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

The Kilroys' second "The List" highlights a slow Chicago season for women playwrights
Photograph: Elizabeth Caren
The Kilroys

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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4 comments
Dillon K
Dillon K

The Poor Theatre is doing a Midwest Premiere by Emily Schwend -- a relatively new writer to Chicago. "Take Me Back" received great reviews off-broadway in NY in 2013. Additionally, this show is only a cast of four people and it features three strong female roles. 


www.thepoortheatre.org


Opens July 13th! 

Josh S
Josh S

To join Stef's and Kimberly's thoughts, there are some awesome storefront to "mid-size" theatres who have been working with great rigor and intentionality in achieving a greater sense of parity. I'm thrilled that Haven Theatre's season is featuring 2 premieres, one local and one American, both by female writers (with a female director helming our Spring 2016 offering). And Strawdog is producing our 2nd-ever 8-show season, with 5 out of 8 productions written by non-male playwrights/adaptors. And both of these companies are actively talking about all forms of diversity as we continue to build future seasons. And as an administrator, I can say: it feels REALLY good to be a positive contributor to parity. 

Kimberly L
Kimberly L

Which just proves the Mission of theatres like Babes With Blades Theatre Company and Rivendell 20 Percent Theatre are important and should be nurtured by this amazingly wonderful and diverse theatrical community.

Stef T
Stef T

Thanks for this article Kris. I just wanted to add that Route 66 Theatre Company is producing the world premiere of Jenni Lamb's play QUIVER this upcoming season, which was given a developmental workshop in March. Jenni is a local playwright and we are proud to present her work. Our company has history of championing women's voices and was the first company to "take a risk" on Caitlin Parrish's world premiere of A TWIST OF WATER. Which worked out quite well for both parties. Caitlin's second world premiere with Route 66 presented last fall, THE DOWNPOUR, was a finalist for the ATCA Steinberg New Play Award. Here's to more!