Glasgow’s Shame

I am a volunteer tutor in English for Speakers of other Languages – also known as ESOL- and supported brilliantly by Glasgow ESOL Forum. For the last three months I have been working with a young man who fled here a decade ago from persecution in his own country. Let’s call him Adam. I do not know his full story—it is not my role to uncover uncomfortable truths from his past. We are working on his future. But there is a lot I do know because, well, I can’t avoid it.

At some point after Adam arrived here, he was savagely attacked and sustained multiple injuries. This has resulted in him being seriously visually impaired, with hearing difficulties, has problems with speaking and is confined to a wheelchair. He also suffers from vertigo and, it appears, some brain damage. He is, to all intents and purposes, housebound. The ESOL Forum does not normally support volunteers to go to learners’ homes – too risky. However Adam receives two 2- hour sessions a week of support from the Glasgow Association for Mental Health (GAMH). It is during one of those sessions that I go to his flat and work with him on his English. Without GAMH he would not receive any support at all in English nor in a range of other aspects of his life with which he requires help – from ordering shopping online to help going to the polling station- which he did for the first time on 18 September.

I have just read that Glasgow City Council has voted to slash GAMH’s funding by 40% and I could cry. But this is Adam’s story and not mine.

Uneducated in his country of birth, Adam can speak and understand Farsi, but the only language he can read and write is English. He also lacks numeracy skills. However he is a very intelligent man and someone who wants to learn and is particularly keen to understand the building blocks of the English language through understanding its grammar and also get a grasp of how numbers work. I bought him an abacus and once I showed him how it worked, he exclaimed ‘genius!’. It is a struggle given his complex health problems and his disability but teaching him is not a chore but a joy. He has ambitions to improve his language and numeracy skills to the level where he can study further. He is fascinated by science and medicine- possibly because he has spent quite a lot of time in hospitals with doctors and health workers. He is also a philosopher and an observer of life in his beloved Scotland – even from his wheelchair in his living room. He recently told me:

‘I love to mix with people who are well educated and positive. Before I met the wrong people and I thought all people same. But they are different. Human life is very short and you must live with good people.’

By ‘good people’ he means me and the ESOL Forum, his carers who come in four times a day, his friends from the local church and above all the workers from GAMH who help him navigate through life.

I have no idea what impact this decision will have on Adam but what I am pretty sure about that it is unlikely he will receive the additional hours that his support worker has said he badly needs. Adam I know is not alone in requiring and valuing the support of GAMH. But he is the one I know about and his story is one which should shame anyone who believes that this wonderful charity should be cut.

This is not a decision taken by a UK agency. This is not another heartless squeeze on people with disabilities by Westminster. This is not a Scottish Government decision. This is an attack on the most vulnerable in our city taken by our own city council. These are not Adam’s ‘good people’.

Women in Theatre Scotland – Where next?

Thanks to all who came along to the Traverse on 26th September to discuss this issue.  As said at the time, the response to the event was overwhelming.  I also want to thank those who could not make it along but who before and after the event made a special effort to talk to me about this is question and express their support for any action.  You are part of this too. Attached are the contributions from the three speakers and notes on the discussion which followed.

The key question now is where next?  A few of us kicked this off, but this does not imply that we have all the answers – nor that this is a centrally run campaign.  Our intention was to raise the issue and see where it took us.  Nevertheless, if there is to be change, it is helpful if there is some kind of coordination and the circulation of this report on proceedings is a contribution towards that.  I am happy to continue to circulate information and provide a space for people to share ideas.

It was sheer serendipity which saw this event followed up by a week of theatre at the Tron under the title ‘Reclaim the F Word’ and many congratulations to Julia Taudevin for putting together a great platform and presenting such an interesting range of work.

Meanwhile there is a Facebook page established by writers – Feminist Scottish Theatres Network –and Nicola McCartney, Chair of the Scottish Society of Playwrights has posted:

The women playwrights have been meeting together for a while to chat about this issue. We have come up with an idea that we try to organise some sort of theatre industry forum event in early December this year to facilitate a discussion on the way forward. Possibly followed by a direct action day around International Women’s day in March. What do you think?

There were several issues that I am happy to coordinate and to take the lead. The issue of data is central to making the case and I will be working with others in lobbying both Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government.  I am also interested in building alliances across artforms- this is not an issue which is just relevant to theatre.  All support on these welcome!

Finally thanks to Equity, Federation of Scottish Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio Scotland,  Scottish Society of Playwrights for supporting the event; to the Traverse for giving the space and to their staff for being so helpful; and to Jon Morgan for taking notes.

Thanks are also due to Max Beckmann from Equity and Blandine Pélissier from H/F Network, France, to Anne Withers Tradeecosse who was on hand to help with translation for Blandine and to Sheena McDonald for her expert chairing.

Christine Hamilton


Women in Theatre Scotland- Where Next? Speakers’ contributions and notes from the discussion

Max Beckmann,  Equality Organiser, Equity

Women in Theatre:  Traverse Theatre 

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you tonight.   I’ve been asked to talk to you about three areas:

  • What Equity does to promote the employment of women in theatre
  • What we are currently focusing on in this work
  • And about how the Public Sector Equality Duty applies to theatre

Before I start, for those of you who don’t know who we are and what we do, Equity is the UK trade union representing 37,000 performers working throughout film, television, theatre, the music industry and the live arts.  Our membership includes actors, dancers, singers, television and radio presenters, models, variety acts, theatre directors, stunt performers and other creative professionals.

Equity’s membership is evenly split between the sexes overall and the leadership of the union includes a female General Secretary, Christine Payne, and two female Vice Presidents, Jean Rogers and Natasha Gerson.  Our work on women’s Equality is also led by our Women’s Committee which is made up of of nine female Equity members who are elected to represent the interests of our female membership.

So, what has Equity done to promote the employment of its female members over recent years?

For a good number of years we concentrated on research to inform our awareness raising and campaigning work.  Our research has involved working with academics and undertaking it ourselves.

And I want to give you a brief overview of these two areas of research:

In the early 1990s Equity’s Women’s Committee worked closely with the academic Dr. Helen Thomas who produced two research reports on the subject of gender, one looking at the position of women in the recorded media and the other the position of women and pay, both in recorded media and the theatre.  Helen found that women:

  • worked less than men across cinema, television, radio commercials and theatre;
  • played fewer different types of roles than men,
  • had shorter careers than men.
  • earned less than men and significantly less than men in TV;

More recently, members of Equity’s Women’s Committee raised the subject of women’s disadvantage at meetings of FIA (the International Federation of Actors) and this resulted in a pan-European Steering Group being set up to look into the subject of women’s equality. Funding was secured from the European Commission to undertake a piece Europe-wide research on the employment situation of women performers, with a specific reference to both aging and to portrayal.  The research was carried out by Dr. Debroah Dean from Warwick University and her key findings were these, in summary:

  • Female performers have shorter careers than men;
  • 26% of men see ageing as an advantage in relation to pay, compared to just 3% of women;
  • 49% of women perceive ageing to be a disadvantage, compared to just 9% of men
  • A greater proportion of women fall into the lowest income groups of performers (38% earning less than £6k compared to 24% of men); and
  • Women represent a small proportion of high earning performers (0.1% earning over £60K compared to 4% of men);

So moving on to look at our own research, in 2011 Equity’s Women’s Committee undertook an audit of roles for women in a selection of subsidised theatres in England based on published cast lists. Of the 36 theatres surveyed only one, the Manchester Royal Exchange, appeared to have employed more female than male performers.  A further five, the Royal Court, Soho Theatre, Bristol Old Vic, Keswick Theatre by the Lake and Northampton Theatre Royal, had cast slightly more men than women.  In the remaining 30 theatres roles for men significantly outweighed those for women.

Because this research had been compiled from published sources only and we couldn’t be certain of its accuracy, we then wrote to all 36 theatres asking them to check the figures and to discuss with Equity the lack of roles for women.  Only eight theatres responded.

We did manage to extract statistics on women’s performer employment from the National Theatre.   Nicholas Hynter explained in his correspondence to us that “Whilst we support the Equity Women’s Committee campaign and endeavour to increase the number of female actors appearing on our stages each year, our casting is inevitably dictated by canon.  But although we can never achieve a gender balance in some areas of the repertoire – Shakespeare being a good example – we do strive to feature work which is more representative.” And he offered up the following figures:

In 2008-2009 the National employed 93 female actors and 185 male actors. For 2009-2010 these figures were 76 female to 152 male actors and for 2010-2011 they were 127 female to 200 male actors.

