Susan Swanton, 12 January 2016

Devoted and Disgruntled DandD11

Sunday 10th January 2016

Who was there?

Susan Swanton – actress/theatre maker – Articulate Elbow

Vanessa Oakes – playwright with Bold Text

Alice Massey - director

Aimee Berwick - actress

Amy Clare Tasker – Gap Salon

David Nicolle - actor

Question: Equality and Balance– What are we/theatres/writers doing about the gender

balance on stage?

Census of 2011 tells us that in the UK there are 31 million men and 32.2 million


Men make up 49.1% and women make up 50.8% of the population.

I asked this question because when I go to the theatre I often find myself distracted

during the performance because I am counting how many men are on stage and how

many women. According to the census of 2011, women are a majority not a minority

(see statistics above.) Women are not a diverse group within the demographic of the

UK population and so if we are more than half the population then why are there not

more women on stage?

Having two daughters, I am keen to take them to the theatre where there is a balance

of gender on stage. That a female voice is heard as well as a male voice. That female

stories are being told. That there is something on stage that reflects contemporary

female lives. That there is inclusion of female and male voices.

We talked about the Classical Canon in that it is written by men, about men, for men.

Do we need to abandon the classics? No because we can cast women in men’s roles.

Tectonic Shifts/Movers and Shakers/Women in positions of power making

change/Positive steps for gender balance

We also talked about the brilliant women who are making these positive shifts in

gender balance on stage.

Emma Rice at the Globe talks about blind gender casting in Shakespeare.

Alice Massey (present in this discussion) talked about herself and Katy Henry who are

passionate about gender in performance and who encourage emerging women


Cited Sarah Frankom the Artistic Director at the Royal Exchange Manchester who

staged Hamlet with Maxine Peake as the lead and females in traditionally male roles.

We talked about tokenism and that this always lifts the marketing angle and that we

hoped that one day this type of casting would not be a surprise but the norm.

Vanessa talked about women being the central role in story telling. Cited Queen Anne

at the RSC at the moment by Helen Edmundson. Talked of strong women in main

roles and playwrights writing them.

Lucy Kerbel of Tonic theatre – looked into institutions to change the processes,

looking at systems, gathering statistics and assessing them to see what

developments, shifts and changes can be made in order that there is more gender

balance in employment in the arts.

Lisa Wolpe Transhakespeare – LA Shakespeare Co. – being more loose and free with

gender casting in the classics.

Vanessa Oakes talked about her social and political studies on gender and also her

positive work as part of Bold Text where usually the casting is two women to one man

and it’s not deliberate, it’s what is needed for their new writing. So when people are

casting it would be great for them not to think “oh we have the woman role or the black

male role” kind of tokenism and to write stories that represent and reflect the

contemporary world that we live in.

Manichord – an all male outfit did some research about equality. None of us knew

what the outcome of their research is but it would be good to look into.

We talked about the fact that the people that came to the discussion were all women

and that we need men to talk about it too and then David Nicolle joined us otherwise

our discussion is unbalanced! And what we would like is gender balance and all views


David said that it is a tricky industry for men too. To find work as an actor as well as for

women. We talked a little about London and work outside London.

Then we looked at subtle casual daily exchanges that we need to change and adjust.

In rehearsal it was said that there were experiences when men cut in and over a

woman’s opinion whilst talking.

Tip the balance so that theatre is more equal.

ACE reports on statistics and the lack of representation of women.

We need positive discrimination.

We need to talk to men about their thoughts and misconceptions and perceptions of

feminism. Dispel some myths about feminism. Men to be welcomed and included in

the conversation about equality. Because it is WITH.

PIPA – Parents in Performing Arts

Mothers Who Make

Prams in the Hall

WITWAF – Working In Theatre With A Family

Women need to make their presence heard. “I’m here!”

Discussed the Bechdel test @bechdeltheatre

These organisations, groups, people were also cited during our discussion:

Sue Parris, Sphinx Theatre

Reversed Shakespeare Company

Casting Call Woe @proresting

Thank you all for contributing. Please add and make amendments/corrections where

necessary and if I have missed out anything please feel free to add your comments.

Many thanks

Susan Swanton

@Articulate Elbow