Not Even: Impact of Year the Play Was Written

How does the year a play was written affect the gender ratios?


  • Women wrote 3 out of 100 of the plays counted that were written prior to 1960.
  • Women wrote 3 out of 10 of the plays counted that were written between 1960 and 2015.
  • Women wrote 1 out of 3 of the plays counted that were written between 2000 and 2015.

In many conversations about this project and the playwright numbers, what often comes up is what I like to call “the Shakespeare Defense”.  Artists who work in the new play sector point to Shakespeare, Shaw, Chekhov and others from the traditional dramatic canon, and suggest that the continued popularity of plays by these playwrights are skewing the numbers.  Pointing to successful contemporary women playwrights who get produced “all the time”, their proposal is that things are a lot more equal in the world of new plays.  The data disproves this theory.

I decided to divide the 500 shows counted into two groups based on whether they were written before 1960, which for the purposes of this report I’ll refer to as “Classic”, or after 1960, in other words “Modern”.

Women wrote only 3 out of 100 plays in the Classic group; Shelagh Delaney (Taste of Honey), Lillian Hellman (The Little Foxes), and novelist Zona Gale (In Friendship), whose short stories were theatrically adapted by Word for Word, were the few “Classic” playwrights.

Women wrote only 3 out of every 10 plays in the Modern group. Yet, this ten-fold increase still leaves “Modern” women playwrights well short of parity.  Some shows in this category had more than one writer, because of co-authoring situations and musicals where the playwright category includes writers of books, lyrics and music.

TABLE 4 –  Classic and Modern Shows

Women Men
Classic Shows
Pre-1960 (92 shows)
3 playwrights
99 playwrights
Modern Shows
1960-2014 (408 Shows)
176 playwrights
386 playwrights

But what if we just look at brand new shows?  I sliced the Modern group down further to include only shows that were written between 2000-2014. I’ll refer to this group as “Millennial”.

Women wrote about 1 out of every 3 plays in the Millennial groupWhile this crop of plays is slightly closer to parity than the Modern group, it is still significantly short of equal representation.

TABLE 5 – Millennial Shows 

Women Men
Millennial Shows
2000-2014 (336 shows)
166 playwrights
306 playwrights