By Ilana Bernstein
Butter, flour, sugar and water are the essential ingredients to make a pie crust. Similarly, director, choreographer, book writer and songwriter are generally the essential ingredients in creating a Broadway musical.
So how does Waitress differ in its recipe? It is the first Broadway show to fill all four spots with females.
Diane Paulus, director; Jessie Nelson, book writer; Lorin Latarro, choreographer; and Sara Bareilles, songwriter, make up the all-star team. Bareilles is also now the leading lady since she took over the role from Jessie Mueller.
The show, based off the 2007 movie of the same name, follows Jenna, a waitress and an extraordinary pie maker living in a small town. The audience watches as she navigates her way through an unhappy marriage, the meeting of a handsome new doctor and a baking competition that might just save her life.
Only two other shows have ever featured an all-female creative team, according to the Playbill Vault. However, those two shows, Runaways (1978) and Quilters (1984), had the roles filled by only one or two women respectively.
According to a FiveThirtyEight article published in March 2016, “over the last 41 seasons of Broadway musicals, only about 1 in 10 directors, authors or composers, and 1 in 4 choreographers, have been female. By contrast, 255 musicals, or 52 percent, have had four men in their top creative roles.”
“I remember one day in casting,” said Nelson in the FiveThirtyEight article, “an actor walked in and said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen an all-female team behind the desk before.’ And they were shocked by it, and it was a moment when we all realized the uniqueness of it. The fact that it happened organically is all the more meaningful.”
Monica Albizo, a senior theatre performance major at this university, reflected on the accomplishment.
“I remember I was astounded when ‘Fun Home’ was the first female writer/songwriter duo to win a Tony in 2015,” Albizo said. “Like why has this not happened sooner? Hopefully it is a model for how more productions can be more representative of the populations they portray and who is in the audience. Sixty-seven percent of Broadway audiences are female!”
Albizo shared whether she has felt the same disparity between male and female creative teams in her work.
“In my experience with college productions and small theatre companies, it’s actually a pretty even split,” she said. “I think there’s a real movement on the university level to have representation from all demographics on the creative team.”
However, Albizo said she recognizes that the college productions and small theatre companies she worked with are not representative of the entire field.
“On Broadway … this is not the case. Big commercial theatre is just kind of getting hip to the idea that women and minorities can make profitable theatre. It’s the same in Hollywood — the people in charge are generally conservative, as in they won’t take a ‘risk’ on a woman writer/director/producer unless she really proves herself.”
Albizo said she hopes the trend will continue.
“Of course I hope that we will see more female stories told by women,” Albizo said. “This starts in places like universities where we need to revisit how we learn about theatre and history in general. It has come more to light in recent years that our historical narrative focuses principally on the accomplishments of white men. What does that tell people who want to be leaders if they have never seen people like them in leadership roles? When the only writers you’ve ever heard of are Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and Rodgers & Hammerstein, how could you imagine yourself to be the next voice of American theatre?”
“We must understand that women have always and will always be creators of great art,” Albizo said. “It’s only that now we need to provide an equal chance to let them shine.”
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Waitress The Musical on Facebook.
Ilana Bernstein is a junior journalism and theatre double major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.