“Zoot Suit” just closed, after several successful extensions, at the Mark Taper Forum. That’s incredible, not only because the play first played at the theater 40 years ago but also because shows very rarely extend at the Mark Taper Forum.
I was explaining all this to my graduate students at CSULB, explaining the plays success; how when it was originally produced 40 years ago it went on to a successful run in Hollywood; how despite the extensions the show would still be challenging financially due to its cast size; how rare extensions are at the Mark Taper Forum; how the play was tapping into a Latino audience.
Then one of my graduate students, Christina Ramos, asked, “How many Latino plays have they done at the Taper in the last 40 years?”
“I don’t know, but lets find out.” Thus began a two week trek through Center Theater Group’s 50 year production history.
The simple answer is 10. There have been 10 plays by Latino playwrights in the past 40 years.
Like all really tough questions, that answer is only the beginning. We took the production history from Center Theater Group’s website and analyzed every season since 1967 looking at the work through the windows of race and gender. Her discoveries, while not unexpected, are stark.
Here’s how the 298 plays spanning 50 years stack up by race.
(You can filter this graph isolated both race and gender. Hover over the graph and you’ll see both the total number of plays and gender/race of the playwright.)
And by gender only, only 45 of 298 plays have been written by women (just slightly above 15 percent).
Looked at across time, the story does not improve. Female playwrights never represent more than 50% of the Taper’s season (hint: that pink line is always below the blue and never crosses). As you scroll through the seasons you see no constant trend of improvement.
The same can be said for racial representation through time on the Mark Taper Forum stage. Small peaks are always followed by valleys and it is only in the last two seasons that white playwrights have accounted for less than a majority of the Taper season. The current season sits alone with only playwrights of color enjoying the spotlight.
If you want to dig into this data yourself, and discover which playwrights are responsible for each of those peaks and valleys, you can click on any of the blocks in the graph below. Each block represents a play. You will be able to see the titles and playwright for each play.
Against the demographic makeup of Los Angeles, this data is particularly depressing not only for its lack of representation but also for the lack of discernible historical progress. Is this what our theater should look like? Are these the only stories we need to tell?
Next week, we’ll add directors to the mix (spoiler: the news is even worse).
NOTES ON METHODOLOGY:
Ramos used the production history available on Center Theater Group’s website. The categories do not account for mixed race playwrights (a single category was used for each). This list also did not account for multiple playwrights or collaborators. She’ll graduate in May from California State University Long Beach with both an M.F.A. in Theater Management and an M.B.A. She is deeply committed to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the American Theater as part of a healthy, diverse society.