Not Even: Consequences of Unmeasured Gender Bias

This report has focused on describing employment trends for artists who are already working and being produced. But what about artists who want to work but lack opportunities to do so? This important missing data is challenging to measure, but worth considering. To what degree does gender bias make it more difficult for women to advance their careers, and how many women drop out of the field altogether because they can’t find enough work or adequate resources to effectively do their work?

From personal experience, competition appears to be tight for female actors in our region. At many callbacks I attend, there are 4-6 women reading for a role and only 2-3 men reading opposite them. The men read multiple times, and the women only get one turn in the casting room. Does this limited exposure mean that a female actor must audition more often than a male actor before she books work? If so, what does this higher audition/booking rate do to her confidence and her decision about whether or not to continue pursuing an acting career? What about the conundrum that joining Actors’ Equity means higher wages and a more professional working environment, but also many fewer jobs for women than men?

Female directors have told me they are not considered for directing slots as often as their equally experienced male peers, and that they have more difficulty breaking into the bigger houses. Who waits to be asked to direct because she doesn’t want to appear pushy, and who pursues meetings with artistic leadership and asks for work because he believes he deserves to do so? Who gets pigeon-holed as “just a teaching artist” for her directing work with teens? How many artistic directors decide not to hire a female director because she has young children and may need to leave rehearsal to care for them?

When playwrights sit down to write, how many choose to make a character male rather than female in order to make their play more “universal” and thus more produceable? When an artistic leader chooses plays for a season, how many plays by women do they consider? If a director is asked to suggest projects, how many plays by women are on their pitch list?

Some of the answers to these questions may actually be measurable. For example: Theatre Bay Area could count the numbers of women and men who apply for slots in their annual general audition; Actors’ Equity could share the demographic data they receive from casting directors; Literary Managers could publish their submission rates by gender.

But even though many pieces of the gender puzzle may be unmeasurable, these questions point to something vital. Season planning, hiring, casting and all of the steps in the process of producing theatre contain choice. Theatre-making is a creative process. We are making it up! Playwrights, directors, actors, designers, and producers are making choices all the time. And we can make those choices in ways that include women artists. Whether it’s season selection, gender-blind casting, or as I discovered, an actor’s audition monologues, choice is everywhere in what we do. We all have the power to transform our field by choosing to create opportunities for women to be seen and heard and to contribute equally to the work we make. I look forward to seeing what choices we all make to lead our field to a more equitable future.