“Men can walk in the room and say ‘I am the lead producer,’ and there is a natural acceptance of that person and that position, but a woman has to earn that.”
— Paula Wagner, a longtime Hollywood agent who was the lead producer of “Pretty Woman” on Broadway
Sonia Friedman, a successful commercial theater producer in London and New York, said she would never forget an incident a few years ago when a senior industry leader walked over to her, as she stood chatting with male producers, patted her on the head and said: “Aren’t you doing well? I’m so proud of you.”
“It was really humiliating,” said Friedman, whose many productions include “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” “I challenge you to tell me that person would have patted Scott Rudin on the head.”
Like most corners of the entertainment industry, Broadway is a place where women’s power has long been limited. There are startlingly few works written by women that make it to the Broadway stage; women are rarely chosen as directors; and, especially in this #MeToo era, there is intensified scrutiny of how gender relations are depicted in plays and musicals (think: “Carousel” and “My Fair Lady”).
But that’s changing, at least for producers.
And women have been leading productions that range from the small and personal — like “What the Constitution Means to Me,” about gender and American legal history — to the big and branded — like “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” a Michael Jackson biomusical now in development.
As the theater reporter at The Times, my job is to spot trends in the industry and in the art form, and to try to explain them. This one required some nuance, because there has long been a handful of women working as lead producers. But it seems clear that their numbers are growing significantly.
One of the most interesting things I noticed, in interviewing female producers — you can read my full article here — is that many of them had found new paths into the commercial theater business.
Whereas many male producers I meet tell me they learned the ropes as apprentices — working as assistants to established producers and learning by watching from the inside — many of the women honed their artistic and financial skills either at nonprofit theaters or at big entertainment companies before moving to Broadway.
Broadway still has a ways to go. Producers of color, of either gender, are few and far between — although there are exceptions, including Alia Jones-Harvey, whose projects have included Danai Gurira’s “Eclipsed” in 2016.
(As the winner of this year’s Tony Award for best director of a musical, Rachel Chavkin, said of the industry in her acceptance speech: “This is not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be.”)
But female producers are continuing to make strides. The new Broadway season, now getting underway, features multiple shows with women as lead producers, including the jukebox musicals “Moulin Rouge!” and “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” as well as “Diana,” an original musical about the British princess.
“There’s been such a change,” Julia Jordan, the executive director of the Lillys, an organization that works to promote gender parity in theater, told me. “Some sort of tipping point was reached this year.”
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By the numbers
This Thursday is what’s known as “Black Women’s Equal Pay Day,” which represents the number of days into 2019 that full-time working black women must work to earn what their white male counterparts earned last year (in other words: eight extra months). Here are a few of the most staggering figures about black women and pay parity:
That’s the amount that black women working full-time, year-round make for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts, according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center.
That’s the amount of money a black woman loses over the course of a 40-year career because of the wage gap, according to that same report.
That’s the number of black mothers who are the sole or primary breadwinners for their households, according to the American Association of University Women.
1 in 3
That’s the proportion of Americans who are unaware of the wage gap, according to research by LeanIn.org.
— Sharon Attia
[Read more: Womansplaining the Pay Gap]