Marissa Skudlarek, making the literary references.
In the endless 21st-century conversation about “how can we get more gender parity in the theater,” one talking point that comes up repeatedly is that, maybe, male playwrights just submit more than female playwrights do. The stereotypes are true, people say: women are over-thinking perfectionists who underestimate their talents, and men are loudmouths who overestimate theirs. The latest iteration of this theory comes from Kelli Agodon, who wrote an article for Medium about how women writers need to “submit like men” to “become more successful.”
I do feel myself implicated in this, and I agonize about how my perfectionism is holding me back. While I have written some of these Theater Pub columns hastily, without letting perfectionism get in the way, there’s a piece I’ve been working on for another website for three months that I still haven’t sent in, because I don’t know if it’s as perfect as it could be. (Mentioning it here is a form of public self-flagellation that will, hopefully, spur me to just finish and submit the darn thing.)
In the meantime, I’m also sorting through Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Plays submissions and putting the show together. So it is with great pride that I report that, of 41 Pint-Sized Play submissions, 26 were by women and 15 were by men. Moreover, several female writers sent multiple submissions, but no male writers did.
I’m putting this out here because data, numbers, are important. Anecdotal evidence states that submissions from men always outnumber submissions from women, so I think it’s worthwhile to highlight moments when the stereotypes don’t pan out.
As for why Theater Pub succeeded in getting more female submissions than male ones, when so many other theaters don’t? I can’t be sure, but I do have a couple of theories. First of all, some women say, “If I see that a theater company rarely produces/rewards female writers, I may not even bother submitting, because I figure they don’t want my stuff.” This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy – how can these theaters ever improve if women refuse to submit to them?—but it also reveals a legitimate frustration. Theater Pub, meanwhile, presents itself as a female-friendly organization (if not an explicitly feminist or woman-oriented one). Our co-artistic-directors are both women, and a look at our production history will show that we have presented many projects written and/or directed by women.
Second, our Pint-Sized submissions call noted that “we especially like plays that can be cast flexibly, and plays with good roles for women,” and “we especially dislike plays that promote stereotypes or clichés.” I made sure that this language was in the submissions call because, as producer, I didn’t want to have to slog through a lot of plays that feature elements that frustrate and annoy me. A few years ago, when I was reading script submissions for another theater, I felt like every other play I read was about a beleaguered guy and his shrewish, nagging wife. I really didn’t want to repeat that disheartening experience with the 2015 Pint-Sized submissions. It was my hope that writers of all genders would take this as encouragement to write and submit plays that went beyond stereotype, that said something new and fresh. And also, I hoped that female playwrights might read between the lines and be encouraged to send us their work.
Honestly, I think more theater companies should write specific submissions calls, listing the kind of work they are seeking and the kind of work they’re definitely sick of. I hate to end this column on such a clichéd note (oh no, Marissa, don’t say that, that’s your perfectionism talking…) but I think we should be the change we want to see in the world.
Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and producer. For more, visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or @MarissaSkud on Twitter.