“The Book of Mormon”: londonboxoffice.co.uk
London’s West End
just earned a dubious honor: it’s just as inhospitable to women as Broadway. A new study from The Stage examined the West End
musical productions that ran for at least three weeks from 2007 to 2016, and found that female writers are severely underrepresented — in fact, male scribes outnumber women nine to one. Women received a writing credit on only 16 percent of the West End
’s last decade of musicals.
“There are so many women playwrights out there — their voices are heard and they’re writing contemporary, pertinent, compelling drama,” said “Mamma Mia!” book writer Catherine Johnson
. “So for that not also to be happening in musical theater, something is really going wrong.”
Indeed. It’s hard to reconcile the news that two-thirds of the Royal Court Theatre’s new season are written or directed by women with the dismal numbers of women writing musicals. Unfortunately it’s true: Seventy-five percent of West End
musicals included zero women on their writing teams, which are usually comprised of a book writer, a composer, and a lyricist. Women wrote or co-wrote just 12 percent of the books.
If you take jukebox musicals — musicals, like Carole King
’s “Beautiful,” that do not use new original songs — into consideration, women wrote 18 percent of the productions’ music or lyrics. Disregarding jukebox musicals, only nine percent of the musicals boasted a female composer.
Of the 118 musicals the West End
has put on during the past decade, only four of the shows’ scores were composed by one individual woman: Cyndi Lauper
’s “Kinky Boots
,” Jeanine Tesori
’s “Shrek the Musical
,” Margaret Martin
“Gone With the Wind
,” and Kath Gotts
’ “Bad Girls
And just three of the 118 musicals were written by an all-female team: “Bad Girls
,” “Gone With the Wind
,” and “Viva Forever!” the book of which was penned by Jennifer Saunders
”) with music and lyrics by the Spice Girls
. In contrast, 88 shows were from an all-male writing team.
“The problem is that the established stable of go-to talent for any of these big-scale opportunities is still basically an almost exclusively white, male, closed shop,” Gotts told The Stage in response to the research.
Jon Bromwich, exec producer at Youth Music Theatre UK, believes that the gender disparity can be traced back to school. “Lack of role models and instruction at a young age are undoubtedly contributory. Ingrained behavior patterns may mean that young female instrumentalists stay with their instrument while males move into composition.”
Whatever the cause, there is definitely a gender problem in modern theater. It seems that every week or so a new story breaks about the obstacles women face in the field. Wellesley Centers for Women found that a glass ceiling exists for women climbing the ladder at nonprofit theaters. Actors’ Equity published research about the stronghold white men have on acting and stage management jobs. And the only new women-written plays on Broadway this season — Lynn Nottage
’s “Sweat” and Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” — are not long for this world.
So much for Book, Music and Lyrics founder/director David James
’ response to The Stage’s research. “I would say the answer, for both men and women, is to raise their game and write stronger work,” James commented. “If women write the better work, they will be produced. I don’t believe they will be sidelined because of gender.”
If only we lived in that world, Mr. James. But we definitely don’t.
Below are highlights from The Stage’s study. Head
over to its website for more information.
Of the 118 musicals that ran on London’s West End
from 2007 to 2016:
3 were from an all-female writing team, compared to 88 from an-all male writing team12 percent featured books written by a womanFour scores were composed by a woman75 percent featured no women on their writing teamsNearly nine out of 10 musicals had a book written entirely by menIncluding jukebox musicals, 18 percent of the shows’ music or lyrics were women-written
None of the shows in 2014 featured books, music, or lyrics from women
None of the shows in 2010 featured music from a female composer
None of the books in 2011, 2013, or 2016 were written by women
Study: West End
Musicals Are Overwhelmingly Written by Men was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium
, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.