Women in Theater4 min read

women in theatre with woman on stage and red orange background lighting
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The League of Professional Theatre Women has been calling for female playwrights, directors, and designers to achieve “50/50 in 2020” – a goal for a gender ratio of 1:1 in the aforementioned roles.

As of the 2019 Broadway season, we were shy of that goal in all but 5 categories (of a total 18 surveyed). Women were the majority for Company Managers (57%), Wardrobe (65%), and Hair & Makeup crews (66%). Makeup Designers, Costume Designers, and Stage Managers all came in around 50%, our golden standard. These numbers were provided by Production Pro.

This is a slight improvement from the 2018 season of 63 shows – wherein there were 0 female carpenters. Here is the complete data for the 2018 season.

Of course, the 2020 and 2021 seasons won’t provide us substantial data, but as the industry reemerges we hope it brings with it a theme of equality and diversity. To celebrate and inspire this change, we at Magnum have done some further research into women who are considered pioneers in theater and are excited to share our findings with you.

Director and Playwright

Portrait of Lillian Trimble Bradley, stage director
Photo courtesy South Bend News-Times.

Lillian Trimble Bradley was an American playwright and the first female director on Broadway. She directed a total of 8 productions on Broadway from 1918 to 1924, and penned 5 plays. And hers is a story that we want to be transformed into a Netflix series.

She was born in Milton, Kentucky in 1875, but her life is a whirlwind of moves. She lived and studied in Paris with Andre Antoine, and at the Moscow Art Theatre with Stanislavski. But ultimately settled in the United States with the ultimate goal of directing for the stage.

At the age of 28, she married 65-year-old D. I. Bradley, who was a wealthy stock broker. Upon his death in 1925, she acquired his home, which she used for her lighting and set design experimentations. She became associated with producer George Broadhurst in 1918 and directed her inaugural play on Broadway that same year. She assisted in the directing of a play of her own writing, The Woman on the Index – bewildering critics. Their astonishment continued with her directorial debut.

Her relationship with Broadhurst continued and she directed seven more plays until 1925. She and Broadhurst married and retired to Santa Barbara. She laid Broadhurst to rest in 1952, and she followed in 1958.

When asked to remark on the nature of women directing, Mrs. Bradley reportedly laughed and said, “Frankly, I cannot honestly recommend it, though personally I love my work. Stage directing means very hard work, meals at odd times, loss of sleep, and no leisure.”

We’re certain her sentiment will ring true with directors of all genders today.

Lighting Designer

Photo courtesy womanscape

Born March 16, 1912 in New York City to two Romanian-Jewish immigrant physicians, Eugenia “Jean” Rosenthal invented the concept of a “lighting designer.” Before her influence, the set designer or electrician handled the lighting aspects of a production, and she was thought to be an “electrician with notions.” But those ‘notions’ were powerful enough to create a profession.

She is known for “dance lighting.” When you attend a dance performance and see the silhouette of a dancer against strong, deeply colored washes – thank Jean. She used her knowledge of light to create a technique that eliminated shadows and highlights the human form. Her techniques are now Dance Lighting 101.

Rosenthal has 85 Broadway lighting design credits, notably West Side StoryFiddler on the Roof, and Cabaret. But her accomplishments did not come easily. She reportedly didn’t fit in at school and did poorly in her classwork. And the inclusion of her name in The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy tells us that she faced societal pressures in her home life as well as her work life. But Jean didn’t let it get her down. Her persevering nature earned her her first lighting credit in 1936 – after the male electrician for Leslie Howard’s Hamlet fell ill.

Respectful and courteous, Rosenthal called many of her crew members “darling” and “honey,” but ran a tight ship. She fought for her artistic vision and earned a reverence amongst her team – many would refuse work without her as their designer.

In 1968, Rosenthal was diagnosed with a cancer, an illness that she would succumb to a year later. But her designs outlasted her. Fiddler on the Roof would continue its run for three years after her passing, and with it a Rosenthal original lighting design. Her lights burned brightly then, and still do today.

Guest post by our very own Jennifer Miller

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