And last year we undertook some elementary research into the professional acting opportunities for men and women in two producing theatres in Scotland over the last twenty years.  What we have found is that for every five opportunities for men, there are only three opportunities for women.  This is slightly better than the 2:1 ratio in England but what’s alarming from the data we’ve collected is that the situation appears to have been getting worse for women in the two Scottish theatres we looked.  Looking at five sets of data over the twenty year period, 62% of roles went to men and 38% to women.  But if we look at the situation in 2012, 70% of roles went to men and 30% to women in these two theatres.

So, a clear and consistent picture of the disadvantage experienced by women performers has emerged from both the academic research and our own research.  So what then have we done about it?

Well we’ve made sure that over the last few years the subject of women’s employment is rarely out of the press.  Whenever we undertake research we put it in the public domain and generate as much press attention and publicity as possible around it.  Jean and members of our Women’s Committee and leading Equity women including, for example, Harriet Walter, Ann Mitchell and Maggie Steed have all probably lost count of how many interviews they’ve given to the press over the last few years about the lack of work available for women performers and particularly older women performers. And we do feel this is having an impact.  It helps keep the pressure on theatres to deliver change.

We concentrate on making sure that employers and the theatre establishment can’t possibly claim to be ignorant of the fact that the industry is characterized by significant discrimination against women in access to work and we challenge them to do something about it. We make sure that we regularly raise the subject of women’s employment with employers and we ask them questions about their record on gender.  We also draw their attention to the findings of, and the recommendations arising, from the research, such as the Good Practice Handbook put together by FIA.

We keep the subject of women’s equality very much on the agenda by organising meetings of women performers, speaking at conferences and panel debates.

A couple of years ago we organized a petition which called for the equal representation of women in Film and Television drama and we managed to get over 10,000 people to sign it. It was primarily an online petition but Equity members also stood outside of theatres gathering hundreds of signatures from members of the audience and we’ve used this support in our negotiations with employers and in our representations with the politicians.

We have also built solidarity with other trade unions, particularly our sister entertainment unions and we form links with and support the work of organisations such as Sphinx Theatre Company, Women in Film and Television, and organisations that campaign on the subject of women’s portrayal such as the Fawcett Society and UK Feminista.

And when groups of our female members feel particularly aggrieved by the inaction of individual theatres on women’s equality, our members are not afraid to take a more direct action type approach to campaigning, as happened last year in North West London in respect of Hampstead Theatre’s record on roles for women. Hampstead had staged a number of plays which delivered 80% or more roles for men and it then concluded its season with the all-male company Propeller performing Henry V and The Winter’s Tale.  Women performers living near the theatre felt they were being denied the opportunity to work at their local theatre and they made sure that both the local and national press knew about this situation and asked questions of Hampstead about its choice of programming and how it was spending public money.  As a result Hampstead was forced to issue a statement and publish its own statistics on women’s employment on its website.

So moving on to the current focus of our work, it’s very much on the Public Sector Equality Duty and the area of legal compliance.

So what is the Public Sector Equality Duty?  It’s a legal duty set out in the Equality Act 2010, the Equality Act being the law that protects people with, what are called protected characteristics, such as race, sex or disability, from discrimination.  The Equality Duty which is set out in the Equality Act applies to all public authorities and this includes Arts Council England and Creative Scotland.

Amongst other things the Equality Duty sets out that in exercising their functions public authorities must have what’s called ‘due regard’ to the need to:

  • Eliminate discrimination; and
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and those who do not; such as between men and women

What this means is that both Arts Council England and Creative Scotland must consciously consider how they can eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity between men and women in their decision-making processes, and that includes when they are making decisions about funding processes.  They need to be taking steps to remove or minimize the disadvantage experienced by women in theatre in order to comply with the duty.

The existence of the Equality duty provides us with a legal mechanism to hold Arts Council England and Creative Scotland to account if necessary, in a way that we are unable to do with individual theatres themselves.

We have been using the Equality Duty in our meetings and correspondence with Arts Council England on the subject of gender equality and we have clarified the basis on which we think Arts Council England should be meeting its equality duty in respect of women’s performer employment.

We have made it clear to Arts Council England that we think it’s not enough for it to rely on a policy that seeks to achieve

  • greater diversity of arts engagement;
  • an increase in the numbers of women who sit on boards or in other senior leadership positions in arts organisations; or
  • an increase in the numbers of female staff employed by theatres;

Initiatives to deliver all of these things are obviously incredibly important but we say that Arts Council England also needs to be taking tangible action to address the under-representation of women on our stages.

Arts Council England already considers the potential contribution made by arts organisations to race and disability equality as part of its funding process, so why doesn’t it do this with reference to gender?  Why is no consideration given to advancing gender equality on stage?

Arts Council England already collects large amounts of data from funded organisations about the protected characteristics of the people who run arts organisations or who are employed by them, so why doesn’t it require these organsiations to provide data on those who are actually employed on stage?

We have been calling on the Arts Council England to do this, to monitor on- stage employment by gender and by actor weeks.  Surely organisations in receipt of large sums of public money should be required at the very least to know how many jobs are being created on their stages for both men and for women as a result of the decisions and choices they are making.  Monitoring would expose the imbalance of roles for women and men and focus minds on addressing it.

Our dialogue with Arts Council England on the Equality Duty is continuing and it’s our intention to have a similar conversation with Creative Scotland about its compliance with the Equality Duty. We want to engage in dialogue with Creative Scotland about how it’s using the Equality Duty to address the under-representation of women on Scottish stages.  Here in Scotland public authorities are also under a specific legal duty to equality impact assess their policies and practices.  How is Creative Scotland doing this when it comes to performer employment?

We fully accept that advancing gender equality in the theatre is very different to advancing it in other occupations.  The artistic nature of what theatre does makes it particularly complex but it’s not impossible.

Our message to all those who are engaged in the making of theatre is this, if you are serious about advancing gender equality make a public commitment to it and formulate an action plan on how you will deliver it.  Make yourselves aware of the findings of the research and the recommendations that have come out of it.

  • Get more women onto your boards and into positions of artistic leadership. As Elizabeth Freestone’s research has shown, this does make a difference.
  • Review how your artistic policy impacts on women performers;
  • Invest in new writing and commission more women writers;
  • Employ more female directors;
  • Look at how the Tricycle’s season of plays “Women, Power and Politics” delivered so many roles for women and consider how your programming does this or could do this;
  • Think of innovative ways your theatre can help address the underemployment of women on stage.  This might involve asking Phyllida Lloyd to direct an all-female Julius Caesar, as the Donmar Warehouse as did, or reviving three major female roles from Jacobean drama, as Eric Whyman has chosen to do at the RSC.
  • Make gender the determining factor in some decisions you take;
  • Support Equity’s My Theatre Matters campaign and our fight against the Arts Cuts.  Theatre is the bedrock that supports many female performers throughout their careers, particularly theatre that invests in new writing by female writers.  We need to fight the funding cuts that will hit women performers hard as companies will look to revive old plays and content rather than invest and take risks with new material.
  • And to wind-up, whilst we clearly need to celebrate the fact that more women are breaking through to run our theatres we still need to look at whether or not theatre is a female friendly environment.  We need some in-depth analysis which looks at issues such as recruitment and career development, the working hours that are expected, workplace culture and issues relating to pregnancy, maternity and childcare.  This type of analysis might help us better understand how to really tackle the whole area of women’s equality in theatre going forward.

Max Beckmann

Blandine Pélissier, founding member of the H/F association for gender equality in culture in France 

In France, it all started in 2005 when the then Minister of culture got concerned by the fact that he seemed to be surrounded by men only in meetings regarding arts. He commissioned Reine Prat, a high civil servant, to do a qualitative and quantitative research on gender equality in the performing arts. The first report was issued in July 2006 and made the headlines of journal Le Monde. It felt like a bomb going off in the art world where it is hugely taken for granted that it is avant-garde and progressive, as it clearly showed a massive gender imbalance regarding top positions as well as programming or production means.

Some key figures from this report :

18% of the top managers in cultural administration were women (less than in the Army)
4% of directors of Opera houses were women
9% of directors managing CDN (National Theatre Centers) were women
0% of directors leading the five National Theatres were women
30% of directors leading CCN (National Choreographic Centers) were women

This under-representation has a direct impact on employment, especially for female writers, stage directors and conductors.

15% of shows performed on stage are written by women
25% of shows are directed by women
5% of concerts are conducted by women
13% of technicians are women

Despite Reine Prat’s report, nothing was done on a political level, except quickly appointing 2 women at the head of Comédie Française and another of the 5 National Theatre..A second report confirming the findings of the first one was issued in 2009. But Nicolas Sarkozy had been elected in the meantime and gender equality in the arts was the least of his concerns. The report was put in a drawer and not even published.

