New study raises curtain on gender disparity on Broadway

New study raises curtain on gender disparity on Broadway
Times Square. Photo: Ian D. Keating.

It was a banner year on Broadway in many ways. Sales were up. Prices for musicals were down (falling from $105.32 to $97.69 per head, on average). And the sheer volume of principal roles increased (jumping to 365 title characters, as compared to last season’s 233).

But where were the women?

A new study released by the entertainment tech company ProductionPro, titled “Broadway by the Numbers,” revealed a lack of gender diversity in both performing and behind-the-scenes roles — though the amount of women in the leadership position of company manager has grown compared to last year. The study, now in its second year, collected data from shows opened between May 2018 and April 2019.

The lack of representation has not gone unnoticed in the Broadway community. “Hadestown” director Rachel Chavkin — the only woman to helm a musical this year — stressed the importance of diversity in her Tony Award acceptance speech for best direction.

“There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many artists of color who are ready to go,” Chavkin said. “And we need to see that racial diversity and gender diversity reflected in our critical establishment, too.”

The report by ProductionPro reinforces these claims and reveals that directors, choreographers and writers heavily skew male. Overall, there has been a dip in representation amongst female directors, with the study finding that women make up 13 percent of the roles available this season, contrasted to a slightly higher number of 18 percent in the last report. Choreographers also saw a decline in women creating works, though the percentage of female writers increased slightly from 82 to 85 percent.

The share of women on the stage dropped from last season, too. A total of 32 percent of this year’s title characters were women, as compared to 37 percent making up the call sheets in the 2017-2018 season.

According to the study, there was gender parity in costume and makeup design, with both categories roughly divided along the center mark (52 percent of costume designers and 50 percent of makeup artists are women).

Women also fared better in representation in company management, hair and makeup, wardrobe and stage manager positions. And, notably, the overall percentage of women running companies is up considerably from the previous season — 57 percent compared to 38.

With awareness around the gender gap rising, programs, such as Disney Theatrical’s Women’s Day on Broadway and its companion “Women on Broadway” talk series, have attempted to address the issue and to expand discussions about the repercussions that reverberate past data.

“So many women start to slide off in their 30s and 40s, and we don’t really talk about how the industry doesn’t support women, so they leave,” said an audience member at a recent “Women on Broadway” panel. “So, the people who end up remaining in power as they move up in their career are men. And so then the people who are setting the policy are not the mothers or parents. And so that is part of the cycle that I think needs to be addressed.”

Though the ProductionPro’s study did not include statistics on racial and non-conforming gender diversity (the group states that it is collecting data for next year), a recent report from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) indicates a lack of minority representation in New York mainstream theater.