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Student researchers find some good news for women playwrights

You probably don’t want to summon the trumpets just yet. Still, this bit of research news from Chapman University students is worth noting. Women playwrights are seeing more of their work produced in major theatres across the United States, according to the findings of students in the class Women Playwrights, a Freshman Foundations Course.

Women represented 27.1 percent of the playwrights whose work was included in major theatres’ 2015-2016 season, up from 20.6 percent in the 2014-2015 season. The student research was drawn from a review of all the member organizations in the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) – the largest professional theatre association of its kind in the United States.

LORT theatres collectively issue more Equity contracts to actors than do Broadway and commercial tours combined, so their production choices are a good barometer of theatre trends, said Nina LeNoir, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Theatre and vice chancellor of undergraduate education.

LeNoir said this is the second year this course has conducted the research, and she plans to have next year’s class continue to see if the trend is solid. The study is similar to one maintained by playwright Marsha Norman called “The Count.” LeNoir, however, has her students focused on LORT theatres so the students could identify developments within a collection of peer organizations. She plans to include the student research in Chapman’s Digital Commons. While acknowledging that the gains still don’t come near parity, they do reveal progress, LeNoir said.

“I was really excited about the results this year,” LeNoir said. “The problem is that many people are counting, but they’re all counting different things and I haven’t seen a lot of sustained data.”

Another notable finding: Theatres are showing more interest in new work by female authors. Single-author premieres written by women rose from 43.1 percent in the 2014-2015 season to 53.3 percent in 2015-2016.

Students say the research has been illuminating.

“Coming in as a screen-acting major, I didn’t think I would be doing research,” said Jackie Palacios. “So doing this has opened my eyes to the problems in my own industry.”

Image at top: Students enrolled in the fall Women Playwrights FFC course gather in the lobby of South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif., where they saw Abundance by Beth Henley. (Photo/Kevin Nicholson)


Dawn Bonker

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