Meanwhile, a group of people from the performing arts, mostly women but not only, got together in Lyon in 2008 : they aimed to raise awareness of these reports so the relevant authorities could not ignore them. They started off by organizing events just like this one. Women who attended realized that their relative lack of success, compared to their male peers, could not just be attributed to their lack of talent but that there was something else going on. It was a comfort… or not, depending how you look at it! They were clearly not being given the same chances. This explains why, even with a majority of female students in art classes, we see them “evaporate” as soon as they come out of school. Besides, we find the same glass ceiling effect that is vastly documented in the corporate world.

From then on, the HF movement spread region by region. It is now established in 14 of 22 of  the regions in Metropolitan France. It is currently structured as an inter-regional Federation and it has a strong lobbying impact. It has been working hand in hand with the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of the Women’s Rights that president François Hollande re-established after years of non-existence.

Until recently, the public bodies responsible for appointing theatre directors insisted that there were not enough women to choose from. By refusing to question the reasons for such limited female options, they actually played a part in perpetuating this state of affairs.

In May 2012, new President François Hollande formed a government with as many women than men and repeatedly stated his commitment to achieving equality within the lifetime of his presidency. We, at H/F, believe that rules regarding equality in politics must also apply to the arts. Hence our insistence that measures should be taken as soon as possible in order to encourage the appointment of women to top positions in the arts.

A few of our actions :

–       We have been organizing debates in our own regions but also during  the Avignon festival, the major theatre festival in France

–       We participate in a number of forums, symposiums etc. whenever we are invited

–       We lobby and are in touch with other feminists associations (amongst them the feminist activist group La Barbe who initiated actions for example during Festival de Cannes 2012 and at the presentation of season of Théâtre de l’Odeon in 2012 (0% of female playwrights and directors): )

–       We sit down at the table with professional bodies like the SACD (Authors Society), CNT (Centre National du Théâtre), unions, ministries and local authorities, asking for data and studies. For example we have been working with the SACD since the beginning and for the second year, we co-produce this brochure called “Où sont les femmes?” (Where are the Women?) to highlight the percentage of women playwrights, directors, choreographers and so on in the main subsidized institutions ( ).

–       We gather our own data and studies to establish a resource center

–       We use communication tools (like videos or sound objects, fb pages, twitter and a tumblr – )

–       We develop partnerships with universities holding a gender studies department

–       We encourage theatres to join the Saisons Egalité. HF gets things moving on a local scale by inviting theatres to commit  to a policy of gender equality  both in terms of programming and of producing, and in their governance (with equal pay for ex and a greater gender mix within the teams). Those theatres also commit to “spreading the word” in their season‘s brochure.

We also wrote down a Manifesto calling upon public bodies to promote equality in the following ways:

– re-instigating the collection of statistics regarding gender inequalities

– promoting female/male equality in all official communications and policies

– enforcing existing laws on professional equality

– promoting the use of anonymity of applications whenever it is possible. For ex, it’s the use of screened-off auditions for recruiting orchestra musicians which has helped women join orchestras

– making symbolic gestures like the admission of women in the Pantheon. The Pantheon is the monument where Great Men who served France in different ways are buried; it currently houses only two women, Marie Curie and another woman who is only there because she was such a good wife she must be buried next to her husband!

In short, we demand the implementation of a voluntary policy in order to drastically reduce the gender imbalance in every field, as recommended by the European Parliament resolution of 10 March 2009 on equality of treatment and access for men and women in the performing arts.

We have had a few successes so far.

A “gender equality research institute” was set up within the Ministry of Culture to collect data  (for ex, we are expecting a study on the movie and tv business in November).

A high civil servant has been appointed specifically to be in charge of gender matters at the Ministry of Culture.

Short lists for top positions as head of theatres or operas or choreographic centers are now shorter, and composed of 2 males and 2 females.

A law on women’s rights is currently being discussed in which there was originally nothing regarding the arts. With the help of the Senate delegation for women’s rights, we had the Senate vote an amendment to include artistic and intellectual production in the law.  It was of great symbolic importance to us that the word “Culture” be spelt out in this law.

To conclude, I would like to say that the distribution of public money must embrace all audiences. Artistic projects should be many and broad. A biased cultural output can only produce a narrow-minded and unbalanced society.

Blandine Pélissier

Christine Hamilton, Consultant

What’s the problem?

In May I was invited to speak at a conference in Lyon organised by Blandine Pellisier and her colleagues in the H/F network. For this, I went back through my personal archive and found material/research prepared over the past four decades- mainly, but not exclusively, in theatre and performing arts:

  • In the 1980s— I was involved in campaigns on women in the arts.  This work originated from the Labour Party and the publication in 1987 Missing Culture.  I was working with the trades unions in Scotland at the time and organised a campaign and a conference on this in 1989. Our concern then was that the exclusion of women was not simply an issue of jobs but also affected the very roots of our culture.
  • In the 1990s I was working at the Scottish Arts Council.  We introduced a policy that all organisations that received public funding, monitored their activity and produced figures on equal opportunities.  In 1996 we analysed these figures in a major review which highlighted continuing inequalities facing women in positions of influence and power across the arts. This led to the development of policies in that area.
  • In the first decade of the new millennium, I undertook a review of training in theatre directing in Scotland where I observed that it appeared that you had to be a man to run a theatre in Scotland. Part of the recommendations on training was to create a greater diversity in leadership.
  • More recently, I led the theatre review for Creative Scotland, We uncovered the absence of monitoring of equal opportunities policies within the theatres which received public funding.   Nearly 50% of those surveyed did not bother to monitor. Creative Scotland itself took no steps to gather data nor monitor the application of these policies.  This means that there are no current data available on the number of plays by women which are produced, nor on job opportunities for women directors and designers in theatre in Scotland.  This takes us back before 1990s.

So the title for my talk in Lyon was, not surprisingly, ‘Feminism is like housework you have to re-visit it every ten years’[1].   And I am pleased to say there is a similar phrase in French. Which appeared in the publication Causette in 2010:  «Le féminisme, c’est comme le ménage, si on ne s’y colle pas régulièrement, on finit par s’habituer à la crasse. »  ‘Feminism is like housework: if you don’t get down to it regularly, you end up getting used to the dirt.’

For today’s event, I could be reading a paper I prepared at the end of the 1980s and apart from updating the statistics slightly and making some of the references more contemporary, nothing has changed. The conclusions are just the same.

However I had a look behind the data to see if there were any shifts in what is happening, any victories won, and clues about how we might continue to tackle this issue.

To find the most detailed recent research in Scotland we need to turn to work done by Stellar Quines, which commissioned research comparing the position of directors, writers, actors, designers and composers in theatre when they were founded in 1993 with the situation in 2009.

Key findings are:

  • The gender balance in a typical theatre season was more female in 2009 than 1993 but in no one category were women represented at a level of 50% or more.  Indeed in only one category (actors) was women’s representation above one third.
  • In general comparable data from UK, European and international sources showed an increase in women represented in theatre across a range of artistic roles.  However the trend in Scotland was slow in comparison and there was evidence that women got more opportunities in the less well funded companies.
  • Governance—the boards of theatres are mainly male.
  • Non- white and women with disabilities struggle with the complexity of their identity and appear to suffer from multiple discrimination. (And I might add —  the identity issue is further complicated in Scotland by a debate around the desirability –or otherwise—of having Scots leading key cultural institutions- however we define that.)

There are other arguments which echo down the decades:

  • The position of women in the arts reflects what is happening elsewhere—for example still in the academic world and in business there are too few women leaders.   I want to return to this broader question later.
  • There is the problem of ‘the canon’– a particular issue in England.  Shakespeare dominates theatre in England. An interesting fact – he created 981 characters of which 826 are male and only 155 female. I love the US initiative ‘On her Shoulders’ which aims to ‘re-load the canon’–  and address this issue of lack of historical examples of women playwrights ‘by familiarizing potential producers and audiences with a neglected legacy of plays– not by women playwrights– but by great playwrights’.
  • In Scotland we have a different issue.  Interestingly there is much less in the way of the established ‘canon’ of work and indeed in an analysis of repertoire over the decades we showed in the review of theatre that new work – and new work created or written in Scotland, is central to theatrical output.  So if women playwrights are not getting their work produced then it is because they are being offered fewer opportunities. But, as I said already, there is a lack of data.
  • There is also the ‘female phenomenon’ –where women are in positions of power, they stand out and everyone thinks the problem is solved.  For example in Scotland we might point to Vicky Featherstone’s tenure as Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland. In response to the information which has gone out on this event, I was contacted by Andy Arnold artistic director of the Tron Theatre who wrote in an email to me which he invited me to share:

‘Of the seven main building based Scottish theatres, four are run by women ­ Rachel (O’Riordan) at Perth Theatre , Orla (O’Loughlin) and Linda (Crooks) at the Traverse Theatre, Jackie (Wylie) at The Arches , and Jemima (Levick) (with Phillip Howard) at Dundee Rep.[2] That just leaves CitzLyceum and The Tron run by men (I currently have Julia Taudevin as Artistic Associate).  The National Theatre of Scotland has been run for the past several years by Vicky (Featherstone), and various leading touring companies are run or co-run by women ­ Vox MotusGrid Iron , Company ChordeliaCora Bisset’s company, Cat Evans’s A Moment’s PeacePoor Boy and more….’

