Of the hundreds of plays professionally produced on U.S. stages each year, just 17 percent are written by women. When looking only at major New York productions, that number drops to 12.9 percent. No Asian-American woman has ever had a play produced on Broadway.
Those statistics come courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, which on May 12 and 13 will present a festival of short plays by Asian-American female playwrights. Asian-American theater company Leviathan Lab will co-present. The program will feature shorts by 12 women—some experienced pros, others writing their own material for the first time. Among the topics covered will be the recent earthquake in Japan, Charlie Sheen’s women, World War II–era Japanese internment camps, and, of course, the Tiger Mom.
“The opportunities for Asian-American actors, writers, and directors are considerably more limited than they are for our white counterparts,” said Leviathan co-founder Ariel Estrada. “One thing that I often hear from casting directors is, ‘We can’t find any Asian actors.’ I always sort of laugh at that, because the level of talent in the Asian-American community is fantastic.”
Playwright and actor Christine Toy Johnson is a member of Equity’s equal opportunity committee. She will be among the dozen writers presenting shorts at the festival and says that more work by Asian-American playwrights can lead to more work for Asian-American actors—and that cultivating more diversity among artists onstage goes hand in hand with cultivating more diversity in the audience.
“There’s this whole kind of Catch-22 about developing an audience,” Johnson says. “If the audience isn’t seeing themselves reflected onstage, then they might not necessarily think it’s for them.”