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FILE - Guthrie Theater

Jim Mone, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

Guthrie's 2012 lineup starts diversity debate

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE
  • Star Tribune
  • April 19, 2012 - 4:33 PM

The Guthrie Theater on Monday announced 11 plays for its two main stages next season. Within minutes, social media lit up with protest.

Where were the women and communities of color? After raising the question on her Facebook page, Leah Cooper, executive director of the Minnesota Theater Alliance, was quoted on Minnesota Public Radio as saying it was "insulting and degrading" to see such meager representation in the season.

Of the 11 shows announced, only one will be co-directed by a woman. Not one main-stage play was written by a woman or person of color.

"It caught my attention," said Lisa Channer, artistic director of Theatre Novi Most and a professor of directing at the University of Minnesota. "I'm not saying it's sexism, but these are habits that are entrenched. I like the directors they're using and their artistic choices, but when you make these choices you show only one angle on humanity."

Channer was marshaling colleagues and students into some kind of response.

Guthrie director Joe Dowling said on Wednesday that he heard the complaints but that the Monday announcement was incomplete. There are still directors to be hired in the Guthrie studio theater. Also, he said the company is in negotiations with a woman to direct "Clybourne Park," a main-stage production.

"I'm sympathetic to some extent," Dowling said, "but it is too narrow a perspective to see bias in one particular season."

In the past four seasons, the Guthrie has listed 47 productions on its website. Of those, eight (17 percent) were written by women or minorities and 13 (28 percent) were directed by a someone in those two groups. The figures do not include shows produced by other companies in the Guthrie studio or special events.

Several local theater companies -- such as Mixed Blood, Penumbra and Mu Performing Arts -- have specific missions around diversity.

General-interest Twin Cities theaters have mixed track records. Park Square Theatre in St. Paul lists eight subscription-season plays in the current year, of which two (25 percent) were written by women or minority playwrights. Three shows (37 percent) had a woman or minority as director. At the Jungle, one of the five shows in the 2012 season (20 percent) is written and directed by a woman. At the Children's Theatre Company, women or minorities wrote four of its seven shows and directed two.

"Anyone will tell you there are inevitable compromises in planning a season," Dowling said. "Some of the best women directors were not available to me for this season, and several of the projects we are producing were shows brought to me specifically by directors."

One thing Channer and Dowling agree on is that the underrepresentation of women directors is a national issue. Channer cited studies showing that 20 percent of plays in the regional theater system are directed by women, while 70 percent of theater tickets are bought by women. Broadway and commercial theaters are even tighter.

The outcry against the Guthrie is "a long overdue reaction," Channer said. "I'm willing to be loud about this."

Dowling said that he didn't want to sound defensive "because I don't feel that way" and that the Guthrie needed to begin developing and nurturing diverse directors.

"But one thing I want to be very clear about, tokenism is the worst thing you can do," he said. "I employ people because of their talent, male or female. It is a very stern task to direct on a stage of our size, and I am responsible to the board for the shows we produce."

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