Playwright Julie Jordan has been making the perfectly credible case that female dramatists do not get produced as often as men — even when you factor out writers like Shakespeare. She pushed for more research into the matter, and Emily Glassberg Sands, who conducted three different studies, reported on the results Monday night in New York. Her research was vetted by three economists, including Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics.
It turns out that, yes, on Broadway, where female writers are represented by only one in eight shows, even when they do get produced, their shows have to do better than men. That is, their plays have to earn more money to continue to run. Otherwise, the (almost entirely male) producers will pull the plug.
On the other hand, it turns out that male playwrights, on average, are much more prolific than female writers. In other words, there are more playscripts from men being submitted to theaters, so numerically, male-written plays would get staged more often.
But easily the most puzzling finding was that on same-play submissions to theater companies (the same play given a female author half the time, a male author the other half), scripts with female writers were more often rejected — by female artistic directors and literary managers. Hiring more female artistic directors has been a obvious solution for the problem of increasing the presence of women dramatists on American stages — yet according to Sands’ research, it’s men who tend to rate female and male playwrights more equitably than women do.
Ms. Sands was reluctant to explain the responses in terms of discrimination, suggesting instead that artistic directors who are women perhaps possess a greater awareness of the barriers female playwrights face.