Representation is important.
I will repeat this as many times as it is necessary for you to understand it.
Representation. Is. Important.
As a straight white woman, I fully recognize my societal privilege. But women are still neither treated nor represented equally, and this needs to change. I decided to do a little bit of research on diversity on Broadway and see where the theatre industry is falling short.
I compiled statistics from the 38 shows that opened on Broadway during the 16-17 season and put them into an infographic, found below. This was not done scientifically, and I can guarantee there are probably a handful of errors because I’m only human and I did this in just a matter of hours on Sunday night. But, the results were still shocking.
Diversity on Broadway
Of the 38 shows that opened this season:
- Women wrote 5
- Women of color wrote 1
- Men and women teams wrote 2
- Men of color wrote 1
- Women directed 7
- Women of color directed 0
- Men and women teams directed 1
- Men of color directed 1
- Women had 24 leading roles
- Women of color had 2 leading roles
- People of color were in 66 main roles (i.e., not just an ensemble role)
Why It Matters
Representation is such an important topic to me. It just makes sense. If Broadway is America’s stage, shouldn’t it actually look like America? Shouldn’t it reflect back the world as it is to the people sitting in the audience, and not just a painfully male-centric, white-washed rendition?
When men have more roles than women on stage, it means that men’s stories are being told more often than women’s stories despite the fact that women make up over half of the American population¹. The same goes for white people versus people of color. When women and people of color write shows, they tend to write more roles for their demographics than their white male counterparts do.
As I was compiling the statistics, I cringed whenever a play or musical was written by yet another white man. This isn’t a criticism of the talent these men have or the power of the stories they spent years of their lives writing. (My personal favorite show of the season, Dear Evan Hansen, was written by 3 white men.) However, there are countless voices being silenced when women and playwrights of color do not get produced on Broadway. This sets a precedent for producers that women and people of color can’t sell tickets. (However, slowly but surely, times are changing: last season, Waitress made history with an all-female creative team telling a story of female empowerment, and Hamilton, written by Puerto Rican Lin-Manuel Miranda, has a richly diverse cast. Both shows regularly make over one million dollars in weekly ticket sales.)
Only two plays this season were written by people of color, and both of them were written by African Americans. What about Asians? South Asians? Latinx? Pacific Islanders? Native Americans? When you really think about it, you start realize just how much is missing.
There is so much power in being able to look up at a stage and see people who look like you, telling stories that resonate with you and your life experiences. When they’re missing, you start to wonder what’s wrong with you. You have nothing to look towards to learn about the human experience of your demographic, to learn that the trials and struggles you go through are shared, to know you’re not alone.
Representation is also important for the people who may not encounter diverse populations in their everyday lives. Seeing stories different from one’s own increases cultural awareness, kindness and empathy². It helps to break down stereotypes and sparks dialogue that improves one’s understanding of people and situations that may be unfamiliar, creating a more welcoming, loving and tolerant society.
I’m not a producer. I don’t have millions of dollars and countless hours to invest in putting up a new show on Broadway. But, I do believe that change starts with us, with our generation. We can go out and actively support plays written and directed by women and people of color, buying tickets, telling our friends, and voicing our love loud and clear. For change to happen, our voices need to be heard. This also means women and people of color need to pick up pens and start writing, start creating opportunities for themselves, because no one will just hand them out. Change will take years of hard work and dedication, but I know it’s possible. So, let’s get to work.
What are your thoughts about diversity on Broadway? I’d love to hear what you have to say. Let me know in the comments below!
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¹Women’s Health USA 2012. “U.S. Population.” Health Resources and Service Administration, https://mchb.hrsa.gov/whusa12/pc/pages/usp.html
²University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. “Major benefits for students who attend live theater, study finds.” ScienceDaily, 16 October 2014, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141016165953.htm