The Kilroys . . . and Counting

The Kilroys

I was really heartened when I read of the new list of 46 plays written by women circulated by the Kilroys, a new advocacy group based in LA.  That the list got so much immediate uptake in the media was part of its appeal.  If nothing else, the continued protestation from (mostly male) artistic directors that they don’t know or can’t access good plays by women should be put finally to rest.  The list is obviously just a tease for the many more good plays by women constantly circulating through American theatre circles but not receiving the productions they deserve.

That said, the list and the interview with several of the Kilroy’s principals (Joy Meads, Carla Ching, Annah Feinberg, and Kelly Miller) that Polly Carl published yesterday on HowlRound raise some important issues (and generated rich and resourceful comments).  People grumble that the list is “exclusive” (especially if they’re one of the playwrights whose work isn’t mentioned).  Of course–but what list isn’t partial, often for good reason?  The Kilroys reassure people that new lists will be forthcoming.  An on-going, ever-renewing list of plays by women is an important addition to advocacy for gender equity in theatre.

The Kilroys created their list by canvassing 250 theatre professionals (all of whom are listed on their web site).  Of the 127 responses they received, they collated the plays most mentioned into the published list of 46.  The names of the rest of the plays are also posted on their site.  But Meads, Ching, Feinberg, and Miller admit that because of who they contacted, the character of the list is particular.  Polly notes that most are single authors (only one play is a collaboration), and wonders if the plays’ formal qualities, too, are similar.

Miller admits as much, and asks, “Who else do we need to reach out to? Places like LaMaMa? Places like 3-Legged Dog in New York? People that are working outside of the traditional structure of new play form?”  I would answer a resounding “Yes” to this question, because venue is such an important determinant for what the work looks like and to whom it’s addressed.  LaMama, HERE, InterArts, the WOW Cafe, Dixon Place, the Flea, Soho Rep, Incubator Arts, and other venues that tend to curate more formally inventive work with diverse content or more collaborative, sometimes community-based artistic processes would propose titles that would be a real boon to the list’s variety.  And only by opening the conversation to many different kinds of “theatre professionals” will what American theatre looks like (and who it speaks to) change at all.

A list, finally, is just a list.  An annotated list, with information about narrative, style, genre, meanings, and mood, for just a start, would be an even more interesting document to circulate through the places the Kilroys’ first list of 46 is moving.  Still, I’m delighted by this gesture and only want more:  more critical engagement with the list would demonstrate why these particular industry professionals think these particular plays should be produced.

After so many years of public discourse about the lack of parity for women playwrights, and so many articles bemoaning their unequal fate (see the latest, by Alexis Soloski, in the New York Times recently), I want to hear more about the work.  I want to read–and teach, as well as see–all the plays on the list, so that I can understand what kind of stories these women are telling, through what kind of narrative and theatrical forms.  Then I’ll really know why it’s such a crime that these plays–and so many more good ones like them–aren’t regularly produced.

The Feminist Spectator

6 thoughts on “The Kilroys . . . and Counting

  1. Great post. I was thrilled to read about the Kilroys, but was also admittedly bummed by the particular “character” of the list that you mentioned, as well as the list of voters. (I would love to see the version of this list that incorporates international writers, too…) The members of the Kilroys interviewed in Howlround explain that this list was really intended for the eyes of artistic directors at the “big regional theater level,” and that was, I think, a little glossed over in the media coverage and is important to keep in mind— it (sadly) says a lot about the priorities & aesthetic orientation of the list. Outside of the theaters themselves, the question of which university programs did or did not vote & which freelancers did or did not have a say, struck me, too, especially given that the language of the website (and the media coverage) strikes a definitive tone. I particularly liked one of the questions in the Howlround interview: “Do theaters look radically different if there is parity on stage? Do audiences look radically different?” Hmmm.

    Playwrights need more sustainable opportunities outside of writing for TV (if that’s not their endgame), and it’s probably not surprising that most of the Kilroys are based in L.A. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what about the audience for new plays? As you say, most helpful would be some sense of why these industry professionals deemed these plays producible; in other words, did producers list the best plays they’d read, or the best plays they read and couldn’t produce, or the best plays they read that would be considered producible?

    Those posting to Howlround seem most comfortable contextualizing the Kilroys as one initiative amid a lot of other initiatives, and that makes sense. I will do back flips over a project that delivers something more substantial, maybe some mechanism through which these plays could be made accessible to readers– through open publishing, or by posting abstracts or descriptions of the plays so we could know more than Female Playwright + Title. I admire that they took their own limited time and energy to make this project come to life, and am hoping it’ll start off an exciting new wave of greater availability of new plays…and, somehow, new audiences?

    1. Hillary, thanks so much (belatedly) for this thoughtful reply. I agree with everything you say here. We need lists, sure, but we also need much more work curating new plays for a sense of how they work, why they work, to which audiences they might be desirable, and what’s “good” about them. These little boxes that ultimately say very little (“women playwrights,” for example) are finally not very helpful. Would that some large, wealthy granting organization would fund an on-going curating project of the sort you describe. Thanks for engaging.

    1. A delayed reply, Alex, but I completely agree that producers and funders need to be part of this conversation. In fact, private and state/federal granting organizations should be taking the lead about gender and race equity in these conversations, and should be encouraging applicants of all stripes to work toward equity in programming. Thanks for raising this point.

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