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The Kilroys' second "The List" highlights a slow Chicago season for women playwrights

Written by
Kris Vire

The L.A.-based collective of women playwrights, producers and other theater professionals known as the Kilroys released its second "The List" on Sunday. The List is, yep, a list of 53 new plays by female and trans* playwrights deemed worthy of production in a survey of 321 theater professionals across the country; like the initial list the Kilroys put out last year, it's a response to the lack of gender parity in American theaters' seasons, and the weaksauce response from some artistic directors and producers that they just don't see enough plays by women submitted for consideration. For your consideration, then: The List.

The Kilroys—whose numbers include several Chicago-connected writers, such as Sarah Gubbins, Marisa Wegrzyn, Tanya Saracho and Laura Jacqmin—asked their respondents to name three to five plays they'd read in the last 12 months that they deemed worthy of production, that were either unproduced or had only been produced once. The final list represents the top seven percent of responses, each of which received at least four and as many as 20 recommendations. It includes one play that was produced in Chicago in the past season: Nambi E. Kelley's searing adaptation of Richard Wright's Native Son, which premiered last fall in a co-production between Court Theatre and American Blues Theater.

Other playwrights with Chicago ties represented include Lydia R. Diamond with Smart People, Jacqmin with Residence, Gubbins with Cocked (which is set for a production in Victory Gardens Theater's upcoming season), Calamity West with Give It All Back and Laura Eason with The Undeniable Sound of Right Now. (Though Gubbins and Jacqmin made The List, they and the other members of the Kilroys don't vote in the survey themselves.) Also on the list are Charise Castro Smith's Feathers and Teeth, which is set for its world premiere this fall at the Goodman Theatre, and Hansol Jung's No More Sad Things, which Sideshow Theatre Company will premiere this season as well.

Unfortunately, skimming over The List only reminded me just how overwhelmingly male the upcoming slates are at many of Chicago's most prominent institutions. The only woman writer represented in Steppenwolf's five-play season is Annie Baker, with her already Pulitzer-approved The Flick. Gubbins is the only woman on the five-play roster at Victory Gardens. At Court Theatre, Northlight Theatre and Writers Theatre you'll find zero non-male writers this season. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which produces new works in addition to those by its namesake, has one show in its mainstage season with a woman co-writer, which is actually an uptick for CST. The Goodman skews the average for our city's biggest theaters, with three of nine plays by women.

To be fair, these upcoming season lineups aren't necessarily representative of these theaters' track records over the long term, and gender parity isn't the only measure of equal representation. And there are many moving parts that influence a season announcement; I've heard that one of the theaters that ended up with an all-male season had been angling for two premieres by women writers, and negotiations fell through on both. 

But appearances matter. In a time when the Kilroys and their List exist; when more than 50 Washington, D.C.–area theaters are producing new plays by women this fall as part of a coordinated attempt to address the gender disparity in that city's theater scene; and just as Fun Home made history this month as the first show by a female writing team to win the Tony Award for best musical on Broadway—this heavily male-leaning season is not a good look for Chicago's top theaters.

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