I would consider myself a fanatic of both theater and cinema. I love a good movie, and I love seeing live theater (not currently because of social distancing, but in the beautiful “before time”). However, most Broadway shows are overlapping with cinema because many shows are simply movies reorganized, rewritten and repackaged to be a Broadway show, also called screen-to-stage shows. While this seems unique, fun and can definitely bring in a wider audience, and it hurts women more than we realize.
While there are some Broadway hits based on a movie that contain a predominantly female cast, like Mean Girls and Frozen or less recently Legally Blonde, female casting is not the main issue with these Hollywood to Broadway shows. It limits women in a totally different area of theater: the women behind the scenes.
While revivals, Disney movies turned to Broadway musicals, and other screen-to-stage kinds of shows may not feature an enormous amount of interesting female roles for women to play, it especially limits and suffocates the creativity and voices of women behind the scenes. Women directors, writers, producers, designers, and more are losing the opportunity to tell their own stories and experiences. They are thus unable to bring them to the big stage simply because a staging of Beetlejuice will attract a wider and more guaranteed audience than a new story from someone no one has heard much about before.
Women behind the scenes in theater already fight to be hired and to continue their work. And a lack of gender equality in theater is nothing new. But the progress is begrudgingly slow and makes gender parity seem like a far-off distant trophy. If screen-to-stage shows continue to be popular, along with revivals, we will not see gender parity in theater. These revamped and redone shows stifle theater’s imagination and the creativity of individuals behind what make theater so wonderful and engaging.
Some movies do not work on a stage in the first place (yet some are still being done), and I’ll admit some screen-to-stage shows have been spectacular and offer new twists and original ideas based on an old movie script. But there are creative minds out there who have written and designed plays that are completely new and original that deserve an audience, but they are not being produced or funded. In a Chicago Tribune article about how men still dominate the top of the theater industry, Rebecca Gilman writes that “plays written by women account for only 29 percent of all plays produced – a percentage that is vastly out of proportion to the number of women in the general population. The numbers for female writers of color are even more disheartening.” [i]
This shut out is not because male-produced stories are written better or have better content; it is because men’s stories and opinions have been overvalued by society, and thus society disregards women’s opinions, experiences, thoughts, statements, etc. Not giving weight to women’s stories in theater can become a bigger problem of the general population not caring about what women say in court, in the classroom, or any arena. This rehashing of old stories on Broadway is not only getting boring for an avid theater lover who craves some originality, but as a woman of theater who longs for a new story that I could relate to, respect, and enjoy.
The progress train toward gender equality and parity in theater is a slow one, barely chugging along, as one can see anytime we watch an awards show where the writers, producers, and designers who win are mostly men, with a woman showing up once in a blue moon. Women make up “more than 60 percent of theatergoers,” so why can’t we make up at least 50 percent of the talent producing and making the content?
Hiring women in theater is one step toward gender parity. Letting them share their voice and be present at the table is a bigger step forward. But allowing that voice to be shared with the audience is the best step forward. This spreads a story, emotions, experiences, and understanding further than four walls. It allows other little girls to feel inspired. It allows adult women to become inspired and touched and heard.
It allows anyone to sympathize because maybe it reminds them of someone. Or perhaps it is because women contain a unique perspective and voice that is being shut out of theater. This voice can engage more hearts in the passionate stories theater was built upon. If this is solely about talent, let us in and give us a chance to show we are just as good at creating and telling stories as men are. You won’t know women are less talented if our stories were never told in the first place.
Let movies be movies. And let women have the chance to perform and create work of their own merit to be performed onstage. Our stories are worth the admission price because of all the costs we incurred for it to get there.