How can we best support women to sustain a creative force in theatre

Joannah Tincey, 10 August 2012

We spent a good part of our conversation identifying the issues/barriers that might stand in the way of women sustaining creative force in theatre.

As one member of the discussion group had proposed the thought that in fact there might be too many women in theatre, it made sense to articulate and explore the where the issues were in order to address this view as part of our discussion.

Our thoughts on these barriers were:

Casting and Stereotypes: the endless pressure to be thin and beautiful; the designation to ‘character actress’ meaning that some women struggle for work when they're younger, and conversely some women seem to disappear once they move beyond the 'young and beautiful bracket.

Childcare: : Although it shouldn't be just a women's issue the reality is that economically and sometimes emotionally it often ‘makes sense’ for women to be the primary care-taker. How do you juggle this in working life - particularly as an actress when your work is peripatetic and not paying enough to support dependents?

Lack of roles for women and lack of plays and art that respond to women's issues. Though there was a feeling that this was changing as more female writers and

directors emerge, many members of the group felt that there is still an imbalance in the number of roles for women when compared with roles for men. Still not enough female Artistic Directors etc!

A sense that ‘Women’s Theatre' is hard to sell Members of the group identified difficulty in selling work that is perceived to deal with women's issues, and that this is something that is experienced in other art forms. Are men less likely to go and see a play by a woman or which contains a central female character? Why?!! Is there a sense in which work created by women is not ‘for everyone’? Does this have roots in a cultural scepticism about Feminism and what it means (strident/angry/anti-men etc)?

We also discussed where we felt the root of these issues lay, and the fact that many of them are interconnected - consequently the approaches to solving them need to be considered in a broad context too.

Work behind the scenes and work on stage that makes a change. One of the members cited Art as a sort of menu for life, within that menu we should be role-modelling how we want it to be.

Thoughts on how to do that?!

Encouragement of companies and directors who take casting risks. Raising the profile of best practice and success stories. Seeking to widen the use of gender-blind casting and enable it to be seen as a valid form of integrated casting practice (in the same was as racially-blind casting).

Would it ever be possible to organise shared child-care as part of Equity contracts between parents who need it? Creating environments where it is fine to bring children along to work? Job shares? Conitunued dialogues with employers about flexible working and how they can help. Celebration of best practice.

Create work that responds to women's issues and challenges patriachy or mysogyny when it appears in society - especially when it is hidden (50 shades of Grey?!). Challenge perceptions of Feminism as strident or aggressive.

We also indentified that it was important to keep coming together and discussing the issues and barriers we face - these are likely to change as we move towards equality and it is useful to engage in dialogue as this happens. Once something has been identified it is easier to solve, and just because something is hard to solve doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying. It never ceases to amaze me how much energy and resolve can be generated in a simple conversation.

Good Luck all!


childcare, Childcare, Feminism, feminism, Women in Theatre, Casting, casting