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THEATER REVIEW Gender Breakdown
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2017-03-01

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Created by: Dani Bryant, with more than 200 contributors. At: The Vault at Collaboraction Studios in Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 312-226-9633 or Collaboraction.org; $20-$30. Runs through: March 19

Gender Breakdown is an unashamedly proud piece of protest theater. Headed by writer Dani Bryant and director Erica Vannon, this devised world premiere for Collaboraction thoroughly highlights the many inequities and indignities faced by female-identified artists working in Chicago's lauded theater scene.

The many bona fides to Gender Breakdown include its thorough research. In terms of quantifiable data, more than 200 Chicago theater artists were interviewed. Gender Breakdown also drew from a DePaul University Master Thesis study researched by Kay Kron and Mariah Schultz looking at hiring parity across Jeff Award-nominated Chicago-area theaters from the 2015-16 season.

Gender Breakdown also proudly features an all-female-identified crew and diverse cast of 10 performers, who each share qualitative personal stories. Overt and covert racism, sexism, ageism and body shaming are all topics that get prominent stage time.

Chicago's "Not in Our House" collective that assists women to speak out about behind-the-scenes injustices is also mentioned. The cast not only referred to last year's scandal involving the former Profiles Theatre, but also obliquely ( and speedily ) worked in last week's collapse of Dead Writers Collective following allegations of harassment and emotional abuse from its leadership.

Oh, yes: There are hearty helpings of ironic humor to prevent Gender Breakdown from just being a non-stop harangue. In particular, a stepping-forward game of role requirements for auditions became an exercise of "can-you-believe-this?" eye-rolling.

Gender Breakdown is open about its own deficiencies when it comes to a lack of a transgender performer. Gender-non-conforming dramaturg and cast member Kate Hawbaker-Krohn brings this up by asking the wide-reaching question of what characteristics qualify as "female."

Yet Gender Breakdown really should have gone further by disclosing how and why Kron and Schultz's research into the 2015-16 season deliberately excluded musicals from the figures that get rattled off near the end of the show.

Structurally, Gender Breakdown also could have done more to differentiate when stories were actually from the performers' own perspective or if they belonged to someone else like an unseen interviewee.

Far from being a wallowing exercise in victimhood, Gender Breakdown allows local female-identified artists to share their grievances and joys about working in the Chicago theater scene. For many audiences, the show will be eye-opening to local gender biases, while for others it will just affirm what often goes unsaid.


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