As previously noted here at IP, female playwrights are woefully underrepresented across the theater world. According to the 2015 installment of The Count, a tally of regional, non-Broadway theater productions by playwrights' gender and race, over the last three seasons, men wrote nearly 63 percent of the 2,508 productions mounted across America, close to three times the rate for female playwrights of all races (22 percent).
The good news is that the tide may be turning a bit thanks to organizations like Lilly Awards Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and another grantmaker committed to addressing the theater world's gender imbalance, the Jenna and Paul Segal Foundation and its new Heidi Thomas Writer's Initiative Grant, which kills three birds with one stone.
Let's take a closer look.
First, the grant guarantees the production of a play by a female playwright for the next five years—no small feat when you consider those statistics. Second, it ensures that a woman directs the play. This, too, is significant. (For context, in a recent piece on New York Women in Film & Television, we noted that according to the Center for Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women accounted for just 9 percent of directors in 2015, up two percentage points over 2014. Mind you, these stats do not apply to the theater world, but I'd go out on a limb and say that the figures are probably comparable.)
Lastly, the grant will also help playwrights land second and third productions of their plays by bringing artistic directors from around the country to Signature to see the plays and meet with the playwrights. This is huge. After all, it's no secret that the theater world is a high-pressure, cutthroat business. As noted in a previous post looking at the Edgerton Foundation and its New Play Awards, playwrights crave the peace of mind that comes with consistency, predictability, and at the very least, a second chance.
The grant is named for screenwriter and playwright Heidi Thomas, who created the BBC series Call the Midwife and also penned the book for the revival of Gigi, which Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer directed and Segal produced. "Female writers have so much to say, and all too often their voices are not heard," said Heidi Thomas in a statement.
"However, at Signature, Eric and Jenna have created a new and exciting platform for work entirely by women, where talent will not just be showcased, but also nurtured. I am proud beyond measure to be linked to this initiative, and support it with my whole heart."