Why are only 17% of plays produced in the UK by women? 

Convener(s): Sam Hall, founder 17percent 

Participants: Maddy, Dee, Jo Faith, Leila Crerar, Angela Clerkin, Gehane Stehler, Helen Pringle, Sarah Grochala 

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

17percent is a new organization to promote and support female playwrights. This discussion was a pre-launch discussion to see what people felt.

What are the issues?:

Although it was felt that there is a change in the air as of the last year, the situation still merits discussion and will do until as many plays are produced by women as by men.

Few producers are actively producing women’s work / women writers.

It was felt the National, Royal Court and RSC are committed to commissioning women – but the commissions do not translate into productions for whatever reason. There has been a slight shift recently with the Lucy Prebbles and Polly Stenhams BUT – they are still the exceptions, and how long will it last?

  • Is it because women’s writing is not considered to have enough commerciality?
  • Is it because there is a misconception that women will only write about ‘women’s issues’ (equally domesticity) and they do not have a mass audience? Some work to shift this misconception needs to be done. (Eg: There are plenty of popular male and female writers writing about every day life on TV – so why is it a problem in theatre?)
  • Good writing is good writing no matter who has written it.

Number crunching:

Historically over the years, there have been less women writing plays than men – but the number of women on writing courses has shot up in the last 5 or so years. Anecdotally, women make up the larger percentage (around 80%) of those on courses, yet are not represented in the plays being staged now. 

The most recent HESA applications to university stats show there have been approximately 1,000 female undergraduates each year on writing courses, since 2006. Where are the new plays by these writers? Why do women get deterred and stop writing after graduation?

Anecdotally – about 10% of scripts received by a regional theatre were written by women – might there be an assumption by women that their scripts won’t be regarded as well. (Some research by Emily Glassberg Sands suggests this is true.) 

Why is there a glass ceiling?:

Females at the top of the writing tree are somehow in a ‘non-space’:

Caryl Churchill – is somehow ‘outside’ the writing canon – why is she not our most respected living playwright? 

Is it quality or discrimination? There was a feeling in the group that there was a kind of unspoken discrimination occurring.

And whilst the younger playwrights are getting work on – what happened to all the women in the 1980s and 1990s who may have given up, or not got plays on? There was a feeling from one regional theatre producer in the session that there may be a whole generation of lost women playwrights out there.  

Issues to take forwards:

  • Actually how alienated by ‘female  issues’ are males?
  • And are issues ‘male and ‘female’? Surely it’s in the way it is told and it shouldn’t matter who the writer is. A play about abortion was given as an example – just as big as issue for both people involved.
  • What sort of plays are theatres looking for – 17percent will talk to the producers and theatres to see if we can open the dialogue.
  • And within the plays women write – where are the roles for women? Why are there more male roles? And where are the roles for older women?
  • One bone of contention – no male participants! Come on fellas! As playwright Emma Adams said this morning ‘we’ve got to stop viewing things as competitions and start viewing things as conversations’. We’d like a dialogue with the audience - male and female.

More information:

17percent is a new organisation to promote and support female playwrights. http://17percent.co.uk/index.php

Follow us on Twitter @17percent

Facebook: 17percent

Launch event: 11 and 12 March 2010, The Red Hedgehog – see website for details