Meet the Foundation Addressing the Theater World's Gender Imbalance

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 9 percent of directors in 2015, up two percentage points over 2014. While the figure is trending updward, it's nonetheless a demoralizing statistic. 

And it turns it out the numbers aren't much better in the theatrical world (with "much better" being a depressingly relative term, as you'll soon see). 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).

Of course, female playwrights like Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman, and Theresa Rebeck don't need statistics to alert them to what they see every day. They're well-aware of the industry-wide disparities. And so in 2010 the trio founded the Lilly Awards, a production of the Lilly Awards Foundation, an organization that honors the contributions made to the American theater by women that also works to publicize and correct the issues that confront women artists, from the lack of child care to the need for mentors and champions. (The foundation also commissions the production of The Count,in partnership with the Dramatists Guild.)

According to the Lilly's website, the awards are named for Lillian Hellman, a pioneering American playwright who famously said, "You need to write like the devil and act like one, too, when necessary" (a credo that also, ironically enough, applies to the staff here at IP). The awards are part of the movement to "change the way decisions are made about production, by spreading the facts, like for example, that plays by women are as profitable as plays by men."

The seventh annual Lilly Awards celebration took place on May 23, 2016 at the Signature Theatre Center in New York. Ten women were honored, taking their places on stage among previous winners. If you check out Huffington Post's take on the awards ceremony, you'll quickly see that the tenor of the evening maps perfectly with the current "artists as activist" trend coursing through all of nonprofit arts philanthropy.

However, unlike, say, the the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation's Artist as Activist program, which recently pivoted to the single social issue of mass incarceration, Lilly Award winners want to change the gender disparities that exist in their very own profession. In accepting the first award of the evening, the First International Lilly Award, Sarah Durcan of Waking the Feminists set the tone, vowing, "We will not wait. Our audiences will not wait. The time for action, the time for equality, is now." (Indeed, the Post went so far as to declare, "The theme of the evening was 'activism.'")

The foundation also produces a Spotlight Series, highlighting the work of emerging women artists, and a Family Friendly Summer Colony initiative, which allows women to take their children along to the prestigious summer writing programs that are so vital to getting their work into the pipeline for major production. Click here for more information.