A photograph of a midnight black, calm ocean. Above, the sky is a dark blue and is filled with smoky grey storm clouds. In the centre of the cloud cluster, a hopeful spot of sunshine peeks through.

PLEDGE Project at 5 Years:

CATR Panel Presentation about Gender Parity in Canadian Theatre Programs

Thursday, July 8, 2021 | 13:30 - 15:00


Live discussion on Zoom; spoken in English. No ASL interpretation or translation will be offered for this event. 

Join Now in Room E

The pandemic crisis brought existing inequities in post-secondary education into further relief. One of the most persistent in our field is a lack of gender parity, as documented by multiple reports (Fraticelli 1982; Burton 2006; MacArthur 2015). These studies inspired a 2016 analysis of Canadian theatre schools, which returned the stark finding that 18% of mainstage productions in Canadian post-secondary theatre programs are written by women (Hanson and Elser 2016). For Indigenous women, Black women, women of colour, trans, and gender non-conforming folks, the numbers are much lower.

Propelled by this finding, Rebecca Burton and Barry Freeman founded PLEDGE; a “Production Listing to Enhance Diversity and Gender Equity.” The primary aim is to move the needle on gender parity with plays produced by theatre schools. Working with a team consisting of web designer and theatre artist Mariel Marshall (Bluemouth Inc) and various research assistants and coordinators, PLEDGE has been working on two parallel efforts: 1) the creation and promotion of a filterable, open-access database of large-cast plays by Canadian women, and 2) encouraging educators to make a 'pledge' to improve equity on behalf of their programs by producing PLEDGE play(s). The database of large-cast plays (6 characters or greater) now houses 420 play entries.

For this roundtable, the Pledge team will share brief comments about their investments and learning in the project. With the discussion that follows, we hope to gain feedback on how we can continue to develop and diversify PLEDGE in ways that will enhance its impact.


Rebecca Burton is the Membership and Contracts Manager at the Playwrights Guild of Canada (PGC), as well as the co-founder of Equity in Theatre (2014 - 2017). She is the author of the 2006 report, “Adding it Up: The Status of Women in Canadian Theatre,” the Editor of Long Story Short: A (Mostly) Ten-Minute Play Anthology, and she has published in many journals, most recently receiving honourable mention for CATR’s 2020 Richard Plant Prize for her alt.theatre article, “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Here and Now – Part One: Playwrights Guild of Canada and its Women’s Caucus.”

Barry Freeman is Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Centre for Drama, Theatre & Performance Studies, and currently Chair of UTSC’s Arts, Culture & Media Department. He is the author of Staging Strangers: Theatre & Global Ethics, co-editor of In Defence of Theatre: Aesthetic Practices and Social Interventions, Associate Editor of Canadian Theatre Review, and lead on a new multi-year research project into the state and future of post-secondary theatre education in Canada, Belongings: Reimagining a Liberal Arts Theatre Education in Canada.

Alexa Elser is an Alberta-based theatre artist, educator, and researcher, working as a coordinator on the PLEDGE Project since 2017. While completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Lethbridge, she was a 2015 recipient of the Chinook Summer Research Award and the 2016 recipient of the Faculty of Fine Arts Academic Gold Medal. Her work in equity and diversity research has been published in Canadian Theatre Review and alt.theatre.