Gender parity is the name of the game for Parity Productions. The New York City theatre company’s mission is to produce work with 50 percent women and transgender artists behind the scenes, and it doesn’t stop there—the company also encourages other theatres to do the same by listing shows that meet or surpass gender parity. Parity Productions’ Qualifying Productions program compiles a list of current shows in New York City which have a creative team of at least half women and transgender artists, including the writers, directors, and designers. It’s a way not only to honor artists and institutions that have made this commitment, but to allow consumers to vote with their purchasing power in support of parity.
Qualifying Productions, which include shows with a public run of at least two weeks, are listed online and touted in the company’s monthly email newsletter. Tickets for each show can be purchased via Parity Productions’ website, and production photos are featured on Parity Productions’ social media channels.
The company’s founder, Ludovica Villar-Hauser, says this boost of positive press can be impactful for smaller theatre companies who can’t afford press representation. “There is diminishing airtime in the press for theatre, including The New York Times, which has cut its regional coverage,” she says.
As a director, Villar-Hauser has experienced inequity in the theatre field firsthand. A board member of the League of Professional Theatre Women since 2009, she founded Parity Productions as a way to continue amplifying women’s voices in theatre through advocacy.
“If people aren’t thinking in terms of wanting to include women, or looking around to see who is out there, it is never going to happen,” says Villar-Hauser. “So by encouraging companies to have a 50 percent hiring practice, I think we can make change.”
William Carden, artistic director of Ensemble Studio Theatre, finds the Qualifying Productions program rewarding. “Those of us working in theatres that produce new work are still actively trying to change a hidden bias that is systemic, and Parity Productions’ Qualifying Productions program is helping us all keep our eye on the prize,” he says. “It is encouraging us to be focused and vigilant by calling attention to how it can be done.”
Since its inception last summer, Qualifying Productions has recognized 140 theatre productions, from small low-budget shows to Broadway productions, including Waitress. Puffs, the Off-Broadway musical inspired by the wizarding world of Harry Potter, is one of 43 current Qualifying Productions.
“Being a qualifying production with parity helps us demonstrate our commitment to a diverse, inclusive and progressive company,” says Puffs producer David Carpenter. “It’s important that we be part of the conversation in always making sure art and theatre remain a safe, diverse, vibrant place for everyone who wants to participate.”
Less Than Rent Theatre’s production of Fuck Marry Kill, currently at the New Ohio Theatre, doesn’t just have parity; it also features strong female characters. “I think it’s essential to have women behaving ‘badly’ (i.e. given the space to fail and try and be messy) onstage and off,” says producer Jenna Grossano. “The group of women we have working on this play are doing just that. Storytelling isn’t just the script, but also the direction, the design, and the producing. I’m encouraging all my female collaborators to bring their baddest selves to this project, and they are rising to the challenge.”
Despite the fieldwide awareness surrounding the importance of gender parity, Villar-Hauser recognizes that the pool of working female and transgender artists is still too often unknown and unsung. To rectify that, Parity Productions has created a running database which lists women and transgender artists by their discipline in the theatre: playwrights, directors, designers, and musical composers. “How do people get jobs if they are not even being considered?” asks Villar-Hauser. “If you’re not in somebody’s mind, you’re not going to end up on their payroll.”
Parity Productions has also started a commissioning program, partly funded by its online shop, the Parity Store. The store sells merchandise and paintings by female artists, and 10 percent of every sale goes toward the commissioning prize. Two $2,500 prizes are awarded to one female playwright and one transgender playwright each year. In addition to producing the commissioned work, Parity Productions mounts two to three other productions each year. Their most recent was Places, which was presented at 59E59 Theaters and went to the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
“Everything we do dovetails—the choices of plays and the commissions,” says Villar-Hauser. “Everything fits, and that is what excites me.”
And while she is emphatic about evangelizing for the importance of gender parity, she also knows that the numbers aren’t reflecting a dramatic field-wide shift. At least yet.
“There are no real studies being done anywhere, we just have to collate,” says Villar-Hauser. For now, Parity Productions’ hearty staff of eight part-time employees culls through submissions for the Qualifying Productions program searches and tallies the gender count by hand.
Looking forward, Villar-Hauser hopes that more people will take on the task of gathering the data. “One day I’d love for this to be national—I’d love for other people to pick it up.”
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!