A 2021 survey of Local 802, the New York musicians union, revealed that only 29% of its membership is female and of that, only 22% of female-identifying musicians are working on Broadway. Even without statistics composer-lyricist and music director Georgia Stitt knew that women in the music theatre industry were grossly underrepresented. After struggling to hire an all-female band for the 2017 Off-Broadway production of Sweet Charity, Stitt formed Maestra Music to bring visibility and support to the many women and nonbinary musicians ready to work in musical theatre.
The Maestra Music membership is made up of composers, music directors, orchestrators, arrangers, copyists, rehearsal pianists, and other musicians who are an underrepresented minority in musical theatre. With initiatives including educational seminars, mentorship programs, technical skills workshops, and networking events, the non-profit organization aims to promote equality of opportunity and to address the many historical disadvantages and practices that have limited women and nonbinary composers and musicians working in musical theatre.
Amplify 2022, Maestra's second annual concert event, is set for March 28 at New York City's (Le) Poisson Rouge. Maestra board member and Tony nominee Kate Baldwin will host the concert, featuring performances from Jessica Vosk, Mikaela Bennett, Bonnie Milligan, Michael Maliakel, Darius de Haas, Grace McLean, Elizabeth Stanley, Heidi Blickenstaff, Bryonha Marie Parham, Lourds Lane, and Kennedy Caughell.
Ahead of Amplify, Playbill spoke with Stitt about how Maestra is working to close the gender gap in musicians working on Broadway and how theatres and theatregoers can help. Read the Q&A below.
What’s the most important step you’re taking for gender parity in the industry?
Maestra's mission statement divides our work into three areas: Support, Visibility, and Community. Though all three categories are important, right now in this moment in our industry I think VISIBILITY is the most important. When I started Maestra, it was in response to this comment I heard over and over that people wanted to hire more women but they just couldn’t find them. Maybe they knew one female composer or one female conductor, and if that woman wasn’t available, oh well… they tried. My response was that we had to make it easier for our members to be found. At www.maestramusic.org we built a Directory where over a thousand women around the world who are qualified to work in theatrical music departments now have profile pages about themselves and their work. We use our social media to amplify these women's voices, to make them visible both to the industry and to each other.
What would full gender parity in theatre look like and what impact would it have?
I’ve recently been trying to imagine what it would feel like if the population inside a Broadway theatre looked like the population outside. I think about all of the people who come to visit New York City and spend their time in the midtown blocks between 34th and 59th streets but never step inside a theatre. They don’t believe the theatre is available to them, perhaps because they don’t see themselves in it. The goal to me looks like this: women are included in leadership in every department, and people of different cultures are brought onto projects at every level not to correct an imbalance but because their voices and experiences are truly valued. The impact would be enormous. We have a female music director in Maestra who tells a story about how she put her music down on the piano one evening right before a show, and an audience member leaned over and asked her, “Are you filling in for someone today?” Full gender parity means that a woman like that doesn’t have to justify her position in the room, because it is not unusual for her to be there in the first place.
How has the landscape changed for women in the time since your organization was founded?
The thing I feel the most is that there is a community where there wasn’t one before. Ask anyone in Maestra to recommend a skilled female musician and she could list about twenty. That network definitely didn’t exist five years ago. Since Maestra began, I’ve seen the launch of Women’s Day on Broadway, the Broadway Women’s Alliance, the Broadway Sinfonietta, MUSE (Musicians United for Social Equity), Black Theatre United, She Is The Music, Girls Who Conduct, the Counting Together initiative at the Dramatists Guild, and several other groups advocating for racial and gender equity in the theatre. In 2016 Missy Mazzoli and Ellen Reid at the Kaufman Center launched the Luna Composition Lab for female composers, and in 2018 the Metropolitan Opera commissioned its first two female composers since its founding in 1883. Things are changing because so many people are working on these parity issues from so many different directions.
Do you have a call to action for theatregoers? What about for theatre companies?
Sure, but it’s hard: it’s about behavior, not just belief. For the very first concert I produced showcasing women composers, years and years ago, I hired an all-male band. My default was just to hire my guys. They’re great players; I love them. But I had to check my own internal biases and think about who I wasn’t hiring who would really have benefitted from being part of this event. I’m raising two daughters and I ask them all the time, “Where is your power in this moment?” When you start to recognize it, then you can claim it. Your power as a theatregoer is that you can purchase tickets differently, or if you run a theatre company, you can program a different kind of season or take a risk on a talented voice who hasn’t already proven herself somewhere else. We have to stop waiting for someone else to fix the things we know are broken.
How do you see the role of your organization regarding gender-intersecting identities like race and sexuality?
Inclusivity has to be intersectional or it isn’t whole. At Maestra, we have three foundational committees: Development, Programming, and DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access). Every major decision we make gets vetted across all three categories, and we lean on community partners and members of our Board and Advisory Board to help us navigate spaces and conversations that might be difficult for us to have without greater context. We have regular ongoing race and gender training for our various teams because this work is rife with complications. But at the core, we are committed to providing support, visibility, and community for the women, non-binary, and TGNC musicians who make the music in the music theatre, and in order to do that well, we have to keep listening to and advocating for our members—all of them.
For tickets to Amplify 2022, or to read more about the organization, visit MaestraMusic.org.