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USITT News: Women+ Increasingly Vacate Technical Theatre Positions

Stage Directions • Industry News • September 4, 2019

Caitlyn Garrity’s article Building a Better Workplace in the latest issue of USITT’s Theatre Design & Technology journal explores the world of women+ in technical theatre and the challenging workplace cultures that result in the abandonment of their positions.

A full 90 percent of respondents to a recent survey of female-identifying theatre design and production practitioners say that they have experienced negative workplace environments, gender-based harassment, or pay gaps. The results of the survey appear in the Summer 2019 edition of Theatre Design & Technology(TD&T), the journal of USITT.

“When I solve a problem, it’s overlooked, but when my male co-workers solve problems, they get accolades.” This is the reality for an anonymous sound technician who participated in a survey created by Caitlyn Garrity, a 2019 graduate from Millikin University. The survey is the culmination of a two-year honors program research project. Garrity created the survey with the assistance of her advisor and professor, Mary Black, Director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Millikin University.

Drawing inspiration for her survey from The League of Professional Theatre Women as well as a survey created by Elizabeth Freestone, the artistic director of the UK’s Pentabus Theatre, Garrity set out to explore the phenomenon of women+ increasingly abandoning their positions in technical theatre over lack of parity and equity.
USITT TD&T chart one

Freestone sets a specific tone for Garrity’s research when challenging the popular industry question of “how do we attract women to working in the theatre?” suggesting it should instead be, “how do we keep those women working in theatre?”

When it comes to people interested in working in theatre on the entry-level, men and women are equal, according to Freestone. So, what exactly is increasingly pushing these women+ out of the technical field? Garrity’s survey indicates that lack of support for parents and negative workplace environments are two of the leading motives.

Garrity compiled data on the experience of almost 600 women+ in technical theatre. The 13-question survey included participants recruited via several Facebook groups, including Women+ in Theatre, USITT Women in Theatre Network, USITT People of Color Nation, and USITT Queer Nation. Included were questions about theatrical discipline, employment status, experiences of discrimination, and demographics. The study’s purpose was not only to reveal the current struggles of women in technical theatre, but to confirm if women are leaving the industry at a faster rate, why they are, and their reasonings.

After being surveyed, many of the participants chose to share more detailed accounts of their experiences in a comment section. The full article in TD&T includes a large sampling of detailed comments and reflections that point to the “complexity and pervasiveness of equity and parity concerns.” Most commonly discussed were workplace issues relating to negative workplace, gender-based harassment, age, and support for families. A handful of those who affirmed their negative workplace environment also contributed comments mentioning “their constant battle to prove their skills and knowledge,” according to Garrity.

“I was often told that if I was ‘really’ serious about this career, I’d suck it up and work the weird hours for less than minimum wage and be grateful for the opportunity,” said one respondent, a former scenic designer and technician. This responder ended up leaving the field after five years due to “lack of support for parents and general dissatisfaction with work/life balance.”

Age also plays a large part in workplace discrimination. Even though the number of women who responded to Garrity’s survey decreased by age bracket, the percentage of those who experienced discrimination stayed consistent. “There appear to be fewer women working in the industry as the age bracket increases,” Garrity finds. “Data suggest that discrimination against women in the technical theatre industry is not decreasing as women age. It appears that women are choosing to leave the industry instead.”
USITT TD&T chart two

Overall, 266 women reported leaving the technical theatre and production industry citing various types of “discrimination and negative workplace environments, and a lack of support for parenting and family obligations.” Forty-six percent of respondents of the 114 who said they were a parent or guardian have left the industry. Support for families in the technical theatre industry is “sorely lacking,” according to Garrity.
USITT TD&T chart three

However, improvement toward these workplace transgressions is attainable through programs and resources. “The theatre community has an opportunity to take some successful steps towards creating an inclusive environment for women+ and building a foundation for achievable industry-wide changes,” Garrity writes.

Two organizations mentioned in the article have made significant strides toward making the industry more inclusive — Parents in Performing Arts (PIPA) campaign, and Not in Our House.

TD&T is available as a benefit of membership in USITT and is available by subscription.

Further information from The United States Institute for Theatre Technology, Inc. (USITT):

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