The Count - Charleston
The Count is a gender and race parity study undertaken by The Lilly Awards and The Dramatists Guild. (See the report here.)
During the fall of 2015 the Dramaturgy class at the College of Charleston did a survey of Charleston-area theatres for the past five theatre seasons. We looked at theatres that have produced every year for the past five seasons, with at least two productions per season, and at least six performances per production. We found our information at theatres' websites or via email query.
The spring 2017 Dramaturgy class updated the study. We once again looked at the past five seasons.
For both studies we counted the number of shows and number of playwrights. We counted each creator of a show individually – counting playwrights, composers and lyricists each once. If a playwright was produced more than once by a company, they were counted each time they were produced. We looked only at the main stage season productions for each company (when we could distinguish them). We did not intentionally count children's shows (unless they were part of the main stage season) or play readings.
The area companies were:
* Village Repertory Company has a side stage that we did include in the count because they don't generally distinguish the two stages in their advertising or for subscribers.
** Art Forms & Theatre Concepts generally do not run their shows for six performances, and there were a couple of seasons in the past five years that they didn't do two productions. But since this is the only theatre in the Charleston area committed to doing work by people of color, we wanted to include them.
*** We only had three seasons of information on Crabpot Players.
We counted a total of 293 shows in 2015 and 288 shows in 2017.
Demographic information from United States Census Bureau
Thoughts from the 2017 students:
Did the number of playwrights of color go down because the number of women went up? Is there a feeling among theatre managers that it's a zero-sum game? Can there only be a few non-white male authors?
Although we don't wish to publish individual theatre's statistics, we do think it's worth noting that the improvement in the number of female playwrights can largely be explained by the increase in female playwrights produced at the College of Charleston in the past two years. Without that difference, there was very little change in the Charleston numbers for female playwrights.
These results don't mean we’re not seeing people of color on Charleston stages (a count of roles for people of color would be even messier to count), but we’re not apparently hearing the words of people of color. We’re seeing stories based on the experience and knowledge of white men.
Questions from the dramaturgy students: Are the stories of white men the only stories Charleston is interested in hearing? How do these statistics line up with the mission statements of the theatres in Charleston? Who is choosing seasons, who has influence, and how do theatres want to be seen in Charleston? Should boards of theatres exert more influence? Are there very good reasons for why this is happening? How do we get the theatre in Charleston to be more representative of its population? Anecdotally, at least by race, these statistics may reflect the theatre-going public in Charleston. Theatres may be afraid to present works by people of color if they don't think audiences of color will come and if they fear losing white audiences. Theatres have to sell tickets, after all. But that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Theatres have more initiatives like late night seasons, readings, new play development, etc., which may be more diverse. Are theatres of the impression that that is enough? Or is it the first step? What resources are out there to help theatres change their ways, assuming they want to?
The basic dramaturgical question is "Why this play now and here?" Why are these the plays being produced in Charleston?
Suggestions of some steps the Charleston theatre community could take to address the issue:
The first step is awareness and discussion. A community forum on the issue would jump-start the conversation. Artistic directors and some of the area's leading directors/actors/dramaturgs get together with community members to discuss the situation and maybe devise a piece of theatre addressing gender and racial parity in Charleston theatre.
Theatres could share lists of plays by women and writers of color that might be appropriate for Charleston-area theatres. Artistic Directors could make a commitment to presenting shows at a level of parity with which they are comfortable.
Area theatres should have someone on staff – dramaturg or literary manager - to keep issues of diversity at the forefront of considerations. Theatres should find ways to have conversations with their audiences about finding ways into stories about people unlike themselves.
A city-wide theatre project. Match the theme of the project to the mood of the city – find out what the city thinks is important/worthy of discussion theatrically. Commission a local playwright to create a piece of theatre that would require interdisciplinary input, not only from each theatre, but from the art, music and tech world as well. Perhaps connect to folks working on artistic responses to the Emanuel AME Church shooting.
Theatre Charleston could find ways to reach out to demographics not currently served by theatre in Charleston. Social media to advertise productions. Financial initiatives for those who can't often afford to go to the theatre.
Theatre Charleston could present an award at each year's awards ceremony for most diverse season or best diversity initiative.
To combat the impression that traditional (white) audiences won't attend plays by authors of color, theatres could conduct polls of their spectators, asking if they'd rather see plays about people just like themselves or about people with different personal experiences.
Submitted 12/15/15, updated 12/28/15
Village Repertory Company*
CofC Dept of Theatre and Dance
Threshold Repertory Company
South of Broadway Theatre
CofC Center Stage
Village Repertory Company *
College of Charleston Department of Theatre and Dance
Art Forms & Theatre Concepts**
Threshold Repertory Company
WhatIf? Theatre Company
South of Broadway Theatre