Kilroy Was Here

Changing the Landscape of the American Theater… Forever

The Kilroys at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

“In some ways, I think it’s important that the founding Kilroys don’t have a vision for what success will look like for the next generation…“ writes Meg Miroshnik, award-winning playwright and member of the infamous collective of Gender Parity Warriors, the Kilroys. “We want to be surprised. We’re not looking for assistants to execute our vision, we’re seeking out independent activists who will see through our blind spots and dream bigger than we would [have] ever thought possible.”

In 2013, a group of playwright activists (wearing many additional hats – TV and video game writers, filmmakers, performers, dramaturgs, agents, literary associates, strategists, librettists, novelists, producers, etc.) banded together to create a brand and force actively working towards gender parity with an abundance mentality in the national theatre scene. The Kilroys exemplify the power of grassroots action – of communion based in savvy know-how and commitment effecting positive change with radical joy. Since their inception five years ago, the Kilroys have built structures (the list, The Cake Drop), and an explosive viral brand that they are now passing on to a “new group of activists” based in and around southern California.

The current members of the Kilroys– Zakiyyah Alexander, Bekah Brunstetter, Sheila Callaghan, Carla Ching, Annah Feinberg, Sarah Gubbins, Laura Jacqmin, Joy Meads, Kelly Miller, Meg Miroshnik, Daria Polatin, Tanya Saracho, and Marisa Wegrzyn — are legendary, and are now moving to pass the baton. This is part of enacting their inclusive and forward-facing concept of evolving the national theatre landscape. Though the members are working collectively to effect change, they emphasize that the Kilroys are more an ideology than an organization. They are careful to emphasize, in Zakiyah Alexander’s words, that the Kilroys “are not and will never be an institution.” In a conversation at the 42nd annual Humana Festival, Alexander, Meads, Miller, and Miroshnik specifically invited the audience to refocus their lens when it comes to supporting work by women. They also offered tools for improving collective action in the theatre community – promoting and demanding work by female and trans bodies onstage and off. While guerilla tactics like these do not have easily quantifiable results, their impact is often more expansive and profound than their more highly mechanized institutional counterparts.

One of the most powerful tools the Kilroys have compiled is “the List.” The list includes results of a national survey of un- or underproduced plays by female and trans playwrights, and serves as a tool for “ending the systemic underrepresentation of female and trans playwrights in the American Theatre.” There is data that over 27 of the original 49 plays on the list were produced, that multiple schools have created classes and curriculum based on The List, and that there was heightened interest by producers, agents and national theatre institutions in playwrights whose plays were and are included as a part of The List. For example, exceptional work like Bekah Brunsetter’s “The Cake” and Rachel Bonds’ “Curve of Departure” featured on The List were produced right here in southern California, and have since begun to take over the national theatre scene with productions across the country.

How can readers support and/or get involved with the Kilroy’s mission?

“We think there are really easy, tangible things that anyone who cares about representation in theater can do” says Miroshnik. “Buy tickets to plays by women and trans writers! There’s a perception out there that producing work by anyone other than a cis white man is risky. Counteract that assumption with ticket sales! Send feedback to local theaters. Reward theaters producing equitable seasons with positive messages. Theater staff and administrators tell us that they receive relatively few messages about programming from audience members. A single email or social media post can hold great weight.”

We must continue to hold our theatres accountable in the central coast – from celebrating productions to writing our artistic directors and leaders about the work we hope to see on our stages. Are there other ways to make new work by trans/female writers and makers visible in our community?

In response, Miroshnik continues. “Frequent a bookstore. Request that they stock more plays by women and trans writers. Donate copies of plays by women and trans writers to your favorite school or library.” Need help thinking of titles? The Kilroys have one anthology out and another on the way. Miroshnik adds that, “if you’re affiliated with a school or training program, keep in touch. We’ve talked to alumni recently who check in on the seasons at their universities and push them for parity in programming. It helps those institutions to understand that people are paying attention.”

Let’s get involved with and keep on the look out for the Kilroys’ mark on the national theatre landscape. It is time to push brilliant work by women and trans artists onto the stage on our central coast home turf.

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