×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

It’s Time For Women to Lead (Guest Column)

Actors' Equity's work on harassment prevention goes hand in hand with our work to improve diversity within the theater industry.

A number of major regional theaters are changing artistic leaders at the moment. Over the last few months, that number has only grown as charges of sexual harassment and misconduct roil the industry. The two trends are linked — and make a call to action ever more critical.

In California, American Conservatory Theater recently made headlines after announcing that outgoing artistic director Carey Perloff would be replaced by Pam MacKinnon. The story was news for other reasons — MacKinnon’s unimpeachable qualifications — and because it is uncommon for a theater to replace a female artistic director with another qualified woman.

I hope for the day when announcements like this are no longer news.

Today the need for theaters to make sure that qualified women and people of color are given the opportunity to serve in leadership positions is more urgent than ever before. Since the New York Times ran its first story on Harvey Weinstein, a number of theaters across the country — notably including The Alley Theatre in Houston – have had leadership changes due to charges of misconduct.

At Actors’ Equity Association, we stepped up our work on harassment prevention two years ago and have been working on it ever since. Since the Weinstein story landed we’ve sent a message to all of our employers asking them to send us a copy of their harassment policies.

Incredibly, we heard from a disturbing number of employers who didn’t have a harassment policy, and had never before thought they needed one. The leaders of these organizations are well-meaning people. But in this case, they fell short. These were not isolated failures but something we heard from numerous employers. This is a systemic problem.

The lesson for us was clear — representation matters. Our work on harassment prevention goes hand in hand with our work to improve diversity within the theater industry.

What we need as an industry are leaders who bring a new perspective to running a theater. That means more women and people of color. There is no shortage of qualified leadership. Women make up nearly 60 percent of the staff “next in line” to take on major leadership positions, according to a 2015 Wellesley Centers for Women study of the League of Resident Theatres.

Equity isn’t in a position to tell a theater whom they should hire to be their next artistic director or their next executive director. But what we can say is that these companies shouldn’t be afraid to diversify their leadership. Since 2015, the top two leadership positions at Equity (Equity President Kate Shindle and myself) have been women with differing perspectives and experiences. That diversity is our strength.

I would note that when it comes to casting actors, many theater organizations have robust language in their Equity Contracts affirming their commitment to diversity and inclusion. I have heard many producers say at the bargaining table they know that those commitments are the right thing to do.

Now is the time for theaters everywhere to move beyond their contract language and to truly lead by example to ensure that qualified women and people of color are given a fair shot at these leadership positions.

We’ll be watching.

Mary McColl is the Executive Director of Actors’ Equity Association.

More Legit

  • The Play That Goes Wrong review

    BBC Orders Comedy Series Based on ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

    The BBC has greenlit “The Goes Wrong Show,” a new series based on Mischief Theatre’s popular “The Play That Goes Wrong” stage production about a troupe that puts on disastrous plays. The stage show has transferred from London’s West End to Broadway for a J.J. Abrams-produced version described by Variety as “a broad, silly and [...]

  • By the Way Meet Vera Stark

    Off Broadway Review: 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' by Lynn Nottage

    After writing two harrowing Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, “Sweat” and “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage is entitled to have a little fun. But while this revival of her new play, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” walks and talks like a screwball comedy, it has a real brain in its head. Before we get too serious, let’s meet [...]

  • Merrily We Roll AlongRoundabout Theatre CompanyMERRILY

    Off Broadway Review: 'Merrily We Roll Along'

    Like the optimistic youths at the end — or is it the beginning? — of “Merrily We Roll Along,” creatives keep going back to this problematic Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical, re-imagining the show in the hope that the end results will be different this time around. They’re not. But disappointments are often off-set by new [...]

  • My Fair Lady Laura Benanti

    Listen: Laura Benanti on 'My Fair Lady' and the Secret to Her Melania Trump Impersonation

    Laura Benanti is now playing her dream role on Broadway. At the same time, the Tony winner (“Gypsy”) is also playing her toughest part ever. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “It’s the most demanding part I think I’ll probably play,” said Benanti, now appearing as Eliza Doolittle in Lincoln Center Theater’s well-received revival of [...]

  • Hamilton West End Production.

    'Hamilton' Panic Over Mistaken Reports of Gunfire Injures Three in San Francisco

    Three people were injured after mistaken reports of an active shooter at a San Francisco production of “Hamilton” caused attendees to flee the theater. CNN reported that a woman experienced a medical emergency — later determined to be a heart attack — during a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play wherein Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is shot on [...]

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content