You Don’t Look Like a Director

by Esther Emery

For those of you following along at home, I’m 5’9”, brown-haired, 30-ish and slim in a never-exercise-anything-but-my-mind sort of way.  I’m somewhat socially awkward, observant and intense.  I was wearing all black.

How could I look any more like a director?

The lovely theatre staff member doing the introductions smiled understandingly, “No, she looks like a baby.”  Ageism aside, I have a very sneaking suspicion that my youth wasn’t what this gentleman found notable.

I think he was referring to my boobs.

In reference to one of my regular PRI indulgences, “let’s do the numbers.”  I’ll start with movies, not because I have any personal connection to the film industry, but because “director” as in “artistic head honcho of multi-million-dollar cinematic entertainment a la Spielberg” is arguably the most common household usage of the word.  And because they actually have statistics, but I’ll get to that in a second.

The New York Women in Film and Television site reports:

Women accounted for 6% of directors in 2007, a decline of one percentage point since 2006.

Never mind.  Let’s not start with movies. Let’s go straight to theatre, where the numbers are not quite that abysmal.  Here’s something positive:  This season, buzzes the Buzz, there are seven female directors on Broadway whose shows are still running.  Amazing.

Really, it is.  In 2005, the New York Times reported three out of thirty-nine.  This link will take you to that reportage, plus a discussion of the whys and wherefores thereof.

But I don’t direct on Broadway.  I don’t even do musicals, which armed five out of the seven woman warriors featured by the Buzz.  For the purpose of discussion, let’s say that makes me a different animal.

A search for statistics on gender parity among directors in the not-for-profit regional theatre is pretty much fruitless.  The much-quoted study by the New York State Council on the Arts 2002 found 17% of roughly 2000 surveyed regional theatre and off Broadway productions helmed by women.  But it smells a little musty.  Here’s Alexis Greene, writing for American Theatre Magazine on What Women Want:

The NYSCA report is aging rapidly, yet no organization has stepped forward to undertake the kind of employment survey that almost every other industry in the U.S., including segments of the entertainment industry, considers basic. In the absence of an up-to-date study, artists who experience the lack of parity between women and men in the theatre are at a stalemate when talking to those who believe the issue has been resolved.

I guess that leaves me to do my own research.

I live in San Diego.  I work in San Diego, and I do get work, boobs notwithstanding.  So does Delicia.  So does Rosina.  So do Kristianne and Lisa and Jen and Seema and Chelsea.  That feels great.

But it isn’t research.  As a member of a woman-centered theatre company, I would hope I’m working with lots of women.  (So much for my second career as a scientist.)  On closer examination, I find that while female directors are working all over town, and frequently getting recognized for it, we are still not working in the largest houses.  At least, not this season.

The La Jolla Playhouse is hosting artistic director Seema Sueko and her own company, Mo’oleloin residence next year.  But their regular season doesn’t list any female directors.  They do have a female playwright/solo performer on their Page to Stage, but that’s their smallest, most risk-tolerant slot.  And at The Old Globe, there is only one female director slated for the winter season.  And one for the summer.  We’re both local.  And we’re both working in the smallest of three venues: again, their most risk-tolerant slot.

The biggest companies in town have reason to play it safe.  Safe is known, known is historical, and historical is male.  Until women are working in the biggest houses, we also aren’t getting paid at the highest scale. That means that the left-ish, progressive industry of live theatre is contributing to continued disparity in compensation for men and women doing the same work.

In the meantime, female directors and artistic directors can write ourselves into history by creating our own opportunities, as well as making the most of the ones that get handed down.  Here in San Diego, we’re doing just that.  The next time someone tells me that I don’t look like a director, I might say, “you don’t look very well informed.”

Anybody else have an answer?