Works by Women

Supporting creative work by women

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

It’s often said that we should leave the drama on the stage.  But, that edict is hard to live by, given the current state of women’s theatrical work.  Under 20% of plays produced on American stages are written or directed by women, and of those most are at the smaller theatres where remuneration is minimal.

And, today, Facebook is ablaze with outrage and disbelief that there will be no Wasserstein Prize given this year because, as the esteemed panelists noted, “none of the plays were truly outstanding in their current incarnation.”  The Wasserstein Prize, named after beloved playwright Wendy Wasserstein, is awarded to a young female playwright who has yet to receive national attention.  The prize is accompanied with a $25,000 check, which offers the rare financial encouragement to continue writing.

Playwright Michael Lew’s Brilliant Open Letter to Victoria Bailey (Executive Director of TDF & adjudicator of the prize) so passionately argues, “If you can’t find a young writer whose body of work is sufficiently expansive, then remove the 32 year old age cap on eligibility for the prize. After all, there are precious few writers – male or female – whose plays have received national attention by the ripe old age of 32.”

TDF and Victoria Bailey are fantastic champions for theater — both for artists and audiences. That’s why this news is so utterly surprising.  I’m certain this very unpopular decision was difficult to arrive at, but it doesn’t lessen the disappointment felt by our community.

There’s no way to change the panel’s decision, but as theater-makers and audience members, we must ask, “what can be done?”

Here are a few suggestions:

(1) Make a donation to the Women’s Project, which supports women playwrights, directors, and producers.

(2) Join Works by Women’s Meetup Group, which has taken hundreds of audience members to 50 plays written, directed and/or designed by women in the past year.  It’s free to join the group.

(3) Support the Lark Play Development Center.  I recently saw 2008 Wasserstein Prize winner Laura Jacqmin’s Milvotchkee, Visconsin as part of the 2010 Playwrights Week.  It was hilarious and touching.  The Lark is moving to a new home on West 43rd, and has a fabulously affordable $5 Drive to support its efforts.

(4) Make your Facebook status: I support female playwrights. Or tweet it for all the world to see.

(5) Produce a full-length play or a short play or a reading by a female playwright.

(6) Encourage your female playwrights to submit to and support the Estrogenius Festival, which will celebrate its 12th season in 2011.

(7) Mariah suggested this link to look for additional organizations to support.


17 comments on “Making Lemonade out of Lemons

  1. Alexis Clements
    November 12, 2010

    I do not think that anyone involved in coming up with that decision was working very hard to come up with it, as it shows every bit of the laziness and dishonesty that continues to create barriers not only for women, but also for minorities in participating fully in the theater community.

    It’s not enough to look at the age-limit, you have to look the eligibility requirements, which is clearly where the problem lies.

    The creators and nominators should be ashamed, as they are clearly 1) not doing their job to seek out new voices; 2) not considering enough work by women in the first place; and 3) being disingenuous, at best, for not considering the reasons why a nomination-based system full of people who clearly don’t read work by women is failing to discover emerging female voice.

    The problem here is not a lack of strong female voices in the US, the problem is a theatrical leadership that prefers not to take the time to engage with them.

    -Alexis Clements
    Playwright (age 30)

  2. Mariah
    November 12, 2010

    And donate to other theaters that make it their mission to produce women’s work! A list is here:

  3. worksbywomen
    November 12, 2010

    Thanks Mariah. Adding to the post:

  4. Laura
    November 13, 2010

    This is shocking news about the Wasserstein Award.

    Here’s a way to support women playwrights who live on the west coast: check out the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative and our various calls to action: In addition to our outreach & connection programs, we have amazing women playwrights blogging each week. Please read their blog posts, and consider their plays.

  5. Kristen van Ginhoven
    November 13, 2010

    It is extremely difficult to believe that there are no ‘truly outstanding’ plays by female playwrights under the age of 32. That seems a bit like when I’ve heard directors say ‘we’ve seen all the actors available for this role’. There are ALWAYS extremely talented artists waiting in the wings to be discovered and people must work harder to create the opportunity for them to be discovered. Which leads me to wonder what the eligibility requirements are for The Wasserstein Prize and what more can be done so that the talent that IS out there can be discovered and given the chance to shine. If none of the plays this year were ‘truly outstanding in this incarnation’, which ones showed promise, which ones showed that, with some mentorship or opportunity, they could be outstanding. Surely, those are worth supporting?

    Kristen van Ginhoven
    co-Artistic Director, WAM Theatre

  6. Jenny Greeman
    November 13, 2010

    And check out 50/50 in 2020 co-founder New Perspectives Theatre Company Women’s Work Writer’s LAB:

  7. worksbywomen
    November 13, 2010

    Thanks Kirsten & Jenny…

  8. Lisa
    November 14, 2010

    Please consider signing this petition addressed to TDF and the Wasserstein Prize committee to reconsider their decision not to award the prize:

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