The COUNT 1.0

An Ongoing Study By The Lillys In Partnership With The Dramatists Guild

— Marsha Norman

Analyzing three years of data from productions in regional theaters in America, the study found that only 22% of these productions were written by women. The full Count study analyzes gender, race, nationality, genre and whether the productions were of new work or revivals.

The Count was funded by the Dramatists Guild and The Lilly Awards, and its results were originally announced at the DG Conference in La Jolla in July 2015. The full study and various responses to its data were subsequently published in the November/December 2015 issue of The Dramatist.

Our task from here on is to determine how best to change the way people make the choices that silence the voices of women. Sadly enough, this silencing is not limited to the theater.

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What we want is 50% of the airtime, 50% of the walls of the museum, 50% of the stage time in the theaters and on the movie screens. We want life in the arts to represent life as it is lived in the world.

We want to hear the whole human chorus, not just the tenors, basses and baritones.

I am challenging all of you to help us hear the voices of women in the world. That is the purpose of The Count.

Not to establish quotas, not to shame and blame those people who continue to produce only the plays of men, but to assure that the voice of women will be heard in this land.


So who is being produced in the American Theater?

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Why Parity?

by Lisa Kron & Madeleine George

The numbers of The Count are useful because they lift us above the experience of any one playwright to give us a broad view of the field as a whole. Without numbers, there are only whining playwrights and their personal feelings. And the fact is, every single playwright has at some point believed that they wrote a better play than someone else who got produced. So when playwrights who aren’t white men say that they’re not getting the chances they deserve, it’s easy to think, “Right, join the club. That’s what it’s like to be a playwright.” And for those inclined to dismiss claims of bias, the Annie Bakers, Sarah Ruhls, Lynn Nottages, and Tarell McCraneys of the world are “proof” that white women and men and women of color are doing just fine, or even that they’re dominating the field in some way. But the numbers show otherwise. The numbers make it inarguably clear that these shining lights are exceptions to the rule.

We suggest that the answer can be found in the very word engendering so much anxiety: diversity. A diversity of perspectives is the fundamental requirement for dramatic action. Plays are made of the inevitable, unavoidable limitation of any individual perspective, the incompleteness of any single narrative, and the dire consequences of believing your own narrative is sufficient or globally true.

It’s the human condition: From where I’m standing, I can see all kinds of things that you can’t see because you’re standing somewhere else, and you don’t even know to wonder about what I see, because you could only know it exists if you were standing where I’m standing. This phenomenon of limited consciousness is our medium as dramatists: in essence, all plays are about what we can’t know and what it costs us. We see this play out in its most exquisite, terrible form at climactic dramatic moments —the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet, for example. But all pieces of theater turn on this reality: the essential human experience of limited consciousness.

And yet, the theater performs a sweet, miraculous paradox: through witnessing people stumbling around on stage trapped inside their limited perspectives, we in the audience are liberated from our own silos of isolation, if only for a moment. Theater makes us see our separateness so that we may feel our connectedness. We feel the joy of participating in something larger than ourselves —theater offers the unique pleasure of a group process of imaginative construction, as a play only exists in the moment of co-creation with an audience. And then there is the transcendent expansion of the soul we feel when someone else’s humanity is made legible to us on stage. The more separate we as spectators think we are from that character to begin with, the bigger the leap across the empathetic divide a piece of theater allows us to make, the more thrilled we are.
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and unless we believe that white men are inherently better playwrights than everyone else, we have to accept that the numbers are the result of an implict, systemic bias on the part of producing organizations.

This bias is unfair and should be corrected.



Methodology for The Count

In order to maintain accurate and comparable data, each year, we created criteria, controls, and rules for the theaters, productions, and writers. Our goal is to compare apples to apples each year. However, if better methodology is discovered we will be able to amend our process and back-date data. If a new theater is suggested for the study, and it meets all criteria, we will include the theater in future studies.

In this first incarnation of The Count, we studied three consecutive years in order to present a fuller look at the industry. Moving forward we will release the annual study which will include the data from the current year as well as data from all previous years of the study.

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Controls for Writers

To ensure the data was not skewed toward greater gender imbalance by revivals of classic plays, we did not count the writers of plays or musicals who died more than 50 years before the production being counted.

Transgender writers were counted by the pronoun they used to self-identify at the time the counted production took place.

Race was determined by researching how writers chose to self-identify in interviews or on their websites.

For adapted plays or musicals we counted the adapter, not the writer/s of the original work.

For translated plays or musicals we counted the original writer/s, not the translator.

For plays or musicals with multiple writers we split one count by how many writers there were. (I.E. for a musical with librettist, lyricist, and composer, each writer would be credited with one third of a percentage point.)

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Controls for Productions

A revival was any production that is produced more than ten years after the premiere.

A new production was a play or musical that was produced as a premiere, or within ten years of the original premiere.

We counted each season as September 1 – August 31.

In the event a production spanned across multiple seasons, we counted the production in the season in which the greatest number of performances took place.

We did not count devised theater productions.

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Criteria For Theaters

Not-for-profit,regional theaters that met our criteria were studied. This includes Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, but not Broadway theaters.

Produced at least three plays or musicals each season.

Had at least a ten-year history of professionally producing plays or musicals.

Was routinely reviewed by national or regional press.

Must have had three productions that ran longer than 21 performances each season (not including previews).

For a complete list of all of the theaters used for The Count, click here to view the original pdf.

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Data Sources

We collected data primarily from each individual theater’s website.

In the rare case the website did not contain all the needed information, we looked at production reviews, playwright websites, and Doolee.

If we could not pull data from these sources, we reached out to the theater or writer/s to self-identify.



PROJECT CONCEIEVED BY Julia Jordan & Marsha Norman

PROJECT FUNDED BY Dramatists Guild & The Lillys

STATISTICS BY Lilei Xu, PhD in Economics from Harvard

GRAPHICS BY Bekka Lindström

RESEARCH CONDUCTED BY DG Staff, Lillys Staff, DG Regional Reps, DG Ambassadors, DG Council Members, Lilly Awards Board Members, DG Fellows, DG Members, & DG Interns