This is both true and great progress. Lack of data means we cannot tell if this is a trend which is sustainable or a blip but Andy does have a good point.  One of the questions it raises with me is ‘Is theatre trail blazing on this issue? (one might say theatre and dance) if so why?

It certainly is not the case that major shifts are happening in music. We only have to point to Marin Alsop’s reaction to being selected to be the first woman to conduct the last night of the Proms.  She expressed

‘shock that there can still be firsts for women in 2013.’

Furthermore, Vicky Featherstone as you know has left to take over the Royal Court in London and has been replaced by a man.  This means not one of Scotland’s national cultural institutions is artistically led by a women- including orchestra, opera, ballet, theatre, the national museums and galleries, the national library of Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival.

What Has To Be Done?

  • We need the data: Creative Scotland in their Equalities Impact Statement has indicated that they are collecting data from this current year. This means that it will be several years before we see any kind of pattern.  We need to get them to act now to go back and do some retrospective data gathering.  We also need to challenge their Equalities Impact Statement which they have a statutory obligation to produce.  It is not good on gender and has all the hallmarks of a box ticking exercise.
  • We need action: Julia Taudevin is curating an exciting week next week at the Tron theatre under the title Reclaim the F Word which features work of women of all ages and stages in their performance and writing career.  Let’s have more of that and where the door is open or at least ajar, let’s get in there.  A Play, A Pie and A Pint, The Arches, here at the Traverse and so on.
  • We need to re-frame the question: The female condition is not the same as the issues facing, for example, non-white artists and audiences in Scotland.   Nor is it the same challenge as working with artists with disabilities or even gay artists.  Robert Softley If these spasms could speak which is touring at the moment, is a brilliant piece of political theatre which has come from the experience of a young gay disabled man- and activist.  And it speaks to a wide audience and should be recognised as such. But it does not ‘represent’ every aspect of discrimination. So while the data gathering might all be wrapped up together for convenience sake, let’s ditch the term diversity and re-cover feminism.  We are not a minority to be catered for, we are the majority who wants to claim its place.
  • We need to critique: I understand the reluctance of many in the arts community to be critical of those who might give them work—but we need ways of feeding back concern on this issue.   It is a really fine balance to be struck between artistic freedom and narrow programming. A play like Black Watch with an all male cast is as important as The Guid Sisters with an all female one. And I am not suggesting we deny one over the other. However I am unashamed about speaking to the Artistic Director at the Citizens’ about his autumn’s season of all male work- and the same could be said about the autumn season at the Lyceum. So much of this is about awareness and we need to keep raising the issue.
  • We need to be inspired by good examples: Creative Scotland has an organisational change programme on equalities happening in six organisations across Scotland- it will be interesting to see what comes from this but embedding equality in an organisation should feminise it not just diversify it.
  • We need to be clear about why this matters: It may seem very far away literally and metaphorically, but the rape and murder of women in India, the shooting of girls in Pakistan because they want to go to school, the restriction of women’s rights in Saudi, the grooming of young girls in Rochdale, Oxford and Northern Ireland, the disproportionate effect of the UK government’s welfare reforms on women, the tension for young women between being obedient daughters and fulfilled adults in Muslim households- which so parallel the experience of many Catholic women of my generation—all these are in our world today.   Of course no one is suggesting that a problem with roles for actors or commissions for playwrights is as dangerous as a girl going to school in parts of Pakistan, but surely it is the artist’s role to witness and reflect, examine and explain. That reflection needs to be a female one as well as a male one.
  • We need to organize: This is not a situation unique in Scotland and while the starting point today is theatre, we know this extends to other areas of the arts and we need to work across the whole spectrum. My email address is on business cards- send me yours, and let’s get moving.

Christine Hamilton

Notes of discussion session at Women in Theatre event on 26 September 2013 at the Traverse Theatre

Please note – these notes represent a reasonably ‘verbatim’ transcript of the main points made by each speaker (separated by ***).  I have not attempted to summarise or draw together common themes. The speakers are unnamed, except for where one of the 3 panel speakers (Maxine, Blandine and Christine) responded to a question or made a point further to their original presentation.


Theatre is old fashioned in its format and hierarchical (male) structure.  We need not to copy male structures.  The Magdalene Project in Wales presents such an alternative model.

There is a distinction between ‘women in theatre’ and women’s theatre’.


People hide behind Shakespeare.  Male parts can be played by women – gender blind casting. Can be done creatively.


Why is gender blind casting so often in favour of men?  E.g. Macbeth production with 3 male witches or all-male Midsummer Night’s Dream.

There is evidence that women did perform in productions in Shakespeare’s time – e.g. Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estates.

Shakespeare should not be an excuse for not casting more women.


Women’s writing is often defined as ‘about women’ whereas men’s writing is considered ‘universal’.  Theatre can challenge mainstream culture and redefine what might be determined interesting and universal, beyond the predominant white, male narrative.


There is a growing trend in Scottish theatre (borrowing from European/German/Polish culture) of questioning realism e.g. Lyric Hammersmith ‘Secret Theatre’ season, where for instance they have cast young British black women in classic theatre roles.


Many male writers in Scotland have created great roles for women.  But women writers struggle to get plays produced.

There have been some good examples of positive discrimination e.g. Traverse Theatre’s women’s writers group which supported the early careers of writers such as Zinnie Harris and Nicola McCartney.

There a more women writers than before in Scotland, but the work is not getting staged as frequently.  But this may be part of a larger problem of fewer plays getting staged as other forms of creating theatre are becoming more popular.


There are often more opportunities for women with smaller theatre companies, including women’s theatre companies.  However, it is very hard to sustain a career based on the usually low wages these companies can offer.

No wonder we can’t break the glass ceiling when we can’t even afford a ladder.



Low wages are an issue.  Equity is pushing for National Minimum Wage to be adopted by all companies.

Changes to welfare (Universal Credit) are likely to affect female actors in particular.

Also as freelancers, actors only ever get Statutory Maternity Pay [£136.78 per week].


It is an issue that pay in theatre in general is low, but with women having fewer opportunities overall, it is particularly so for women practitioners.


Do successful women do enough to support and promote other women?


In Scotland, leading women in theatre do support other women practitioners.

Another barrier for women who work freelance in theatre is that they cannot afford childcare costs.



There is a great age-range of people present tonight.  The event seems to have struck a chord and could be the start of a network.



Networking is very important.  Men do it all the time and women don’t always do this so readily.


We seem to be more accepting of the status quo and to have lost the pain and the anger of the feminist movement exemplified by theatre companies such as Sphinx.  We need to retain feminism.


The way we make theatre is as important as the ‘product’.  Community, support and dialogue are female values which are more important than product which is a male / capitalist concept.


It is about business and production models.  We have made the economic and moral case, let’s make the creative case.


We share the same issue in film.  The Writer’s Guild Film Committee (and no doubt the Theatre Committee) would be keen to take this on and get involved.


We cannot look at the situation of women in theatre without looking at the whole spectrum of protected characteristics and the intersection of these.


60% of people attending theatre are women, so there is a commercial imperative to address this issue.


The panel were asked what they thought needed to happen next:


Set up a network by sharing all our email addresses

Write up and share the notes of the meeting

Lobby Creative Scotland about collating and disseminating retrospective data

Raise the issues with people who run our arts companies


It is important to reclaim our female heritage.  In France they have coined the term ‘matrimoine’ [in French ‘patrimoine’ means ‘heritage’ and derives from the Latin ‘pater’ or father].  It is important that we research and rediscover great women who have preceded us.  Otherwise, women will always feel as though they are starting from scratch. There is a history or herstory of women’s heritage to be found.


Data is important.

ACE and Creative Scotland need to enforce data collection and proper action plans by funded organisations.

[1] I think (and so do others) that this is Liz Lochhead’s quote, but have not been able to confirm this.

[2] You could also add Fleur Darkin, Scottish Dance Theatre at Dundee Rep


Flagging national flagship: the role of the politician

On the face of it, there is little connection between the Théâtre National de Nice and Scottish Opera but while their raison d’etre and repertoire may diverge (as the French might say), there are interesting parallels in current stooshies which are affecting both.

