Gender Imbalance in the Arts

In 1993, five women founded Renaissance Theaterworks with a mission to create opportunities for women in professional theater.  Over the last 20+ years, we have significantly improved gender balance in Milwaukee theater, by measures both quantitative and qualitative.

The reality of gender inequality in the performing arts is startling. Across the country, women are underrepresented as actors, directors, producers, designers, playwrights, and more. We aim to raise awareness, educate and offer steps everyone can take to be change agents with us. Read on to learn more about gender parity, what we're doing to improve Milwaukee theater, and what you can do to help.


The percentage of female playwrights produced is essentially unchanged in the last 100 years.


Over the last 25 years the number of plays produced that were written by women have vacillated between 12 and 17%.  In 1908/09, only 12.8% of the productions on Broadway were written by women. Some 100 years later, the percentage of major New York productions written by women was 12.6%.1

The Dramatist Guild tracks the percentages of women and men who enter graduate school as playwriting students, and it tracks the numbers of people who apply for Guild membership. Both percentages are over 50% women, so it makes sense that we should see an equal number of plays produced, but we don't. Only 34% of women's plays - 17% of all plays - are produced every year. That means that 66% of the best plays written by women - the plays that should be rising to the top, plays should move into our culture - 66% of women’s stories are being lost every year.2

There were no plays on Broadway written by women during the 2010/2011 season3 and no new plays by a woman on Broadway in the 2013-14 season.6

Women submit half of all the works available to artistic directors. The absence of women’s stories results in a chronic lack of employment opportunities for women in all areas of professional theater - directing, acting, designing and management.  In 2004, a three-year study was released by the New York State Council on the Arts revealing the alarming statistics that only 20% of professional theater artists are women.4

The US Department of Labor considers any profession with less than 25% female employment to be “untraditional” for women.  Using 2008 figures, that makes playwriting, directing, set design, lighting design, sound design, choreography, composing, and lyric writing all "untraditional" occupations for women.

According to a report issued in the late 1970′s, ”Action for Women in Theatre,” the total number of professional women playwrights and directors hired by regional and Off-Broadway theaters over a seven year period from 1969 to 1975 was 7%.  Almost 20 years later, in the 1994/95 season, playwright representation was at 17% and directors at 19% for Off Broadway and regional theaters.  According to the 2000/01 season preview in American Theatre magazine, among the 1,900 Theatre Communications Group member theatre productions, 23% of the productions were directed by women and 20% had a woman on the writing team. (This figure does not represent discrete authors. For example, ART by Yasmina Reza accounts for 30 productions and 22 from WIT by Margaret Edison.)  There's a decline in the 2001/02 season as listed in American Theatre magazine, with directors at 16% and playwright representation at 17%.5

Most recently, the League of Professional Theatre Women released their Women Count study tracking professional employment of women Off-Broadway between 2010-2014. Women playwrights ranged from a high of 36% in 2012-2013, to a low of 28% in 2013-2014. Women directors Off-Broadway ranged from a high of 39% in 2012-2013 to a low of 24% in 2011-2012.6

Creating roles for women

In 1993, the year of Renaissance Theaterworks' inception, according to BACKSTAGE magazine, women comprised 70-80% of the USA theater ticket buying audience. But only 17% of the plays produced were written by women, 11% directed by women and most importantly only 6% of U.S. professional theaters were run by women.

At that time Milwaukee mirrored the rest of the country:

  • No female producers
  • Less than 5% of plays produced were written by women
  • Less than 10% of plays produced were directed by women
  • Less than 35% of 200+ acting roles were filled by women

Since 1993, Renaissance has produced 59 full productions and over 30 staged readings, providing work for more than 500 theater artists and technicians. Over 70% of the people hired have been women.

  • We have produced six new plays by local female playwrights
  • 65% of the plays we produced were written by women
  • 95% of the plays we produce have been directed by women
  • We have given first time professional opportunities to over 50 local female artists in directing, stage-management, lighting design, set design and acting.
Br!NK New Works Festival 2015 - Septemer 8 - 14

Br!NK New Play Festival

Renaissance Theaterworks’ Br!NK Award is presented annually to Midwestern female playwrights to develop and advance their work. Br!NK is a platform to tell more women’s stories, raise awareness and garner support for gender parity.

New plays are difficult to get produced, especially for women. Renaissance Theaterworks created Br!NK to launch new work and bring it to the brink.

Support Works by Women

Be a Change Agent

2 Text of Theresa Rebeck Laura Pels Keynote Address, 2010

3 Guerrilla Girls on Tour Blogspot 2011

4 50/50 by 2020 Facebook Pages

5 The New York State Council on the Arts Theatre Program Report, “The Status of Women: A Limited Engagement?” By Susan Jonas & Suzanne Bennett, released Jan 2002

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Br!NK New Works Festival 2015 - Septemer 8 - 14
Br!NK New Works Festival 2015 - Septemer 8 - 14