Holding Up The Numbers: Female Directors

For the last few years I have read a lot of coverage concerning the diversity of playwrights at theatres across the country. This year I began tracking the number of female directors announced by DC theatres. These are the numbers thus far: Number of companies that have announced data for the '13-'14 season: 11

Number of shows being produced by those companies: 70

Number of shows with TBA directors: 5

Number of announced female directors: 13

Number of announced male directors: 57

The numbers don't add up quite perfectly because five shows are two-director teams. The companies that have announced so far are Arena Stage, Ford's Theatre, Forum Theatre, Happenstance Theater, Olney Theatre, Round House Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Signature Theatre, Studio Theatre, Theater J, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

The female directors who have been announced are:

Maria Aitken (directing Private Lives by Noel Coward at the Shakespeare Theatre Company)

Sabrina Selma Mandell (co-directing three shows at Happenstance Theater with input from the company)

Lila Neugebauer (directing Red Speedo by Lucas Hnath as part of Studio Theatre's Lab Series)

Molly Smith (directing three projects at Arena Stage)

Liesl Tommy (directing Appropriate by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins at Woolly Mammoth)

Holly Twyford (directing Edgar and Annabel by Sam Holcroft as part of the Studio 2ndStage)

Three female directors will be named as part of Theater J's upcoming season announcement. This last piece of information was confirmed by Managing Director, Rebecca Ende despite the fact that their season is not yet public knowledge. They do not have any TBA director slots remaining. I will update this section once I have the names of their directors and the titles of the shows.

Theatres that have announced complete seasons with no female directors: 

Ford's Theatre (4 shows total)

Olney Theatre (9 shows total)

Round House Theatre (6 shows total)

Theatres that have announced seasons with no female directors, but have one or more TBA directing slots:

Forum Theatre (4 shows total, 2 TBA slots)

Signature Theatre (9 shows total, 1 TBA slot)

If these numbers concern you, I encourage you to write letters to artistic directors to express your concern or support. I have written a couple of letters already and plan to write one to Ari Roth thanking him for supporting female artists.

I'll continue to update this section as more seasons are announced. If I have missed a season announcement that you've read, please let me know. You can reach me on facebook where I have been posting this information up to now, on twitter, or here. These numbers do not include special events.


My Fantasy Theatre Season

Last year, I watched theatres across the country announce their seasons only to see lists composed exclusively white, male writers and directors. Conversations sprang up across the internet about how to change things, what to change, and whether they should be changed. It’s this last conversation that I find the most insidious. The implication - or sometimes stated belief - that it would not be possible to find female artists or artists of color who are equally as talented as their white, male counterparts. After one particularly impassioned conversation, I realized why I get so heated about this topic. Ultimately, a season is a reflection of the priorities of the artistic director of a company. Do they value female directors? Playwrights of color? If a company consistently produces work of and by white men, it’s hard to believe that they value the contributions of artists who don’t fit in that demographic. How does this extend to their audience?

Aral Balkan, while not a theatre practitioner (to the best of my knowledge) wrote a beautiful, intelligent article about the false dichotomy we are presented with time and again, that diversity and meritocracy can’t exist at the same time. He systematically breaks this binary apart, quoting others from his industry (technology).

In an industry where 27–29% are female, if you manage to get a speaker line‐up with 0% female speakers, you have a bias. It does not necessarily mean that you’re a male chauvinist pig with a deep‐seated hatred for women who is determined to hoist the banner for sexism to exciting new heights with his next event. It may just mean that you have an unexamined, unconscious bias. If you care about diversity, this is the point where you should be disappointed in your process, not — as Andrew stated he was in his tweet — ‘happy with’ it. RTWT

An “unexamined, unconscious bias.” Seems pretty much spot on to what happens in the theatre industry. If the percentages are going to change, we need to make a dedicated effort to examine these biases and address them. Which means giving them the time and attention they deserve.  