First, Scottish Opera which has been plunged into crisis by the swift departure of its Musical Director Emmanuel Joel-Hornak after only 58 days.  It is supposed this came about when Joel-Hornak discovered he did not enjoy the artistic freedom he assumed was due to a musical director of an opera company and found himself restricted by a powerful general manager.  I say ‘supposed’ because there has been a refusal from Joel-Hornak and Scottish Opera to make any comment beyond the announcement. Considering the level of public money that is given to the company every year, this silence has raised eyebrows.

Whatever the problem, what is not in doubt is that both the board of Scottish Opera and crucially the Scottish Government has responsibility to sort this out.  As an organisation directly funded by the Government the Cabinet Secretary has to take this one on herself.  This is not, as a Scottish Government spokesperson claimed,  ‘operational matters for Scottish Opera.’ The cancellation through illness of an appearance of a soloist is an operational matter.  The resignation of the musical director because of artistic differences, is an artistic crisis.

So where does the link come with the Théâtre National de Nice?  The French Ministry of Culture recently agreed a new set of regulations for those running national institutions (of which this theatre is one).  In essence, no one is permitted to do more than three terms of office as artistic leader of these institutions.  Interesting idea that presumably has been introduced to ensure regular refreshing of the artistic approach and has the effect of allowing younger, different leadership.  Whatever the motivation, the fact is that Daniel Benoin at Nice has been in charge for four terms (twelve years) and it is time to move on.  However he has a powerful ally in the Mayor of Nice who has been involved in a stand off (describe in the French press as ‘arm-wrestling’) with the Ministry of Culture insisting that Benoin continue and rejecting any suggestion that a new director be appointed.

This resulted in a letter being sent from Aurelie Filippetti, Minster of Culture that stated her case in no uncertain terms.  For those who read French, I re-produce in the original.  It’s a corker:

Dans l’éventualité où vous confirmeriez votre souhait de ne pas respecter les règles propres aux centres dramatiques nationaux, je vous informe que je serai amenée à étudier concrètement la possibilité de retirer le label de Centre Dramatique National au Théâtre National de Nice, et, de procéder au désengagement financier de l’État.

In essence:  follow the rules or I will strip from you the title of a national centre and I will cut your state money.

So what’s the parallel with Scottish Opera?  It is this:  the Scottish Government, and specifically the Cabinet Secretary has the power and the responsibility to intervene.  For the most part, direct state funding of the national companies, galleries and museums brings with it positive headlines and a warm glow to Ministers.  This is the other side – the crisis when political leadership is necessary.  There is no shortage of advice around (and some very good historical material: Scottish Opera has been the subject of consultancies and reports every few years over the last few decades) but whatever is decided, there has to be some evidence that the Government, working with the board, is getting to grips with the problems that currently beset the company.

And a final word on Nice.  The new artistic director, due to take over 1 January 2014, is the French-born British actor and director, Irina Brook, who, incidentally fulfils another of Filipetti’s commitments – to increase the number of women in charge of French cultural institutions.



WARNING: Research can be bad for your health

I want to draw your attention to a new piece of research commissioned by the Scottish government which offers definitive evidence for the first time that cultural engagement is having a positive impact on the nation’s health and life satisfaction.  Janet Archer, CEO, Creative Scotland, in an address to FST/ITC Reception, 20 August 2013, Edinburgh.

I was there, unhealthily sipping my wine, when I heard Janet Archer mention this new piece research in her speech and immediately my interest was piqued.   When I was Director Centre for Cultural Policy Research (CCPR), at the University of Glasgow, we were commissioned by the (then) Scottish Executive to find the evidence of the link between arts and sports participation and quality of life and well-being.  From this we were asked to develop indicators which could be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a culture or sport intervention. Susan Galloway at CCPR reviewed the extensive literature on well-being and quality of life and we worked with Professor David Bell, an economist from Stirling University who examined the economic literature on subjective well-being.

Quality of Life and Well-being: Measuring the Benefits of Culture and Sport: Literature Review and Think-piece was published by the Scottish Executive in 2006.   In this we concluded:

‘The central issue for cultural social impact research remains the lack of both empirical evidence, and the lack of a theoretical basis with which to support the claims about the impact of cultural participation.’ (p.42)

In summary, we found that there is no evidence of a link between participation in the arts and sport and quality of life and well-being.  This does not mean that there is not one, but there is no evidence.  Moreover there are challenges in researching this area –mainly around issues of definition. What exactly is quality of life and well-being?  We concluded:

‘What this review tells us, however, is that, in the wider policy literature relating to quality of life and well-being, there is no clear definition of terms and that, the absence of such, leads to a lack of clarity in the policy focus. This, in turn, leads to a ‘back to front’ approach to enhancing quality of life and well-being in communities and for individuals: what can be measured is measured, and what is measured drives the policy. The development of new ways of measuring tends to focus on the quantitative with qualitative measures focusing on satisfaction surveys. Anything even attempting a comprehensive approach to measuring the impact on quality of life can lead to unwieldy data sets. ‘(p. 145)

This is a chunky piece of research and my summary does not do it full justice but essentially it flagged up for researchers and policy makers questions which need to be addressed when looking at the relationship between arts and sport and quality of life and well-being.  So when I heard about this new research I was intrigued to find out how they had tackled the problem of definition, methodological questions around qualitative and quantitative approaches, the issue of large datasets and what evidence was being presented.

This new piece of research, published by the Scottish Government, Healthy Attendance? The Impact of Cultural Engagement and Sports Participation on Health and Satisfaction with Life in Scotland uses the Scottish Household Survey as its data source.  Since 2009 this survey has contained questions on cultural and sports participation and on life satisfaction and self-assessed health.  The researchers analysed data from both of these to reach the conclusion that,  ‘those who participate in culture and sport or attend cultural places or events are more likely to report that their health is good and they are satisfied with their life than those who do not participate.’ (p. 5)

In our research in 2006 we said something similar:

‘In as much as culture and sport is seen to have a role in enhancing quality of life […] it appears consistently […] as one of the indicators and descriptors used in domains encompassing subjective well-being, expressed as satisfaction with life as a whole, and social inclusion/social well-being/social relationships.’  (p.137)

So in the area of ‘subjective well-being’ we too found a link. We go on:

‘This is perhaps not unexpected as it is often assumed that participation in culture and sport has a positive impact on aspects of quality of life as it relates to social inclusion. The academic literature suggests, at best, an association rather than a causal link between these. ‘(my italics) (p. 155)  And finally we are more blunt, ‘While the evidence suggests an association between cultural and sports participation and an improved quality of life, there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the two.’ (p. 155)

But then neither does this latest research claim cultural participation or attendance is the cause of good health.  Specifically they state: ‘Being cross-sectional, this study cannot determine causal relationships.’ (p. 17).  Throughout the researchers are careful to point to an association between participation and attendance in culture and sport- not that one leads to another.

What does this mean?

First, this is not the ‘definitive evidence’ policy-makers claim. We might look for associations between other activity and health benefits – for example being part of a religious group, being a volunteer in a hospital or working with refugees, having an allotment – and a myriad of other activities which are part of our social capital. Making a claim for a casual link between the health of our nation and engagement in culture is, frankly, spin.  Echoing this point, Tiffany Jenkins in the Scotsman pointed out that some art might have the opposite effect and ‘culture was not the solution to our health problems’.

And surely we have moved beyond this attempt to account for cultural spend because of non-cultural outcomes?  After all what was the Talbot Rice Gallery speech by Fiona Hyslop all about if it wasn’t underlining the importance of the arts and heritage to ‘our heart, our soul, our essence’?

But the real lesson from this research is to be found there in the Introduction:

‘Sports participation and cultural engagement levels are highest in the highest household income groups in Scotland and decline to be lowest in the lowest household income groups. Similarly, adult participation in cultural and sporting activities varies by area deprivation, with participation increasing as area deprivation decreases.’ (p. 7)

What that tells us is that not only does high deprivation bring with it poor health (which we already know from epidemiological studies in Scotland), but it also brings a reduced participation in arts and sport.  Surely this is all the evidence we need to know that more work has to be done to bridge the gap between those who have all and those who have none?  Let’s move away from making exaggerated claims for the benefit of cultural participation and attendance and focus on what really matters – creating greater access to all for all.






Stands Scotland where it did? : Work in progress

Paper presented at the Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) conference at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow on 4 September 2013, with fine assistance from actor Stuart Hepburn1.

If Scotland had a Facebook profile then its relationship status would be ‘it’s complicated’.

First there is our relationship with England and our role within the UK:  when it suits, you can hear the girning and moaning about being oppressed while our history shows us to have been a willing partner in imperial ventures; or what about Scotland’s role in the recent financial crisis when the banks which bore its name nearly brought the economic systems crashing? Then there are our close ties in family, language and culture while constantly banging on about being different.

