Renaissance Theaterworks (RTW) is the nation’s second oldest* theater company dedicated to promoting the work of women theater artists at all stages of their careers.
For 27 seasons, RTW has been a leader in the global movement toward gender parity. Through our example and by empowering women theater artists to reach their full potential, RTW challenges biases about the plays we write and the stories we tell. For 27 seasons, we have significantly improved gender parity in Milwaukee theater, by measures both quantitative and qualitative.
The reality of gender parity in the performing arts is startling. Across the country, women are underrepresented as actors, directors, producers, designers, playwrights, and more. We aim to raise awareness, educate and offer steps everyone can take to be change agents with us. Read on to learn more about gender parity, what we're doing to improve Milwaukee theater, and what you can do to help.
At the 2015 Dramatists Guild National Conference the results of the Guild’s three-year study (The “Count”) quantifying gender and racial disparity in American theater revealed that only 22% of plays produced in the U.S. were written by women.
The “Count” asked the question, “Who is being produced in American Theater?” And the answer, while not surprising, is disheartening to anyone with an interest in basic fairness.
The “Count” found that out of 2605 plays produced between 2011-2015, 62% were written by white men. 12% were written by people of color and only 3% were written by women of color. But the most important variable to being produced is to be male. With 82% of white writers are men and 63% of writers of color also male.
What do we miss if we don’t hear women’s voices? Half of life. We miss half of life. Women live half of the stories in the world but only 20% of them are told.
The absence of Women’s Stories has a profound economic impact on women too. A lack of plays by and about women results in a chronic lack of employment opportunities for women in all areas of professional theatre- directing, acting, designing and management. U.S. Department of Labor statistics reveal that women account for less that 25% of theater professionals.
Why are we missing the voices of women in the theater? Artistic Directors and Producers choose not to produce their plays.
Sadly women’s work is often missing in our society. At NPR, for example, in a survey similar to the “Count” it was found that the percentage of women being interviewed, doing the interviewing or being the subject of the interview was exactly 20%. In art museums, through out the country, 80% of the art hanging from the walls is by men. While the women’s work is stored in the basement.
What the “Count” and other studies like it shows us is the presence of bias unconscious or otherwise in our society. Bias is a natural response to living in a society. Bias can be about gender. It can be about race. It can be about class, education and disability. We all have biases against what is different to our social norms.
The funny thing about bias is, often times we don’t realize it’s creeping into our minds, coloring everything we see - We need the arts to represent life, as it exists in the world. We want to assure that the voices of women are being heard through out our country. Therefore we need to address unconscious bias in the performing arts.
To do this we need bold ideas that lead to innovative new programs!
Programs like the Blind Audition Campaign created by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1952, in an effort to diversify its male dominated orchestra, the Boston Symphony conducted an experiment with a series of “blind” auditions. In a “blind” audition the musicians play behind a screen concealing their identity and removing all chances of racial and or gender bias. The thinking being that this would allow for merit based selection and hopefully increase the number of women in the orchestra.
To everyone’s surprise the initial results still skewed heavily male! Then someone had the brilliant idea to ask the candidates to remove their shoes. Because it seems that the clickity-clack of the women’s heels as they entered the audition hall unknowingly influenced the adjudicators! Once the musicians removed their shoes, almost 50% of the women advanced to the next round of auditions! Today many symphonies in the United States have achieved gender-balance. The moral of the story: overcoming unconscious bias isn’t as easy as one might think. If you want to dig deeper, you’re in luck! Harvard University, the University of Washington and the University of Virginia teamed up to create a series of online tests that measure unconscious bias. Visit the Project Implicit website to test your unconscious bias and identify areas of your perception that need a little extra TLC. The site has tests that measure bias against age, race, gender, religion, even weapons.
In 1993, the year of Renaissance Theaterworks' inception, according to BACKSTAGE magazine, women comprised 70-80% of the USA theater ticket buying audience. But only 17% of the plays produced were written by women, 11% directed by women and most importantly only 6% of U.S. professional theaters were run by women.
At that time Milwaukee mirrored the rest of the country:
To date, RTW has produced over 100 full productions and staged-readings. Among these are 9 original works by Wisconsin playwrights, 7 world premieres, and one North American premiere, providing opportunities to over 700 theater professionals, 75% of whom have been women.
In 2005, Renaissance Theaterworks became a resident theater company of the Broadway Theatre Center.
In 2012, we produced ENFRASCADA, the first and only professional all-Latina production in Milwaukee.
In 2013, we launched Br!NK; a New Play Series to promote the work of women playwrights in the Midwest: 7 plays have been developed for eight playwrights and more than 130 plays received, to date.
In 2014, our production of LUCKY NUMBERS was a finalist (1-12 out of 1500+) in the Samuel French OOB Festival in NYC.
In 2016, we won the prestigious 50/50 in 2020 Applause Award. The International Conference of Women Playwrights presents the Applause Award annually to theater companies in recognition of their commitment to women playwrights. Past winners include Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and Playwrights Horizons Theater in NYC.
In 2016, we launched GROUNDWORKS to broaden our range of work and cultivate the next generation of theater artists.
In 2017, we launched The Fran Bauer Young Critics Project with PEARLS for Teen Girls to educate young women in the art of theater criticism, to broaden the lens of theater criticism in the theater industry.
In 2017-2018 we produced our most ambitious season to date by employing over 86 women theater artists (not including the staff of 6 woman and the woman of our board of directors who work year round), in addition to the male theater artists and board members.
And for 27 seasons of producing theater, RTW has never been in debt.
Renaissance Theaterworks’ Br!NK Award is presented annually to Midwestern female playwrights to develop and advance their work. Br!NK is a platform to tell more women’s stories, raise awareness and garner support for gender parity.
New plays are difficult to get produced, especially for women. Renaissance Theaterworks created Br!NK to launch new work and bring it to the next level.
Renaissance Theaterworks is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board
with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment of the Arts.