Overall I'm thrilled with what the Kilroys are doing. The fruition of this List and its spirit of artist-based advocacy are precisely what made me start up this blog in the first place.
But while much has been said about the absolutely necessary work of enacting gender parity and bringing more attention to the fantastic and chronically-overlooked work of female writers, I also want to point out something about The List that I think is equally revolutionary yet much less discussed, and that is the concept of communal curation.
The List was assembled in communal fashion, culled from the input of scores of theater professionals under a methodology that was open, numerically-based, and democratic. It's an artifact of (largely) unquestioned artistic excellence that was crowdsourced, a working model that doesn't rely on the curatorial taste of an individual tastemaker (such as a reviewer or a single artistic director). That's worth noting, because when it comes to season planning, a lot of our theaters have a problem with getting buy-in from the artistic community.
A lot of theaters claim to be "artist-based," yet today's not-for-profit theater has decidedly morphed from what was once a largely ensemble-based model (with company actors and resident playwrights and collective decision-making) to something a lot more corporate-looking (with an artistic/executive director, and a Board, and a roving band of contractor-artists). That decades-long march towards corporatization was absolutely necessary, for it has yielded great things like year-to-year financial solvency and state-of-the-art facilities. But what we've lost in the process is a crucial connection to the artists these theaters purportedly serve.
Artists have very little agency in choosing what gets produced year-to-year. Theaters tend to be relatively opaque about their selection process; there's little communication with the public around how or why they choose what they choose; and there is no solid system of metrics in place to assess the successes or failures of any given season -- no transparency beyond tax forms and grant reports. This leads a whole lot of artists feeling like they have no control over their careers and no impact over the state of their art form. Too often I see frustrated playwrights peddling their "calling card plays," these startling innovations in form gaining a lot of quiet supporters, but never any productions, due to the gray perception that the plays are "too risky." Too often I see entire Lit departments being ignored, their hundreds of hours of play reading and advocacy ultimately having little practical impact on what ultimately gets programmed.
I'm skeptical of the model of a lone artistic director picking out all the plays for a season. The stakes are too high for artists' careers, and I think that a single person's perspective can't possibly keep pace with all the innovations in theatrical form that are happening around us, or the changes in demographics that are necessitating the inclusion of a more diverse body of artists, or (as The Kilroys help illustrate) the simple fact that individual decision-makers have inborn biases that might prevent them from giving a vast swath of highly talented people their due.
It's funny to me that theater is such a collaborative art form yet the process of season planning is so closed off to outside input. Which is why the communal nature of The List is so refreshing to me, in its reliance on the expertise and passion of a large group rather than the proclivities (and potential biases) of a select few.
There has to be more room in our national season for all those great plays that we artists know and love - those "calling card plays" that have been kicking around for years but can't seem to find a production. Those plays that the lit managers love but producers find "flawed." There has to be a way to capture the groundswell enthusiasm of the community and translate that into palpable results - a model that pushes onstage the plays we collectively feel are ready, and worthy. Why does the endorsement of a single reviewer hold so much more sway than the endorsement of fellow artists? Shouldn't an artist-based theater demand more input from its artist constituency?
That The List draws attention to pervasive gender inequities in the theater is certainly noteworthy, and crucial. But that it honors the theater expertise of a wide body of people who spend their lives making theater. That's crucial too.