Scotland also has a complicated relationship with the rest of the world – striving to be a kind of celtic Borgen with a modest yet influential role while all the time basking in the glory of being part of one of the world’s most powerful nations; presenting a profile which is modern, enlightened, inventive, a land of discovery –while marching along 6th Avenue once a year in tartan hoping to attract those tourist dollars to the shores.

But Scotland’s most tricky relationship is with itself.

There are many examples of Scottish art which have dealt with the binary nature of Scottish identity – the rural v urban, Highlander v Lowlander, Jacobite v Hanovarian, poor v rich, newcomer v native, catholic v protestant, romantic v rationalist, enlightenment v fundamentalism but I have chosen a piece of 19th century fiction and a piece of theatre it inspired to illustrate the artist’s response to Scotland and to its split personality.

It is possible that even in this well read audience many of you will not have read nor even heard of James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Or to give it its full title: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself: With a detail of curious traditionary facts and other evidence by the editor.  Unlike the great classic Scottish novelists Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, Hogg and his work are relatively unknown.  A contemporary of Scott, he too lived in the Scottish Borders where he worked as a shepherd, educated himself and went on to write both poetry and novels.

Published anonymously in 1824, Confessions was presented as if it were a found document dating from early in the previous century.   It is offered to the public with a long introduction by its unnamed editor. It purports to be the memoirs of Robert Wringhim from the Scottish Borders, who falls under the influence of a stranger Gil-Martin. Wringham believes in predestination– a Calvinist doctrine in which a place in heaven is secured regardless of actions in life.  He commits several crimes including the murder of his brother, and descends into madness but not before confessing all in the document that is ‘discovered’ after his death.

The central part of the book is the confession preceded by a long introduction by the editor and the story of Wringham’s decline and fall is in effect, told twice in sometimes contradictory terms. The final section is an explanation by the editor of how the confession was discovered. Throughout the book, Gil- Martin, the stranger, exerts greater and greater influence over Wringham and appears to be able to change shape and identity.  It is left to the reader to decide whether Gil-Martin is the devil, a figment of the protagonist’s imagination or in fact a representation of his spilt personality.

It is part-psychological thriller, part-crime novel, set in Scotland with accurate geographical references but at the same time inhabits a gothic world of horror and fantasy. It deals with madness, the supernatural and religious intolerance and is considered to be the inspiration for Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

The principal actions of the novel take place, as I said, in the very early 18th century around the time of the Union in 1707.  It can be read as a metaphor for Scotland itself and its struggle to resolve the schism in its own identity.  Perhaps it is for this reason it has provided the basis for film, opera and theatre adaptations—few which have been realised and of those, not all successful.

Earlier this year, Untitled Projects, in collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland, undertook the task of meticulously re-creating an earlier attempt at staging the work by the late Paul Bright, a theatre-maker working here at the end of the 20th century and who died in Paris in his 40s.  Under the title Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, this production takes the form of a carefully researched and re-created archive, and an illustrated talk by the actor George Anton, one of Bright’s collaborators, with archive footage and contemporary filmed interviews with people who knew or worked with Bright— Tim Crouch, Annie Griffen, Giles Havergal, Katie Mitchell, Alison Peebles and Di Robson.

It tells the story of Bright’s attempts to stage the work in various site specific and theatre settings including an episode on Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh and Traquair House in the Scottish Borders as well as a disastrous production at the Edinburgh International Festival.

The critical response to this re-creation was overwhelmingly positive:  beautifully written by Pamela Carter, exquisitely realised by Stewart Laing, and passionately performed by George Anton.  However what did concern some of the critics was the idea that they were part of a hoax – a new take on the unreliable narrator. It was not what it seemed and did it, in the end, cheat?   For Paul Bright never existed.

The production is an exploration of the complexities of the split personality presented in extreme terms. And above all it is the way the artist lies to get at the truth.

To quote George Anton in the play:

‘I knew I wanted to be an actor from about the age of eight. I remember it very clearly … watching a film with my dad… a Truffaut film … ‘the 400 blows’. I remember very clearly watching this scene where this boy was lying to a person in authority … and I had this sort of revelation … this kid’s lying and getting away with it … I get it, he’s acting, that’s what acting is … lying and getting away with it. Imagine being able to do that for a job?’

And here he is quoting Paul Bright:

‘what is the artist if not a shaman … a seer … how else will I alter states if I can’t alter my own state and release what is buried within me … the real, the truth’.

As Scotland again faces up to an uncertain constitutional future which turns a spotlight on its inherent contradictions, here is one response to the current debate on independence and cultural identity – a play about a play that never existed based on a discovered and edited narrative which purports to be a true story, and which was itself a hoax.

Paul Bright’s Confessions is also about how theatre is made and how it works. Specifically how it can destroy those who believe in their own genius and indestructability.  It is, to quote the brief for this talk, ‘the re-creating of mental and imaginary landscapes of theatre and performance-making’.  But it is also about how theatre was made in the 1980s and exposes the differences between the pre and post devolution theatre in Scotland.

Katie Mitchell, English theatre director, in the interview for Paul Bright’s Confessions says:

‘It was difficult in the late ‘80s starting out as a director … it was the latter stages of Thatcher’s regime and we all felt very much on the outside and at that time the mainstream was pitted against the fringe. I think we all felt that maybe at that time there was a possibility to make a change to create a different mainstream culture. I think we thought that was a fight we hoped to win, but most of my generation didn’t get near to fighting that fight and definitely we lost.’

Wow, ‘we lost’.  Just to be absolutely clear this quote from Mitchell is in the context of a piece of fiction but this position is echoed by others working in English theatre.

Mark Ravenhill in the inaugural speech for the Edinburgh Fringe last month asserts that artists in general and theatre in particular, bought into the Blair agenda of the late 1990s and early 21st century because, in part, the money flowed to the arts, and in part because the artists, like the much of the rest of society, wanted to believe it really was a new dawn and the third way was possible. He implies the arts community sold out by adopting and accepting the new cultural lexicon of ‘business plans and strategic thinking’.

No doubt that there was a growing target culture in the way in which the arts were viewed; that the importance of the creative industries became a cornerstone of Whitehall policy; that the role of the artist in social inclusion and urban regeneration became part of the way in which the arts were discussed and supported. But what I would question is, did this start with Blair or is this not simply a continuation of the policy of the Thatcher/Major years?

Ravenhill’s conclusion is that anger drives theatre and the arts are at their most powerful when in opposition to government (as they were under Thatcher) and asserts, ‘ thank god we’ve got a government in Westminster we can properly hate and wholeheartedly attack’.

How does this play in Scotland in policy terms?

Agreed that the politics of the 1980s and 1990s provided the same oppositional position for theatre in Scotland but, I contend, with a very different outcome. In a paper in 1990, I argued that the then growing confidence of artists was because of, not in spite of Thatcherism and Scottish artists were drawing inspiration from being in opposition to what was happening in the political sphere. 2.

A decade or so later, in a paper I co-authored with Adrienne Scullion in 2003, we reflected that one reaction to a hostile Westminster government was for artists to ‘refocuse[d] their attentions on work for and in Scotland, looking to the past with new application, creating texts of linguistic and visual specificity, reassessing the cultural influences that make Scotland’.  This could well be a description of Paul Bright’s Confessions.

We also argued, that the arts in Scotland were open to influences from beyond –driven to some extent with the increasing access to international work and concluded that, ‘both dynamics were about bypassing London, or at least finding ways of working beyond the ‘them and us’ identities that the Thatcher government engendered in Scotland.’

And echoing this in a piece just last month in the Scotsman, political commentator and critic Joyce McMillan pointed out that in the 80s and 90s ‘Scotland’s artists, writers and musicians did most of their heavy lifting – in terms of reimagining a post-modern Scottish identity that would be inclusive, creative, and infinitely open to changing accounts of itself.’

So out of being in opposition came a re-visiting of Scotland’s distinctive cultural identity—and no suggestion that ‘we lost’.

Devolution in 1999 was the driver for that change. It unleashed an energy in creation of work and brought the political and artistic worlds closer together in dialogue if not in agreement.  They were part of a shared future:  ‘This is about more than our politics and our laws.  This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves’, said Donald Dewar (Labour) First Minster at the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

A recent speech by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture in the (SNP) Scottish Government put clear tartan water between her and Maria Miller, Secretary of State for culture in England:

‘We do not measure the worth of culture and heritage solely in pounds and pence – we value culture and heritage precisely because they are so much more, because they are our heart, our soul, our essence.’

So what have these fine words 14 years apart delivered for theatre in Scotland? And what is theatre delivering for Scotland?

