Symmetry Theatre Company is a new venture in the San Francisco Bay Area that came into being with a specific purpose: to address the serious problem of gender inequality in the casting of professional stage actors. Women belonging to Actors Equity Association (AEA) have many fewer opportunities than men at landing roles in professional theatre. To begin with, fewer roles are written for women, and many of those roles are much smaller than and subordinate to menâs. Because of the relative size and unimportance of female roles, they are usually cast with non-Equity women (although occasionally, female lead roles are cast non-Equity while small roles are awarded to Equity males). This practice saves producers as much as 80 percent in salaries, but denies the benefits of union jobs (health insurance, pension, safety and job protections, an employee bill of rights) both to high-quality Equity members and to those women â" often equally talented and experienced -- who rightly fear that joining Equity will deprive them of work.
The balance that we seek is fueled by the imbalance that we see. We believe the desire to make a life in the arts should not be dictated by gender. But Symmetryâs founders also believe there is a larger relevance to society as a whole: We believe our audiences should have more exposure to fully developed female characters and female stories, with the hope of creating a richer community for all.
This issue is nationwide. Here in the Bay Area, despite the roughly equal numbers of male and female AEA actors, in the past five years only about 20 percent of union contracts were awarded to women, versus 80 percent to men. As the problem grows, efforts are emerging for change. A new movement called "50/50 in 2020â seeks to enlighten the national theatre community, as well as the public, about these issues, and to create a balanced playing field in all aspects of theatre production by the year 2020. Locally, Symmetry Theatre Company is putting these convictions into practice now.
Symmetry's mission is to create beautifully produced professional theatre that will excite, stimulate and challenge our audiences. The plays we choose may not have more male than female roles and in any given show there may never be more male than female Equity contracts. In addition, we will portray womenâs voices and strengths as equal to menâs. In the process of doing so we hope to educate and influence the public, and the theatre community at large, to the need for more âbalance on the boardsâ.