Eight years ago, Rocco Landesman, then Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts, predicted that doors were opening for female directors. He said it was coming, however slowly.
Despite theater being a very liberal, progressive industry, female directors have been long overlooked at the Tony Awards. It wasn’t until 1998 that Julie Taymor became the first female to win a best-director Tony Award for best musical, just minutes after Garry Hynes won for The Beauty Queen of Leenane for best play. Prior to this year’s broadcast of the 2013 Tony Awards, only a handful of female theater directors had ever won the honor of winning the award for directing plays and musicals. The Tony’s have awarded awards to women for directing with; Taymor won for The Lion King in 1998, Susan Stroman for The Producers in 2001, Mary Zimmerman for Metamorphoses in 2002, Anna D. Shapiro for August Osage County in 2008 and Marianne Elliott co-directed War Horse in 2011.
This year, both direction awards, for best musical revival and play, went to women, once again minutes apart: Pam MacKinnon for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Diane Paulus for Pippin. Paulus had previously been nominated for her revivals of Hair and The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess. MacKinnon received Tony nominations for direction of Clybourne Park just last year.
After her Tony win, Pam MacKinnon reportedly told journalists backstage that female theater directors are “out there and coming up.”
“We are hitting our stride,” she added.
Broadway is certainly not lacking female directors. Leigh Silverman recently directed The Madrid starring Edie Falco at the Manhattan Theater Club. Anna D. Shapiro directed the wildly successful, award-winning August: Osage County. The list of working female directors includes Rebecca Taichman, Annie Baker, Amy Herzog, Kristen Greenidge, Bathsheba Doran, Madeline George, Katori Hall, Lisa D’Amour, Lydia Diamond, Lisa Kron, Tina Landua Tanya Barfield and many others. They’re busy directing shows at the Signature Theater, Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theater Club, the Atlantic Theater Company, St. Ann’s Warehouse and all over the U.S.
Excited about her win, Paulus told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m hoping that after tonight we’ll stop counting and women will be given the opportunity to be leaders, and I hope this encourages producers to trust women to think about the business of theater, which is what you have to do when you direct a musical. I’m thrilled, I hope that it gives courage to young aspiring women directors all over the world to charge on.”
So are the tides changing in theater for female directors? Directing a show is an extremely demanding job and it’s only recently that maternity leave was even built into contracts. To date women have not been paid the same as men, and they haven’t been given the same leadership roles as men. But there are more and more educated and driven women, and organizations like the League of Professional Theatre Women whose mission is to increase the visibility of and promote opportunities for women in all aspects of the professional theater. With women winning awards more and more, perhaps they will get the attention and caliber of work they deserve.
Landesmans’ prediction eight years ago included the assumption that nothing changes careers like a hit, so if the wins last night are any indication that women can direct hits, the future is certainly brighter for female directors.