Lists & Cake: How A Group of Women is Working to Achieve Parity in the American Theater

Lists & Cake: How A Group of Women is Working to Achieve Parity in the American Theater

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that gender disparity is a hot topic.

In the last several years, an important dialogue – built around what it’s like to be a woman of the stage and screen – has developed. Female industry professionals, like Reese Witherspoon and Gina Rodriguez, have started speaking out about the difficulties women face and how it should not be ignored that women currently helm some of the best Broadway productions, think Fun Home and Waitress.

In 2013, a group of Los Angeles-based female playwrights and theatre producers moved from conversation to action by gathering in response to the dearth of productions of plays by women. They formed a collective comprised of top theatre-making ladies, including Zakiyyah Alexander, Bekah Brunstetter, Sheila Callaghan, Carla Ching, Annah Feinberg, Sarah Gubbins, Laura Jacqmin, Joy Meads, Kelly Miller, Meg Miroshnik, Daria Polatin, Tanya Saracho, and Marisa Wegrzyn. They named themselves The Kilroys, after the World War II-era graffiti tag.

Tired of hearing America’s top theaters defend their male-heavy seasons with excuses like “there just aren’t enough good plays by women writers,” they compiled a list of the best (and still to be produced) plays by women. Ultimately, what would come to be known as “THE LIST” would be distributed to America’s top theaters. The Kilroys presented the plays to quite literally combat the excuses they were so sick and tired of hearing and to demand better from our nation’s most notable producers.

To go about selecting plays, the Kilroys first established a set of criteria — plays could not have had a professional production, they had to be written by a female-identifying or trans playwright, and they had to be deemed “excellent” by a rigorous nomination process. List nominees are “influential new play leaders” who must read or see at least 40 new plays in the year for which they’re nominating; the nation’s top dramaturgs, literary managers, artistic director, and several other theatre artists are among the nominators. Those nominators submit 3-5 recommendations, so, ultimately, The Kilroys have over 560 plays to choose from. THE LIST contains the year’s “32 most recommended plays”; a second Honorable Mentions list shows the top 82 plays.

Now in its third year, the acclaimed LIST “is a tool for producers committed to ending the systematic underrepresentation of female and trans* playwrights in the American theater.” As they’ve grown in popularity and reputation, The Kilroys have also worked to continue to ensure THE LIST’s efficacy. Last year, they began a partnership with the New Play Exchange, an online database of new works, to make their endorsed scripts more widely accessible. Several plays from THE LIST have gone on to have professional productions. Ruby Rae Spiegel’s DRY LAND, Dominique Morisseau’s SKELETON CREW, and Martyna Majok’s IRONBOUND all opened to critical acclaim in New York following their mentions on the 2014 LIST – and those are only a few of the great success stories.

Last year, The Kilroys reminded us that enacting change can be fun when they publicly rewarded theaters they wanted to applaud for doing it right. In their first ever “Cake Drop,” The Kilroys delivered cake to thirteen of the nation’s “parity-achieving” theaters. The sweet surprises were dropped off by “ambassadors” (often playwrights themselves) and were sent to theaters including Company One in Boston, Center Stage in Baltimore, and Yale Rep in New Haven.

With their rebellious subversiveness and signature flair, The Kilroys have shaken up the status quo to the benefit of emerging female playwrights. From surprise cake deliveries to new play lists, the women of The Kilroys have made a name for themselves as they work to advocate for women in the field. List by list, they’re helping carve out room for women in an industry that’s stifled their stories for too long.

Image courtesy of Getty Images.