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): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lxF1BE3Jls )

–       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 (http://www.sacd.fr/Nouvelle-edition-de-la-brochure-Ou-sont-les-femmes.3533.0.html ).

–       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 – http://culturedelegalite.tumblr.com/ )

–       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.

***

Maxine:

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.

***

Christine:

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.

***

Blandine:

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:

Christine:

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

Blandine:

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.

Maxine:

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