Feeling HERoic

This year at ISU Theatre, we have committed to a season of work by female playwrights, dubbed the “HERoic Season.” Over the next eight months, ISU Theatre will produce six shows written by women, bring two 2019 Tony Award winners to Iowa State, host a yearlong symposium series, celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and commit to a national “50/50 by 2020” initiative promoting gender equity in theatre.

I am fortunate enough to be directing 9 to 5: The Musical next April as part of this revolutionary approach to season programming at the university level, but here is a little insight as to why we have leapt so completely into this challenge:

In the fall of 2018, the Dramatists Guild of America and the Lilly Awards released The Count 2.0—a follow-up to their landmark study from 2015—which looked at production data from 147 not-for-profit regional theatres around the nation that fit certain criteria. 

In the first version of The Count, which culled and analyzed three years of data between 2011-2014, the Great Plains region, of which Iowa is a part, had the second highest percentage of plays by female playwrights, compared to the nation’s other nine regions—but the percentage was still only a paltry thirty percent.[ However, with a national average of only twenty-two percent, the Great Plains average seems like something to celebrate, until we realize that, as the Lilly Awards put it: “if life worked like the theater, four out of five things you had ever heard would have been said by men.”

Now, three years later, in The Count 2.0, as gains were made nationally in the number of produced plays by female playwrights and writers of color, and as those averages rose around the country in almost every region, with the national average for female playwrights popping up to almost twenty-nine percent, the Great Plains backslid hard—to twenty-four percent. With this information, added to our survey of the landscape of other college and university production seasons, our department agreed that we needed to lead, rather than follow, in the march toward gender equity in the arts.  The results of The Count 2.0just underscored our need to leap.  

When we asked ourselves the questions from the Vivid Vision, the answer came back that the department we wanted to be is one that needed to commit to parity in our work—be that of gender, of race, of national origin, of sexual orientation. We wanted to embrace the 5050by2020 movement and then some. (5050by2020 is an intersectional power movement in arts and entertainment, primarily focused on film and television, that advocates for more visibility of minority groups in industry leadership. The desire, indicated by the name, is that at least 50 percent of all leadership roles in arts and entertainment are held by non-white-cis-heterosexual males by 2020.) We wanted to ensure that the richness of diversity—one of the core principles of ISU—was not only reflected in our classrooms but in our rehearsal rooms as well.

Hopefully, whether you are in Ames, or watching from afar, you will join us in what is sure to be a worthy HERoic undertaking!