There are a ton of responsibilities for any artistic director - not to mention staffs that are required to take on increasing demands of the same limited funds. Literary departments have to find plays to produce, coordinate and collaborate on premieres or second productions, write program notes, coordinate panels, lead talkbacks, and more. With limited time, you have to prioritize. If it takes a larger investment to find plays by minorities (which MIGHT be true the first time you go on this particular search, but once people know you’re interested, the plays will find you), you have to weigh the value of finding those plays against other responsibilities - blog entries, program notes, etc. While having more articles available online, or participating in podcasts, or leading talkbacks might seem like a great way of connecting with audiences, I would argue producing producing art that connects with a wider audience base will have a greater overall return.

After many circular conversations on this topic, Travis Bedard asked me to come up with a list of guiding principles for creating a season. Never having been one to work just in the abstract, I asked him to give me some rough guidelines for a theoretical company and I would program a season for it - and draw the guiding principles from the resulting season. He gave me a theoretical company with a five-million dollar budget, two stages (a 400 seat proscenium and a 99 seat thrust), and a focus on new or recent plays.

Creating a season was easy. From my years in literary management, I have a folder of plays on my laptop that I have been advocating for over the years. However, I don’t know as many local playwrights as well as I should. As an freelance director, I have found one playwright I connect with as an individual artist and I have gotten to know her work at an intimate level, but she is just one of many. As an Artistic Director, it would be my responsibility to know more than just the names and faces of DC playwrights. It’s important to know their previous work, their developmental and production histories, their goals, the projects they are currently working on. I would hope to produce many of them, but in lieu of immediate production, I would first need to get to know them.

With that large caveat, here are the principles and season I created.

Guiding Principles

  • focus on local artists
  • no discipline over 50% male
  • no cast over 50% white
  • offer opportunities for artistic development; create times for cross-pollination between locals and OOT guest artists
  • offer roles to stretch and challenge artists
  • spread the love; one offer per artist per season


Year-Long Reading Series Local-only reading series to highlight and promote local talent to the theatre, the theatre community, and the public. Private post-reading sessions w/ playwrights for feedback on script and frank discussion of fit with org. If not a good fit, help playwright connect other orgs locally and nationally.

Year-Long Playwright Workshop and Festival Select three teams playwright, director, and dramaturg (all local) w/ a specific project to develop over the year. Provide regular events to encourage relationships with these artists, those working on mainstage productions, and theatre staff. At the close of the year, there will be a festival of bare-bones stagings. The festival will run on the thrust in conjunction with book-in performances of Poetics by Nature Theatre of Oklahoma and Chekhov Lizardbrain by Pig Iron Theatre Company on the proscenium.

Full Productions: Proscenium Stage RUST by Kirsten Greenidge directed by Elissa Goetschius set: Tom Kamm lights: Colin K Bills costumes: Melanie Clark sound: Elisheba Ittoop props: TBD

Riddled with self-doubt, NFL star Randall Mifflin has barricaded himself inside his den, where he plays video games around the clock, defends himself against a team of slick and shiny sportscasters eager to dissect his celebrity, and, at doctor’s orders, busies himself with a project: collecting black memorabilia. Life could return to normal if it weren’t for Randall’s new hobby. Soon, objects meant to be forgotten are roaming the streets and Randall is assaulted by thoughts he would prefer to ignore. (Blurb from New Dramatists.)

Lauren Davis as Jeanine, Olivia Baye Harrell as Randall Mifflin KenYatta Rogers as Chunk-Chunk, Omas Maya Jackson as LeDonna Adams, Mary-Mary Anne Dawn Ursula as Ella Mae Walker, Randall’s mom Jefferson Russell as Gin George, Mr Peale Ricardo Frederick Evans as Andrew, Steve Julian Elijah Martinez as Bill, Snipe

HEDDATRON by Liz Merriweather directed by Natsu Ononda Power set: Mischa Kachman lights: TBD costumes: Ivania Stack sound: Chris Baine props: TBD robots: TBD

A book falls from the sky and a depressed Michigan housewife is kidnapped by a clan of renegade robots, whisked away to the jungles of South America, and forced to perform the title role in a mechanical version of Hedda Gabler. As a documentarian searches for the truth about the abduction and the woman's family mounts a search party, Ibsen himself enters the picture to defend his well-made play. (Blurb from Sideshow’s production as part of Steppenwolf’s Garage series.)