Government funding to the arts and heritage has been but cut but not slashed nor threatened completely as it has south of the border or elsewhere in Europe. Can we argue, however that theatre is telling the truth to politicians? Is this a community which has acquiesced to government control and is tick boxing its way to more money?

Scotland has not escaped the ideas so derided by Ravenhill.  Creative Scotland, the relatively new body created from a merger of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, has faced a barrage of criticism from the arts community about how it speaks about and to the arts and artists.  So much so that battle between the agency and the arts community (known locally as #CSstooshie) led to the departure of its chief executive and a senior member of his team and a commitment from the board to re-visit its policies and its language.

But what is happening on the ground, in theatre itself?

One of the first cultural interventions of the Scottish Government post devolution was to establish a national theatre.  The vision from the theatre community was ‘The Scottish Parliament and a National Theatre for Scotland reflect[ing] each other in the enterprise of a truly democratic civic society.’3.  So moving from being oppositional to being reflective. This civic role for theatre, I would argue underpins not only NTS itself but also the theatre community more widely.  It sees itself as part of the new Scotland with a voice in its future.

Last year I led a review of theatre in Scotland for Creative Scotland and one of the most striking conclusions is the importance of new work – mainly but not exclusively new writing – to the theatre landscape here.  We undertook and analysis of repertoire sampled over three decades. This sample showed that not only has there been an increase in the number of shows produced but that the largest increase is in new writing from Scotland.  This in part can be ascribed to the development of lunchtime theatre in Glasgow at Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint seasons but not exclusively.

There has been a surge in new work, and a flagship company which has accepted and delivered on its role to present to audiences across Scotland a huge range of work –much of this in collaboration with the theatres and companies which lobbied for its creation in the first place.

But what is theatre saying and where stands Scottish theatre on the question of the day? Yes or no? And here we do come to work in progress.

The question was raised during this year’s Edinburgh Festival, where is the Scottish independence play?  Echoing Joyce McMillan’s comment earlier, the reaction from some Scottish playwrights is, ‘I wrote it five years ago’

McMillan also argues that Scottish playwrights and theatre makers are just as concerned with ‘extreme political violence and our response to it, or the rise of right-wing politics in Europe, or the growth of a pervasive sadistic porn culture on the internet, [which] are not at least as important and urgent as Scottish independence’.

As for 2014 and the referendum itself, NTS has risen to the challenge and commissioned work which will deal directly with the arguments from both sides. However the other chatter from the festival was the outgoing Director Jonathan Mills’s infelicitous comment that there will be no events specifically dealing with the referendum in 2014 and the festival will be a politics free zone. Presumably the Commonwealth and the First World War – which will be festival themes — don’t count as being political.  Or perhaps as journalist Lesley Riddoch has pointed out, these are British political themes and count in a different way.

‘It’s very hard to think about any dramatist who has not had a point of view on the politics of the country in which they work.’ riposted Alasdair Gray, novelist and author of Lanark. Gray has form in this debate. Earlier this year he published an article which talked about ‘settlers’ and ‘colonists’ in Scotland – the former being folk who choose to move and settle here (implication good) and the latter those who choose to further their career by coming here for a few years and then moving away again (implication bad).  The problem with Gray’s analysis is that the language is inflammatory and verging on racist, and the examples are often shot through with inaccuracies.  More recently James McMillan, composer took a view at the opposite extreme and made some unfortunate remarks accusing artists in the Yes campaign of ‘fascistic mob mentality’.

However the debate generally amongst artists has not been as ill-tempered and these voices might be regarded as outliers in the debate.  Generally Scottish theatre makers’ involvement, while passionate,  is more measured- sometimes even nuanced.  The majority are in the Yes camp, but it is not all one way, and there are many who support a No vote—fearing nationalism and arguing for the route to internationalism, preferably of the Marxist variety.  However, the mental and imaginary landscapes of theatre are not yet the place in which they have explored the issue directly and instead have taken to blogging and other forms of social media.

Here is an imagined landscape, created by the playwright David Greig on a blogging site Bella Caledonia:

Leaving the Castle

There is girl. She’s seventeen. She and her three siblings have lived all their life inside an old castle. It’s a vast rambling pile with hundreds of rooms, once it was the fortress of powerful landowner but it’s long ago fallen into disrepair. The kitchens have been abandoned, the rooms are riddled with damp, the floorboards rotten. The roof has mostly fallen in and the windows are shuttered. The girl and her brothers camp now in the old ballroom where they burn the furniture to keep warm. There, they are attended to by old retainers in faded liveries who serve bad food on silver plates. Every day the retainers demand the siblings enact the old rituals of chivalry that were established when the house was first built. They bow and curtsey, they swear allegiance, they practice sword fighting, they call each other Lord and Baron and Knight. Meanwhile, in the attic of the west tower the old king, demented and sick, bangs on tin cans and shouts out to the empty fields about his power and his glory.

The girl has known nothing else. Doesn’t every child live like this? But deep down she has a slowly growing sense that something’s wrong. And then one day her unease becomes too much. She breaks the rules of the house and she opens the shutters of the ballroom window. Her eyes are dazzled briefly by the light but then they adjust and she sees: in the distance, in the valley below, a village. In the village people are going about their business, children go to school, people work, people play football, they garden…she sees and for the first time the girl realises. There is another way things can be.

So Bella, when you ask me how I’ll feel on the morning of independence my answer is this. Imagine that girl walking boldly down the long rotten corridor of the castle, imagine her stopping at the great wooden door, imagine her pushing at it and finding it open, imagine her stepping out into the fresh damp air of a spring day? That. That’s how I’ll feel.’

In summary, theatre makers in Scotland are part of the debate: issues of national identity are already there in the work, and more direct dealing with the referendum issue is yet to come.

However, I say to David and other theatre makers, the day after the referendum, regardless of the result, we will still be facing the same economic and environmental problems and issues of inequality.  And we will be a place which if not exactly torn itself apart, has inflicted on itself wounds which will be hard to heal.

So David, the real challenge for Scottish theatre makers, is imagining a Scotland in 2015 and beyond.



1. Brief for the paper: The panel is asked to reflect on how the practices and insights of contemporary theatre and performance might help to inform, broaden or indeed reconfigure the cultural and political discourses around possible independence in Scotland and accompanying notions of national identity. How might the mental and imaginary landscapes of theatre and performance-making offer productive ways of (re) thinking our views about self-determination, democracy and cultural production in a local, national and global context in the early 21st century.

2. Keynote Speech, Council of Regional Arts Associations Conference, 16 July 1990.

3. Federation of Scottish Theatre, Proposal for a National Theatre for Scotland (Edinburgh: FST, 2000), p. 3.


Women in Theatre Scotland: Where next?

Are women playing a full role in theatre in Scotland?  A quick look around suggests ‘no’.  On the one hand, all theatres profess to have an ‘equal opportunities policy’ on the other hand, the Review of Theatre in Scotland last year showed that fewer than half actually monitored that policy.  Recent research by Equity shows that opportunities for female actors are shrinking.

Does this matter? After all we can see women everywhere in theatre in marketing, management, front of house and other roles.  Are women just not interested in running theatres or taking a lead creative role?  What affect does this have on the work and on what audiences see?  How does this differ from the situation elsewhere in the UK and Europe?

Come and debate and discuss at Traverse 2, Cambridge Street, Edinburgh EH1 2ED Thursday 26th September 6pm -7.30 pm with glass of wine in bar afterwards.


  • Max Beckmann, Equality Organiser, Equity
  • Christine Hamilton, arts consultant and author of the Review of Theatre in Scotland 2012
  • Blandine Pélissier, founding member of the H/F association for gender equality in culture in France

Chair: Sheena McDonald, journalist and broadcaster.

Supported by the Equity, Federation of Scottish Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio Scotland and Scottish Society of Playwrights, organised by Christine Hamilton Consulting

Event is FREE but please book via the Traverse box office 0131 228 1404


Thanks to the Traverse Theatre for their support.


August in Edinburgh- some observations

(Grumpy old woman alert!)

As the Fringe and Book Festivals pack up for another year, the media are full of stories on ticket sales and overviews of the highs and lows of the arts in Edinburgh during August. There is still more to come, of course but I wanted at this point to add some highs and lows as a visitor (from Glasgow) and member of the audience in Edinburgh during the summer.  I have been coming to the festival since I was a child and, as an adult, I have been every year for more than I can remember. This year, like every other, there have been many wonderful moments which I will cherish and some (very few) I will happily forget.   But this blog is about the wider experience.

The city looks magnificent.  It always does look pretty special and the sunshine definitely helps.  But big congratulations to the staff of City of Edinburgh Council who kept the place so clean.  Given the number of flyers being thrust into my hands and those of other visitors, we should have been knee-deep in litter.  The fact we weren’t is down to the unsung heroes of Street Care and Cleaning.

