'The Kilroys' and gender disparity: Righting a wrong … right now

Tanya Saracho. Tanya Saracho.

They call it a movement. And they call that movement “a parity raid.”

“The Kilroys” is a new annual survey that identifies new plays by women writers deemed most worthy of full production. The goal is to get more women’s voices represented in the American Theatre. That’s an issue close to the heart of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where the Women’s Voices Fund has raised more than $1 million to commission and produce new plays by women, as well as to employ female directors, here in Denver.

How real is the problem? There have only been two Broadway plays written by women in the past two seasons combined. Only about 24 percent of all plays produced across the country this past season were written by a woman, living or dead.

Nationally, producers have responded to the complaint by saying they do not get enough submissions from female writers.

Enter “The List,” which began as a conversation among 13 female playwrights over cocktails. The impact was immediate. According to The New York Times, of the 46 plays on the inaugural list, 28 have since been produced. The selected plays seemingly were read more frequently by theatre producers, and the playwrights were more sought after, as a result of The List.

Now, the second annual list has just been released, and it includes Tanya Saracho‘s FADE, a DCPA Theatre Company commission that will have its world premiere in the Ricketson Theatre next Feb. 5. It will be one centerpiece of the DCPA’s 2016 Colorado New Play Summit.

Alejandra Escalante and Eddie Martinez in 'Fade.' Photo by John Moore. Gender disparity was a hot topic at the 2015 Summit in February, when Theresa Rebeck told the DCPA NewsCenter: “Women have been shut out of the storytelling of the American culture on such a profound level for so long – in theatre, in film, and in TV – why wouldn’t we be angry?”

Rebeck’s The Nest will have its world premiere next year in Denver alongside Saracho’s FADE, the story of a one-time Mexican-American novelist who is hired to write for a popular weekly TV serial and finds herself out of her depth. It’s based on Saracho’s own experiences writing for TV.

“Listen: I got into television because I was a diversity hire,’ Saracho said bluntly. “I don’t care why I got in there. I just needed an in, because we need to be in there.”

This interview with Tanya Saracho was filmed at the 2015 Colorado New Play Summit. Saracho’s “FADE” was a featured reading, and later was chosen for full production on the DCPA Theatre Company’s 2015-16 season. Video by John Moore.

Saracho is one of The Kilroys’ 13 founders. She says “The List” happened pretty organically.

“A few of us gathered socially, and the conversation turned to gender disparity in the theatre,” Saracho told the DCPA NewsCenter. “Someone said, ‘We should do something,’ but no one knew what ‘something’ was at first. Then, 13 of us started meeting regularly. Plans and sub-plans were formed. Before we knew what we really were, we were in action.”

One of the first big initiatives was the creation of The List. Organizers surveyed 321 influential new-play leaders — including artistic directors, literary managers, professors, producers, directors and dramaturgs — who had read or seen at least 40 new plays in the past year. The team of 321 nominators identified more than 750 plays by more than 200 female or trans-gendered playwrights written in the past year. From those nominees, the official list of 53 was chosen.

“It was simple but monumental, and I think it’s made the right kinds of waves in the field,” Saracho said. “It’s affecting change that is tangible in many ways. It’s serving to hang a lantern in a new kind of way to this ages-old problem of inequality on the American stage.”

Asked about the nominating team’s decision to include her own play on The List, Saracho said: “This is such a tough industry, that gives you comfort to know you have advocates championing your work behind the curtain, you know?”

For more about the selection process, click here.

Anyone interested in nominating a new play for consideration on next year’s list is encouraged to email thekilroys13@gmail.com.

To read The List, click here.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist, where he is the editor of a new media outlet that covers the Colorado theatre community.

More about Tanya Saracho
Tanya Saracho was born in Sinaloa, México and is a playwright who writes for television. Currently she writes for HBO’s  “Looking.” Other shows have included Girls and Devious Maids. Plays produced at: 2nd Stage, Steppenwolf Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Goodman Theater,  Teatro Vista, Teatro Luna, Fountain Theater, Clubbed Thumb, NEXT Theater and 16th Street Theater. Plays include: Hushabye; The Tenth Muse; Song for the Disappeared; EnfrascadaEl Nogalar (inspired by The Cherry Orchard); an musical adaptation of The House on Mango StreetOur Lady of the Underpass ; Kita y Fernanda, and Quita Mitos. Currently in development with/commissioned by:  HBO, Goodman Theater, Steppenwolf Theatre, Two Rivers Theatre, DCPA Theatre Company, and South Coast Rep.

About Denver’s And Toto Too Theatre Company
Guest columnist Susan Lyles on Denver’s only theatre company dedicated to telling women’s stories.

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