Erika Rose as Jane Andres Talero as Cubby Joe Brack as Rick Paige Hernandez-Funn as Nugget Dylan Myers as Ibsen Thembi Duncan as Ibsen’s Wife Carolyn Meyers as Else Evan Casey as Strindberg Kristin Watson as Film Student Aaron Bliden as Engineer, Monkey

MIMESOPHOBIA by Carlos Murrillo directed by Ryan Maxwell set: TBD lights: TBD costumes: Lynly Saunders sound: TBD props: TBD

They seemed like the perfect couple. Affluent. Attractive. Well-educated. Why did the husband brutally murder his wife and then take his own life? A desperate screenwriting duo struggles with severe writer’s block to unearth the answer. The murder victim’s sister reconstructs from the ashes a diary that may or may not contain the secrets. And a deranged academic, haunted by her own possible involvement, meditates on the American obsession with violence. In the face of inexplicable violence, whose myth will most closely resemble the truth of what happened? (Blurb from AO International website.)

Gabby Fernandez-Coffey as Shawn Lee Mikeska Gardner as Beth, woman b/w 2nd and 3rd Anu Yadev as Jessica Alex Vaughn as Aaron Miller Max Heaton as Henry Blumenthal JB Tadena as Man b/w 2nd and 3rd

Full Productions: Thrust Stage TELETHON by Kristin Newbom directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah set: Dave Shuhy lights: Cara Antico costumes: Frank Labovitz sound: Veronika Vorel props: TBD

In which a group of physically disabled fundraisers convenes at Dunkin’ Donuts to celebrate, detox, squabble, flirt, and become a family … or not. (Blurb from Clubbed Thumb’s premiere production.)

Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Scott Rose McConnell as Ann Brandon McCoy as Lewis Brynn Tucker as Shelly Kyle Encinas as Larry

PONY by Sylvan Oswald directed by Sarah Marshall set: Ryan Haase lights: TBD costumes: Deb Sivigny sound: TBD props: TBD

When Pony moves to a small rural town to start a new life as a man, he meets a woman named Marie who is obsessed with a local murder. On the other side of the forest from Woyzeck, Pony gets wrapped up in her violent fantasies and must figure out how to be himself and how to stay alive. Alternately disturbing and drily funny, Pony explores power and the fluidity and ambiguity of gender. (Blurb from New Dramatists.)

Veronica del Cerro  as Marie Jennifer Mendenhall as Cav Deirdra LaWan Starnes as Pony Aaron Reeder as Heath Jessica Dukes as Stell

Choosing plays, directors, and actors was easy. The number of inspiring artists to work with in the DC area is tremendous. This is, however, a season that would give marketing departments a challenge. The ambition of more than one play makes the conclusions abrupt or difficult to manage on stage. A couple are more lyrical or poetic and don’t conform to a traditional “well-made play” structure. None of these plays are world premieres and none of them were huge New York hits.

So why am I excited about this collection of artists? The word I keep coming back to is ambitious. They represent a diversity of styles, a diversity of voices, and each one is incredibly ambitious in content and form. Our country is made of many smaller self-identifying communities. These plays ask, how do we fit together? How do we communicate with each other to find understanding? These plays question our stories, how we know what truth is, and how we connect with our history and our contemporary culture.

It’s by no means a perfect season. As I said before, I would hope to program local playwrights on the main stages in later seasons after exerting a lot of time and energy into developing relationships. Additionally, I don’t know many actors from the trans or disabled communities. And I clearly need to broaden my knowledge of local designers. But I think this season takes many steps forward from those we traditionally see announced this time of year. These plays represent the diversity of our world and their production teams and casts continue that depiction. It’s a season that tries to include as many voices as possible and asks its artists to stretch themselves. It’s a season that invites many communities into the theatre by giving them a home on the stage. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in a direction that feels more representative of the world I live in and that feels like progress.


