre scene still has room for improvement. Chicago-based artists Kay Kron and Mariah Schultz conducted the study as part of Kron’s master thesis at DePaul University. According to their findings, in the 2015-16 season, out of 250 plays at 52 theatres, 25 percent were written by women and 36 percent were directed by women.
“The study is unique because it describes gender parity across 14 theatre professions/positions, includes non-Equity, midsize and large Equity theatres, and is specific to Chicago,” writes Kron in an email. The study is called “Gender Breakdown: Parity in Chicago theatre across professions and equity status.” Kron and Schultz culled their data from websites, press releases, and reviews. They chose to only focus on plays, saying that the large cast sizes in musicals “would have made them overly influential on the overall percentages.”
These findings were roughly in line with American Theatre‘s own research, which found that in the 2015-16 season female playwrights made up 21 percent of 1,914 productions mounted nationally (the Chicago “Gender Breakdown” study also cited American Theatre‘s study as a resource). In addition, the Chicago study also broke down gender parity by profession, as illustrated by the graph below.
“With the exception of costume design, artistic positions (artistic directors, directors, designers, actors, and ensemble members), are dominated by men,” says Kron. “Managerial positions (managing directors, stage managers, board members and administrators) are filled primarily by women. In addition, it is likely theatre audiences are comprised mostly of women.”
In addition, Kron also found a correlation between female-written work and female-directed work. “Female playwrights tend to write more roles for female actors, and female directors tend to direct more work by female playwrights,” she explains.
The Chicago Gender Breakdown study is also the inspiration for a show of the same name from local theatre company Collaboraction. The show will be a documentary theatre piece using stories culled from 200 Chicago theatre artists who talk candidly about their experiences with misogyny and racism in the industry; Gender Breakdown will run Feb. 16-March 19. In partnership with the show, the full Gender Breakdown study will be available on Collaboraction’s website on March 16. Kron also plans to create a 10-minute performance version of the study for cabaret venues.
“I want to use my study in partnership with Gender Breakdown to spark community dialogue revealing the nature and extent of the problem, and establish meaningful solutions,” she says. “Most urgently, I wish to discuss the ways inequalities threaten the careers of female artists, give those in positions of power increased opportunity to take advantage of young talent, provide disproportionate access to work experience, and disrespect audience populations.”