The Imbalance of Women in Theatre

Scenario; you go to a theatre audition where there are 30 women auditioning for only 1-2 possible roles, and 5 men auditioning for 5-6 roles. If you’re a woman in theatre you’ve experienced that scenario I just mentioned way too many times.

For every female actor that gets a role, three males get roles. Even though there are typically more female actors than male actors, and 68% of theatre audiences are women. In a community and industry that is watched, viewed, and acted by mostly women, theatre is not catered toward women at all.

When I was in middle school and high school, I remember it being so incredibly difficult to find shows that would give meaty roles to our mostly female auditioners. Shows that high schools typically do (Guys and Dolls, Anything Goes, Oklahoma, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown) only have 1-2 roles for women and are shows centered around the male protagonist. High schools also can’t do shows that are considered inappropriate, which makes options for musicals even shorter.

This is rooted in an industry that has been ruled under the patriarchy. Since the Golden Age era, musicals and plays have been written, composed, and directed by men, leaving female perspectives in the dust. It was only in 2016 that "Waitress" was the first musical ever with an all-female creative team. 

If women are underrepresented on stage, they are almost invisible behind the scenes. Only 22% of shows produced in the United States are written by women. It is proven that shows written by women typically have better roles for women. Why is the theatre community, a community that constantly harps on being a progressive, inclusive space, not telling women’s stories or giving them a voice on stage?

This imbalance also leaves women being less valued and respected in the theatre world. Casting directors tend to cast men quicker and give them more opportunities because they are a rarer breed in the theatre world, leaving women feeling unworthy, unwanted, and untalented. Let’s just say it, it is way easier to be a man in theatre than a woman. Men are looked at as a rare, fine piece of china; while women are seen as tupperware, more common and easier to replace.  

Now you ask what can we do to fix this problem? We women are not going anywhere. We are here to stay and audition until our lungs give out. First, let’s start by valuing women and getting their stories told on stage, giving female writers a voice so they can give female actors a voice as well and a chance to shine. Female writers and actors are too often discouraged to put their work on stage, it’s time we start investing in them. Second, investing even more in women of color playwrights. Only 3.8% of shows written are written by women of color, leaving them in shadow of white women playwrights and they’re work not listened by anybody. If there is any group of women we need to focus on, it’s these women. To put their experiences and stories at the forefront and onstage, to give other female directors, playwrights, and actors of color the opportunity to shine in the spotlight.

Third, is to stop treating women in theatre as invaluable, as so called “the common man” and putting men at a hierarchy just because there are fewer of them. Stop putting us at competition with one another constantly, teaching us to think of each other as enemies rather than peers. We deserve to be treated with the respect we deserve. Our unique talents deserve to be recognized and not swept under the rug. Women in theatre receive more rejection than anybody, so we need people that will lift up our self esteem and tell us that we are worthy of being heard. We are worthy of performing, singing, dancing, acting, writing, directing, and creating. Because when we invest in women in theatre, the community will thrive more than ever.