Anger over theatre choices

Manhattan Theater Club's artistic director Lynne Meadow (centre) has had to fend off brickbats for her line-up for the 2015-16 season.
Manhattan Theater Club's artistic director Lynne Meadow (centre) has had to fend off brickbats for her line-up for the 2015-16 season.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Criticism has been hurled at Manhattan Theater Club for its season of plays, almost all written by white men

NEW YORK • The outrage began before Manhattan Theater Club had unveiled its full 2015-16 season.

Seven of its planned eight plays had been announced, all of them written by white men. The Internet was not amused.

Last Tuesday, Paula Vogel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, criticised the theatre's artistic director, Lynne Meadow, on Twitter: "For a woman in theatre who attended Bryn Mawr, where is your sisterhood?"

Others, including playwright Kristoffer Diaz, dryly referred to the company's stated mission of producing work "as broad and diverse as New York itself".

"Would love to discuss strategies for approaching this goal," he said on Twitter.

The season, announced piecemeal since December, includes Sam Shepard's Fool For Love, David Lindsay-Abaire's Ripcord, Richard Greenberg's Our Mother's Brief Affair, John Patrick Shanley's Prodigal Son, Nick Payne's Incognito, Nick Jones' Important Hats Of The Twentieth Century and Florian Zeller's The Father.

But anger about the choices did not bubble up until last week, after American Theatre magazine noted the roster in a straightforward post on its website.

Meadow, whose company produces on Broadway and off, rearranged her vacation schedule to address the controversy in an interview, saying she was "very upset to think of the artistic community being upset". "I don't deny the fact that this season is anomalous in terms of the percentages of diversity on our stages," she added. "It's just how the season came together."

The season would not consist solely of plays by men, as it turns out.

After two days of percolating online discussion about her programming choices, last Thursday Meadow took the unusual step of announcing a production to The New York Times before all contracts had been signed.

The Ruins Of Civilization, a futuristic world premiere by British writer Penelope Skinner (The Village Bike), will run next spring, with tentative plans to have Lila Neugebauer direct.

"Penny feels very strongly, as did we, about having a woman direct the play," Meadow said.

That would bring the total number of female directors in the season - another sore point on social media - to two.

Meadow, who is directing Greenberg's play, is the other.

In the past decade, Manhattan Theater Club has had three seasons with zero female playwrights, but five, including 2014-15, in which at least half the plays had a female author.

Over the last four seasons, Meadow said, 43 per cent of playwrights and directors at the company were women and minorities.

Of its 49 commissions in the past four years, she said, 28 went to women and minorities.

Even so, all of the plays in the coming season are written by white playwrights, which led Vogel, in an interview, to invoke segregation-era public facilities.

"Would you drink from a water fountain that says 'white' above it because you can?" she asked.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'Anger over theatre choices'. Print Edition | Subscribe