The Earth’s tides are surely rising thanks to climate change, a process of natural forces decades, even centuries in the making (and the unmaking, if we are to reverse them). But the tides themselves are determined by cycles even older and more fundamental than the climate: the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun, and the rotation of the Earth. I take both comfort and perspective from this tiny grain of scientific knowledge when I reflect on where we are in the state of our theatre field, let alone in our world’s tumultuous history. Are we advancing or regressing, culturally, politically, morally? Or somehow both at once?
Tidal metaphors help us see change as slow, cumulative, cyclical, and inevitable. Quiara Alegría Hudes invokes one in her powerful essay in this issue, “High Tide of Heartbreak,” adapted from a speech in which she recounts her career so far as a nerve-wracking tightrope walk between what she intends with her deeply personal, often culturally specific plays and a predominantly white theatre establishment that both embraces and misunderstands them, and which stubbornly refuses to be changed by them. That the Pulitzer-winning playwright of Water by the Spoonful is taking a break from the theatre, as she tells us here, should give us all pause to consider how well or poorly our field is doing at welcoming and nurturing the artists who give it body and mind and voice. Here the metaphor of rising water is both reassuring and forbidding: A high tide will break, though perhaps not before it’s managed to break things.
There may be evidence of another slowly turning tide in this issue. In our lists of the most-produced plays and most-produced playwrights of the new season, culled from season listings submitted by TCG member theatres, something caught our eye: Of the top 11 most-produced plays this season (usually 10, but there’s a tie), a total of 8 are female-authored. And among the top 20 most-produced playwrights in the new season, 11 are women. For those keeping score, that is better than parity on both counts—indeed, these are the best results for female playwrights we’ve yet seen on these lists since we started making them in 1994.
So the topline numbers are encouraging—what about the rest of the field? We crunched those numbers for our annual gender and period count, and the results are striking: 30 percent of all this season’s plays and 40 percent of new plays (defined as plays written in the last decade) are written by women, up from 21 and 29, respectively, just three years ago. The momentum toward gender parity seems unmistakable, as is the related trend toward new works vs. classics, though you might reasonably respond: Hmm, new plays are still only 40 percent female-authored?
If those trends don’t offer enough hope for an uncertain future, you might seek further encouragement from the education and engagement pros who are the subject of this season preview’s special issue—the folks who, under various titles and missions, do all the programming at theatres outside of the plays on the stage, but without whose path-breaking work our field would be a lot less vibrant, relevant, and communitarian. If we want the tides of our culture to turn—and I’m not sure how any of us could want otherwise—the forces of gravity that will effect such a change are none other than each of us, now, working individually and together. The solution, dear reader, is not in the moon or the stars but in ourselves.