Issue: Is there a need for womens’ theatre? If so, what about it is different from other theatre?

Convener(s): Aleasha Chaunte

Participants: Alys Torrance, Rosalie Nickerson, Stella Duffy, Zoe Klinger, Darren Abrahams, Eva Liparova, Richard Couldrey, Hannah Quigley, Wendy Buckley, Riitta Itakyla, Lian Bell 

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

The discussion raised more questions than it gave answers so read below and add if you feel you have an answer to anything or a comment.

Funding criteria creates subsets/ Positive discrimination.

Is it worth playing up femaleness of the project in order to get money from funders.

The term “Womens’ Theatre” sounds old-fashioned. Is it worth dropping the phrase in order to get recognised as good theatre makers?

Women are 52% of the population, yet for funding purposes are treated as a minority group.

Do men go to see “Womens Theatre”?

Is this a marketing problem?

Is there a “Mens Theatre” ( Matthew Bournes Swan Lake, All male company at the Old Vic.)

Do women go to see “Mens’ Plays” (Seafarer all male cast. What is the make-up of the audience?)

Women comedians find it incredibly hard to break into Stand-up because there is an expectation that they won’t be funny. (this view is held by both men and women?)

Are the problems faced actually the fault/responsibility of women to sort out or is it something both men and women need to actively address?

Is feminism now a dirty word?

Women haven’t had roles of power for very long (the vote, the right to publish your work using your own name) so maybe we are just playing catch up and it’s just a matter of time before we achieve equality.

Margaret Thatcher Syndrome (women behaving like men to get to the top)

Few men cite a woman as their role model wheras women may cite men or women. Margaret Thatcher is the exception. Some men have her as a role model.

There isn’t enough encouragement for new female artists/practitioners from the women currently at the top.

Are women presenting themselves well?

Do we resort to traditionally female ways of feeling powerful (eg looking nice) in order to gain power on the stage?

Maybe we should encourage young actresses at drama school to cut off their hair.

Do women approach things too “Forensically”?

Does “Womens Theatre” Alienate men?

Do men feel alienated by the concept of Womens theatre?

Womens theatre isn’t necessarily an attack on men.

Are women getting satisfying reflections of themselves in the theatre world?

Is it a question of style? Do men and women have intrinsically differing ways of approaching tasks. Are these fixed and can we change them?

Women aren’t the only ones needing new reflections of themselves in the art world. Images of both men and women are becoming increasingly sexualised. Are we reducing the ways that we can imagine ourselves.

What role can theatre play in this and how?

Not all women feel the need for a separate type of theatre to express their world view. Have we reached a point where we have enough opportunity to do whatever we want so we don’t need a separate day for it.

Do women have to be knocked before they feel the need for feminism? If they are never knocked they never need it.

How many women are running major theatres?

Are women writing good enough plays? Are they begin commissioned for the big stages? Yes but few of them write plays that make it into production.

Theatre is very slow (resistant?) to change.

Current systems don’t allow for failure. We can learn a lot from what we did wrong.

If women playwrights were produced more often they would learn faster and produce better plays. Known playwrights get produced more often, get more experience, and get better faster.

Is there a problem with youth as a whole. Women are growing up into women that can be role models. Cult of youth is infantilising maleness. Maybe the problem of misrepresentation is more than just a womens issue.

Problems with old models and structures that support only a certain way of working. Are women following the model or breaking new ground?

We talked about a particular woman director who took on the running of a theatre festival. Her first year she followed the model suggested by her male predecessor, but in her second year she decided to do things her way. By then she had the confidence to follow her own instincts.

We then, for the sake of argument, made lists of what we though were male ways of problem solving and getting things done and what we thought were female ways of doing it.


Spatially aware

They keep more control

Top Down

Zoom out


Immediate, in the present

End goal orientated


Seen to know everything

expected to know everything

Power from structure



two-way communication

zoom in (forensic)


Prime ministerial

Process orientated

ask for help

The group acknowledged that actually good managers (male or female) will use a mixture of these and the fact that we felt able to make a list like this, arbitrarily, pointed up the fact that some of the changes that need to be made are in women’s and men’s perceptions of themselves and their place in the world they are working in. These can change and it is possible to be more adaptive in our working methods and try new ways of doing things.

We then made a list of things we thought were barriers for women getting what they want out of the industry.


gendered thinking

Institutionalised craft. (old plays representing old value systems still dictate the ratio of male to female students in anyone year of drama school)

Possible role models not passing on information and confidence to younger generation

Not enough networking to see who else is out there or not enough forums for networking.

Women performers not making their own work new voices not being used to articulate their own experience.

Performers not being developed into artists.

Theatre is slow to change.

Lack of confidence

Not feeling you have the freedom to make mistakes.

Decision makers who are not aware of how they make decisions and therefore following old patterns unconsciously.


It was then acknowledged that the barriers weren’t just limited to women’s voices, but applied to anyone who wanted to say something new and that actually, after having a discussion about women’s theatre we had actually hit on ideas that applied to anyone wanting to make a change.