This is the last year BT (before trams) and I don’t want to add to the grumbling we have heard for too long about the disruption caused by their construction – and at the same time the re-construction of both Edinburgh’s main stations. It has been an obstacle course round diggers and Heras fencing for too long. However the city has never been kind to pedestrians and the relationship between those on foot and those in vehicles is fraught.  This year I brought my bike through on the train to aid getting from one venue to another and let me tell you Edinburgh bus drivers just don’t care.  My hope, therefore is that in the brave new Tramworld, we see a better layout of roads and pavements and special lanes which can accommodate everyone.

Another infrastructure issue is access to wifi. For overseas visitors this is crucial for getting information, booking tickets, using maps to find venues on smart phones without incurring huge bills.  No point, promoters, having shiny apps if your customers can’t afford to access them. I can attest to the fact that in parts of Quartermile it is impossible to get 3g never mind wifi.  Many venues offer access but often it is not adequate for most purposes beyond email. So Edinburgh, bite the bullet and create a city centre wifi zone and be an enlightened city for the 21st century.

However wifi is just one aspect of accessing information.  Most phones need regular re-charging and a common site in the city is of folk crawling along the floor of bars and restaurants trying to find the socket used by the cleaners for their vacuums in order to plug in an i-phone –and then hovering around anxiously making sure it is not stolen.  This is one for the private sector. Install proper phone charging facilities which can be freely accessed for those buying a meal/drink/ticket.

I want to put on record my great box office moments—the Edinburgh International Book Festival which refunded my tickets I booked online by mistake; the Edinburgh International Festival which re-printed lost tickets (twice!); the Fringe box office which refunded money for a cancelled show before I even knew it was cancelled- and joy unconfined- the Fringe Booth at Glasgow Queen Street! Thanks to them and their lovely helpful staff. Less impressive was the attitude of the front of house staff in some of the temporary venues. It is likely that they were overworked, low paid and lacked training. Back-to-back shows mean we have to expect queuing and crush but so much of that can be made bearable by good customer care. If you want to see how to do it, go to the Traverse, Edinburgh International Book Festival or Summerhall which managed to cram in audiences to its rabbit- warren of venues with a smile and charm.

Summerhall, however scores less well on my final point: toilets. With the huge numbers of folk passing through venues, this becomes a real issue. Not enough, not clean, not working. Temporary venues in old buildings have a problem. They cannot address the issue with portaloos, like the big tented spaces or with lovely facilities you find in lottery funding-enhanced theatres. However Summerhall is not a temporary venue and it needs to look at its operations in this area.  But it is not just venues. How is it possible that a new restaurant facility like Peter’s Yard is allowed to get away with inadequate number of loos?  Whether you are using temporary toilets or not, they need to be cleaned — and regularly.  And ‘out of order’ signs should be a badge of shame.  Perhaps there is a lesson to learn from those who clean Edinburgh’s streets, not just during the festival period, but all year round.







A Modest Proposal: a new structure for the arts in Scotland

It is with some trepidation that I publish this proposal about the future of the arts in Scotland.  I was one of those who applied for the post of CEO of Creative Scotland and was not interviewed.  This blog, therefore, could be read as the response of a bitter and spurned candidate.  It is not, but I understand why it might be considered such and there is little I can do about that.

Throughout the last 15 years of observing the development of the arts and creative industries in the run up to and post devolution, I have had a growing sense of a systemic problem in the way government develops and delivers policy in the cultural sphere.  While on the one hand the arts are flourishing and our international reputation grows, on the other we have been suffering ‘planning blight’ in the policy.   From a cultural commission spawning huge unworkable recommendations, through structural changes which took longer than they should, to ‘stooshies’ about how decisions are made to what appears to be a botched recruitment process with distinguished names being mentioned but no final announcement, we have witnessed, or so it appears, a series of failures in governance and management. In the course of preparing my application for the post I began to wonder if there were not something more fundamentally wrong with how things were structured- although, I admit, that did not stop me throwing my hat in the ring. Now I am free to examine these concerns more openly.

My thesis is that the arm’s length policy by which government funds the arts via non-departmental public body no longer serves us well, and has not since 1999, and it is time to look at the creation of a Ministry of Culture and funding the arts directly from government.

A useful starting point is work by Susan Galloway and an article by her and Huw Jones, The Scottish dimension of British arts government: a historical perspective[1] in which they examine through the archives the relationship between the arts and government pre-devolution.  One of their conclusions is that that as Scotland became more autonomous as a nation at the same time the arts policy function became more politicised.   In the 1970s and 1980s the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) automatically received 12% of UK arts funding via the Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB), and then spent it in ways it chose even if that did diverge from ACGB policy.  SAC was ‘at double arm’s length’ from government.   In 1992 the responsibility was moved from Westminster to Edinburgh and the Scottish Office which brought arts policy closer to Scottish politicians.  Then, of course, along came devolution which was, it was argued, a means by which decisions taken previously at distance from government were placed in the heart of a democratic process.   Yet despite these changes, and the subsequent merger of SAC and Scottish Screen into Creative Scotland, there has been no fundamental challenge to the notion that politics and the democratic process has no part to play in cultural policy and we persist with the fiction that somehow the arts are too important to be part of that process.

The ‘arms- length’ principle for the arts was established in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and was in part in reaction to the twin threats of fascism and communism and the fear of a state run arts world doing only state-approved art. Its intention was no more and no less than to prevent politicians interfering in decisions about what should or should not be funded.  The principle has its roots further back in the establishment of the BBC and our University system.  It is a very British compromise with all the brilliance and muddle that implies. And indeed it has worked:  I can think of no evidence to suggest that there has been one exhibition or performance which has been approved or banned because of central government interference. However what is clear is that spending public money means being accountable for it.  The government of whatever persuasion has its own priorities and will direct money in that way.  This is called democracy but sometimes this has been interpreted as ‘political interference’.  So let’s do away with the muddle and establish some clean lines between the artist, the arts organisation, the creative project and the political process which votes the money.

After all what have we got to fear?  Freedom of expression is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.  This is the structure which works across most of Europe including Germany where the federal cultural budget has just been increased while government spending overall is being tightened. In none of the countries which fund the arts directly– with left or right wing governments –is there any suggestion that individual artistic decisions are influenced by party politics.  The biggest threat to the arts comes from the economic crisis – and some might argue, the failure of global capitalism.

And what would it mean in Scotland?  As we have all witnessed in other areas, Government decisions are open to scrutiny: we have a robust committee system in the Scottish Parliament with the checks and balances needed to prevent undemocratic political actions and we also have more media outlets than you can shake a stick at.

But the most persuasive argument is that it already happens.  Government directly funds our national performing arts companies, museums and art galleries.  As far as I can tell, the orchestras are not being instructed to perform Hamish MacCunn in every programme nor is National Theatre of Scotland doing all its plays in Doric. In fact we can see a flowering of many of our national institutions – one only has visit the Scottish Portrait Gallery or National Museum of Scotland to see that. What’s more it is time our national companies were pulled more closely to the rest of the cultural world in Scotland. We are too small a country to have such a division in the way things are managed.

What about cost? Well of course we would have to write off the money and time already spent on setting up Creative Scotland but it’s minuscule in comparison to the billions written off in badly thought through government procurement projects.  Mistakes happen. Let’s move on.   There are potential savings too. The Government would require additional expertise internally drawn from existing Creative Scotland staff but staffing in of central functions could be merged with existing corporate departments.  The use of ad hoc external expertise would address some of the recent demands of the arts community to be involved more in consultation on funding decisions and the process whereby some of the funding is already devolved to small specialist organisations could be extended—especially the funding of individual artists.  Few would weep at the disposal of Waverley Gate – and probably the Glasgow office — with the new Ministry accommodated within the existing estate.  There is, of course a lot of devil in any detail and this proposal is intended as a point of departure for debate not as a blueprint.

In 2002 I co-authored a report to Scottish Executive about the Scottish Arts Council, as part of the quinquennial review of the organisation.  Re-reading the conclusions, I can see hints of concern about the structures which operated:  “There is confusion about the role and remit of SAC that affects all aspects of its work. To clarify this the arm’s length principle needs to be re-visited and relationship made clearer between the Executive, SAC, the cultural community and the partners and agencies which interact with SAC. ‘Ministerial interference’ needs to be transformed into ‘Ministerial leadership’.”

Now is the time to see evidence of that Ministerial leadership and a maturing of the relationship between the arts and government.



[1] Susan Galloway and Huw David Jones, (2010) The Scottish dimension of British arts government: a historical perspective, Cultural Trends, 19, Issue 1&2.