Where’s the diversity in the Guthrie’s new season?

Twin Cities theater professionals are pointing out the Guthrie Theater's upcoming season is missing something important.


As soon as I posted the season announcement news to Facebook, a flurry of comments showed up from women theater directors.

"What decade are we in?"

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"This season is a tragedy."

"Sad. Tragic. Wrong."

Indeed, the 2012-2013 season is overwhelmingly white and male.


In addition to featuring a season of plays almost entirely written and directed by men, the Guthrie will also be hosting two productions by Propeller Theatre Company, which features traditional, all-male productions of Shakespeare plays.

Image: Propeller Theatre Company

Of the 12 productions slated for the Guthrie's two large stages, the Wurtele thrust and the McGuire proscenium, not one of them was written by a woman. And only one of them ("Nice Fish") is being co-directed by a woman (along with Mark Rylance).

In addition, the men involved in writing and staging these plays are all white - the most diverse among them is Carlo Goldoni, an Italian playwright from the 1700s.

The Guthrie's third stage, the Dowling Studio, has yet to be fully programmed for the coming season, but at this point it does include one play co-written by a woman. It's an adaptation of Homer's "Iliad."

Leah Cooper, who is both a theater director and the head of the Minnesota Theater Alliance, says it's insulting and degrading to see so little regard for representation by the state's largest performing arts institution.

For artists it's insulting and degrading to see so little regard for representation by the state's largest performing arts institution. But for all our citizens - audiences, artists, donors, volunteers, tax-payers, students - this is mainstream arts telling us that the voices and stories and perspective of women and people of color are not important, not relevant, not worth telling, sharing or knowing. The Guthrie has a tremendous amount of talent, resource, and community support with which its artists could be broadening our experience, inspiring us to greater empathy and deeper understanding of ALL the people in our world. And like any theater, they depend on growing and diversifying their audience to thrive. So the continued bias against women and people of color in leadership and authorship is either embarrassingly myopic or willfully negligent.

Director Genevieve Bennett agrees.

The final sentence in the Guthrie Theater's history, as stated on its website, reads: "Forever growing and changing as the community that founded it changes, the Guthrie Theater is a living organization reflecting the culture and human spirit of its audiences today."

In light of the Guthrie's choices for 2012-2013, it can hardly lay claim to that statement.

While Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling was not available to respond over the phone to these complaints, he did send me a written response:

It is accurate that the program announced yesterday included one woman director, Claire Van Kampen, and one woman playwright, Lisa Peterson. And, as in previous seasons, other details and programming will be announced at later dates as not every project can be finalized in time for our budget deadlines. I look forward to sharing more about the season in the weeks to come and I welcome an ongoing dialogue within our community about the issues raised today.

This is certainly a restrained tone compared to the enthusiasm he showed yesterday about a season he called "so varied and immediate."

The truth is that the Guthrie is hardly alone when it comes to booking seasons that are predominantly written and directed by white men.

Leah Cooper points to a web-based roundup of reports examining the disproportionate power of men in the theater.

It includes numerous studies finding that plays staged in major cities are ovewhelmingly written by men - usually somewhere between 70 percent and 80 percent of them. Even though women make up far more than 20-30 percent of the working playwrights.

One of the articles, by Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright Marsha Norman, deplores the current state of affairs:

We need to hear all the American stories, not half of them. When Bill Gates went to Saudi Arabia, he declared publicly that the only way it could possibly compete as a first-class country was if it started using more than 50 percent of its brain power. And the women, covered in burkas, their identities obscured as their society demands, cheered. If American theatres want to produce the best work, they will have to find a way through our own cultural issues in order to grant equal status to the words and work of women. A theatre that is missing the work of women is missing half the story, half the canon, half the life of our time. That is the situation we have now.

Norman writes, "Women buy 70 percent of theatre tickets sold, and make up 60 percent of the audience." But despite their collective buying power, they continue to be offered plays predominantly written and directed by men.