In the final week of Women’s Month, let’s take a look at the producers.
In an earlier post, I took a look at the representation of women in the production teams of filmed live musicals. After costume design, the area where women had the highest representation was producing. In the current database, a total of 53 women have produced 34 filmed live musicals. Many musicals credit companies rather than people as producers, so these numbers may actually be higher.
Four of these women, Ellen M. Krass, Iris Merlis, Dione Orrom, and Bonnie Comley have been instrumental to bringing filmed live musicals to the world. Between them, these women have produced 19 filmed live musicals, which is 55% of all the musicals produced by women, and 15% of all the musicals currently in the database. Many of the musicals were Broadway or West End productions, and, in a fun tidbit related to last week’s post on Sondheim, nearly one-third of female produced musicals were written by Sondheim.
Ellen M. Krass
In a career spanning over 30 years, Ellen M. Krass has been instrumental in bringing theatre to film and television. Krass worked as an executive producer for RKO/Nederlander before forming her own company, EMK Productions. She has won 2 Emmy Awards, including the Outstanding Classical Music-Dance Program for Sweeney Todd in Concert in 2002 (shared with Iris Merlis and several others). Her filmed live musical credits include Sweeney Todd (1982 and 2001), Candide, Company, Gypsy, and She Loves Me. Krass also produced the 1985 concert production of Follies.
Dione Orrom has worked as a producer for film, opera, and live music concerts, with The English National Opera, Cirque du Soleil, The Three Tenors, Tina Turner, Elton John, and Cher among her many credits. Orrom has worked extensively in bringing live theatre to cinema and television. Her filmed live musical credits include the 25th anniversary productions of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, Billy Elliot, Miss Saigon, and The War of the Worlds.
Since graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1961, New York native Iris Merlis has worked as a stage manager, production consultant, and producer for film, television, and theatre. With credits spanning the ABC, HBO, and PBS, Merlis has been instrumental in producing theatre for television and film. Her filmed live musical credits include Candide, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd. Along with Ellen M. Krass, and several other producers, Merlis won an Emmy for Sweeney Todd in Concert.
Bonnie Comley has worked as an actor, and producer for film, television, and Broadway. Over the past 14 years, Bonnie Comley, along with her husband Stewart F. Lane, has produced over 20 Broadway shows, including A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, and Legally Blonde the Musical. In 2015, Comley and Lane launched BroadwayHD, a subscription-based streaming service for live theatre productions. The site features musicals such as Billy Elliot, Daddy Long Legs, Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar, and most recently The Wind in the Willows.
I hope women and girls see the work of these tremendous women and are inspired to become producers themselves.
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Today we celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 88th year of being alive.
The 2011 Lincoln Center production of Sondheim’s Company starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, and Stephen Colbert, et al., was the inspiration for the Filmed Live Musicals database. During an interview taped for the cinema screening, producer Ellen M. Krass claimed it had been difficult to get funding to film Company because investors had not heard of a filmed live musical.
Who were these people?! Had they not grown up watching the original Broadway production of Into the Woods on VHS or DVD? Were they oblivious to the taping of Sunday in the Park with George? Or Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd?
As a result of watching Company, I wrote my Masters Thesis on filmed live musicals. Several years later, not a day went by when I wasn’t thinking about it. The Filmed Live Musicals was database was born.
With 20 entries spanning 11 different musicals, Stephen Sondheim has more musicals in the Filmed Live Database than any other composer. For comparison’s sake, Gilbert and Sullivan have 8 entries, Dan Coggin has 6 entries for the Nunsense series, and Andrew Lloyd Webber (who is also celebrating his birthday today) has 4 entries.
In the extraordinary interview Face to Face: Stephen Sondheim (available to stream on BroadwayHD), Sondheim stated “I’m very into film technique and its application to the stage.” If I ever get the chance to meet Sondheim, when I’m done losing my mind, I would love to know about his involvement, or encouragement, in the live filming of his musicals.
To honor of Sondheim’s birthday, here are all the musicals he has written, or contributed to, that have legally filmed live for public distribution. Note that the dates refer to the year the production was filmed, not the year the musical was written.
Into the Woods
Merrily We Roll Along
Putting it Together
Sunday in the Park with George
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Happy birthday Sondheim. May your day be filled with color and light.
Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the inaugural Women’s Day on Broadway. The day featured 5 panels covering various aspects of the representation of women on Broadway. I live-tweeted the day, and you can catch up here!
Several panelists made reference to the fact that women purchase over 60% of Broadway tickets, yet make up only 17% of the creative teams on Broadway.
With this in mind, I wanted to take a look at the representation of women in the production teams of filmed live musicals. I made a record of the production positions for each musical, including stage director, film director, producer (film only), book writer, composer (music/lyrics), choreographer, lighting design, sound design, scenic design, costume design, orchestrator, musical director, and stage manager.
From this record, I made a list of all the women currently in the Filmed Live Musicals database. While the 124 filmed live musicals represent a tiny sample of all musical theatre offerings (and does not yet include musicals in languages other than English), it provides insight into the gender disparity in the industry as a whole.
Over half, 75 of 124, filmed live musicals have at least 1 named woman in the production team. Not a single musical had an entirely female production team, and only one, Bad Girls, could claim half the production team was comprised of women.
Comparing each production position, women were more likely to be the costume designer, producer, or choreographer.
It is worth noting that musicals with female producers also had the highest number of women in key creative positions.
Only 6 musicals (0.04%) had both producers and directors who are women, including Legally Blonde, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, Merrily We Roll Along, When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate, Pippin, and Bad Girls.
A tiny total of 10 filmed live musicals (0.08%) had a female stage director, and just 3 musicals (0.02%), had a female film director. Vinnette Carroll was the only female to serve as both film and stage director (for When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate).
When it comes to writing the musicals, the representation of women is incredibly low.
The music of filmed live musicals is also lacking in female representation.
Representation of women in the design team is sorely lacking.
While over half of the filmed live musicals in the database have at least 1 female in a named production position, the above figures show that women do not have equal representation in the production teams.
Just a few days ago, on March 16, 2018, The League of Professional Theatre Women launched an initiative entitled #OneMoreConversation. The initiative aims to encourage theatre decision-makers to have “one more conversation” with a woman before finalizing hiring to try and bring more women in the process.
While the number of women in the Filmed Live Musicals database reflects the low representation of women on Broadway, it is important to note that Broadway musicals only make up a small portion, 17%, of the musicals in the database. It will be interesting to see if the low representation of women changes as more musicals, and more musicals from a wider range of countries, are added to the database.
Let's hope with the continuation of Women's Day on Broadway and #OneMoreConversation, we will see more women in musical theatre production teams, and more of those musicals being filmed live for a wider audience to enjoy.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, here is a list of filmed live musicals featuring female creative teams. Click on the titles to learn more about each show!
Ernest Shackleton Loves Me (2017)
From Here to Eternity (2014)
Merrily We Roll Along (2012)
Bad Girls The Musical (2007)
Legally Blonde the Musical (2007)
A Tale of Cinderella (1995)
When Hell Freezes Over I’ll Skate (1979)
The Heart's a Wonder (1958)