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'The Lifespan of a Fact' boasts first all-female design team on Broadway

The show, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale, is directed by Leigh Silverman.

"The Lifespan of a Fact" at Roundabout Theatre

"The Lifespan of a Fact" at Roundabout Theatre Company is home to Broadway's first-ever all-female design team. Photo Credit: AMNY/Colter Hettich

The star-drenched marquee for “The Lifespan of a Fact” is only one of the reasons this new Broadway show, which opened Thursday, is attracting a lot of attention.

It marks the first time a Broadway production is using an all-female design team.

While plays and musicals have previously featured women in charge of lyrics and music and other key roles on the creative team, this is the first time they are helming sound, costumes, scenery, lighting and projection design.

Experts said it’s an important step forward in an industry where men still dominate vital backstage jobs.

“This is extremely significant,” said Julia Jordan, a playwright and screenwriter and vice president of the Lilly Awards Foundation, which honors women in the field and tracks female-written productions. "There has definitely been a shift in people consciously wanting to address why their teams were all male.”

Jordan pointed out that “Gloria: A Life,” the new Off-Broadway play about feminist icon Gloria Steinem, also opened Thursday with a cast and crew that is almost entirely female.

“Research shows when the writers and directors of shows are female, other jobs come along with it,” she said.

“The Lifespan of a Fact” examines how a fact-checker, editor and writer respond to a questionable article and stars Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale. It runs through Jan. 13.

“History Made,” director Leigh Silverman said in an Instagram post from September that featured a photo of herself with Mimi Lien (scenic design), Linda Cho (costume design), Jen Schriever (lighting design), Palmer Hefferan (sound design) and Lucy Mackinnon (projection design).

Kelli Lynn Harrison, co-president of the League of Professional Theatre Women, praised Silverman for selecting women with strong and varied backgrounds.

“There is still this trend that women with amazing Broadway credits would get hired but everything else went to the men, no matter what the experience,” she said. “People need to look at and trust women in the pipeline with varying degrees of experience.”

According to statistics from the United Scenic Artists, which represents craftspeople in the industry, 44 percent of their membership is female and 56 percent male, noted Christine Toy Johnson, national chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee for Actors’ Equity Association. But 72 percent of jobs went to men during the past eight years, she said.

“So there are women in the field, there is just a lack of parity in hiring," Johnson, who is also national chair of the Dramatists Guild of America’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, told amNewYork in an email. “This is an industrywide issue and I think it is hugely significant that 'The Lifespan of a Fact' has the first all-female design team on Broadway, not because female designers don’t exist, but because they are not routinely getting the opportunities to be hired.”

Production Pro, an entertainment technology company, looked at Broadway productions from June 2017 through April 2018 and found up just 20 percent of set designers, 19 percent of lighting designers and 4 percent of sound designers were female.

It also found 67 percent of makeup designers were female and 54 percent of costume designers were female.

Jordan said national efforts to boost STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — skills and interests among young women also are key to getting more of them in those jobs.

The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment has launched several initiatives in recent years to get more women involved in every aspect of the film, television and theater industries.

“This show is setting an example and leveling the playing field for creatives in the theatre world,” Julie Menin, commissioner of the agency, said about “Lifespan of a Fact.” “This kind of ingenuity aligns perfectly with our office’s mission — to elevate the role of women in the entertainment industry.”

Jordan said Silverman also took the extraordinary step of providing special rooms where members of the team could visit and help care for their young children. Some of the women had recently become moms and needed to take breaks to nurse their infants and pump breast milk.

She said that was key during the final weeks of show preparation, which can come with 20-hour workdays.

“There are demands on women,” she said. “Our culture needs to get their heads wrapped around evening out the demands on parents.”

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