When I created this blog (which I have now made viewable to the general public), it was April. Over the summer, I made the decision to take what I have dubbed a Hermit Year (#hermityear). At the end of September, I moved back to Western New York State, south of Buffalo and Rochester, to live with my parents with the goal of reading all of the books I've been meaning to read these past several years, and apply to graduate school. Next fall, I will either start school or relocate to a larger city where I can continue to work on developing as a director. I doubt I will move back to DC. For whatever reason, DC and I don't seem to work. I'm not sure why. I spent seven years there. Three and a half working at Woolly, roughly one working with Forum, and two and a half doing my own thing. For the last year, I found most of my work - the most satisfying of my time in DC - happening in Baltimore. I'm not sure why, but Baltimore and I click. So at the end of #hermityear, if I don't go off to study in a theatre bubble, I'll most likely return to Baltimore to work there without the expensive and exhausting commute. Which has the added benefits of being not too far from all of the friends and artists I love in DC. Because even though the city and I didn't work out, I am in love with the people who live there. And I think the city is evolving. And maybe as it evolves, my place there will make more sense. But for now, I am happy hermitting. And now, a couple of months into #hermityear, I am beginning to write more. I needed some time to decompress. To sleep. To watch far too much television. And now, I'm beginning to come back to life. It feels good. It feels creative. So I'm going to start putting thoughts here. On my half-designed, partially functioning website. Hopefully it will only be "partially functioning" for a little bit longer. But before I can give it my full attention, I need to finish some reading and you know. Those grad school applications that were a large reason I started this experiment of #hermityear.

Themed Seasons

I was going to write a post about "themed seasons" in theatre, but then I realized I'd already written it in an email to my friend Jon. So I just copied and pasted it below. I did add a couple of sentences, but whatever, it's essentially the same. ---

I think my dislike of "themed" seasons stems from the way I like to watch theatre. If possible, I prefer to go into a show knowing nothing about it. If I don't know the actors or production team, even better. It allows for a greater level of "suspension of disbelief." It's something that's hard to come by now and harder the more people I get to know in this industry, but it's led to some of the best experiences I've had as an audience member. The Pillowman in London springs to mind. Or Cymbeline at the RSC. Or The Clean House at Woolly.

Being told, "this is what the entire season about" gives me a lens through which to view a show for the first time. It shifts how I focus on the play. Maybe towards what the playwright wants me to focus on, but it denies me the opportunity to discover that theme for myself. It makes it feel more like a class and less like art. It's the same reason I hate being guided in a talkback.
But, I realize that this is how I like to experience art. My mother, is the total opposite. She likes to read the script beforehand, learn as much as she can about what to expect, and then watch the show. This creates INFINITE tension when she comes to see a show of mine. Especially afterwards when she asks me what each choice "means." Because I want audiences to come to those conclusions on their own. To bring their own experiences to the show and have spontaneous emotional reactions rather than carefully thought out intellectual responses. I hate "validating" a reaction as the "correct" one.
For me, the joy in a season is finding the plays that I am currently excited by. Independent of each other. Then, as each one develops into a full production, discovering how they talk to each other. Because I find that frequently it takes me a while to discover exactly what I love about a play. I need to spend time with it and then I have that moment of realization - "Oh! Of course. This play is about this other issue that I'm wrestling with in my life outside of the theatre." I don't like planning out the conversation beforehand. I think it cuts off the process of play and discovery and limits the imaginations of those involved.
But again. That's MY preference. It's not everyone's. And it probably doesn't make marketing a season easier.

Let's None of Us Be Timid

That title is a bastardized version of a tweet from Julie Dubiner (@jfdubiner), shared during a conversation with Joy Meads (@capnjoy), Kris Diaz (@kristofferdiaz), and myself following the online kerfuffle surrounding the Shakespeare Theatre's production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. I had been expressing my anxiety over joining the conversation as I am very aware that when it comes to many conversations of privilege, I am on team privileged. Kris shared some great articles and Julie shared this thought, urging all of us (herself included) to speak out even though we may not be those at a disadvantage. Even though we may not have experienced the stereotyping or the discrimination observed. So this blog is a foray into sharing the thoughts that I usually reserve only for close friends.

It will also - hopefully - serve as a space to write feedback on various productions I see, in my home of DC and elsewhere when given the opportunity to travel. There is little that is more valuable to the artistic process than honest, productive feedback from fellow artists and I hope to be able to share some of those thoughts.

All of that said, I have, in the past, likened writing to slicing my wrists and bleeding onto a page. I am going to try to keep posts light, straightforward, and short (although, I don't discount the possibility of a rant). I love lists and bullet points, so those might show up as well. But I make no promises about the frequency of writing.

This is an experiment. We'll see how it goes.