Convener(s): Vicky Graham

Participants: not noted, but included: Sarah Dickenson, Rebecca Manson-Jones, Rebecca Atkinson-Lord, Dan Baker, Rajni Shah, Holly Roughan, Marie Solene, Stella Duffy, Lynn Cordy, Lizzie Crarer, Bethany Pitts, Sue Emmas, Lyn Gardner


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

Following on from the formation of new theatre company Agent 160, its first tour, and Lyn Gardner’s Guardian article on sexism in theatre this week, we asked:

  • Are there women on top?
  • How do we ensure that the astonishing young women in theatre today are still there in 10, 20 or 50 years’ time?


  • Sphinx has data on this, available on their website. They’re hosting a conference at Weset Yorkshire Playhouse on March 2nd.
  • Stella Duffy commented that although it has been decades since she started out, with confidence that the climate would change, very little has
  • Women are still referred to as a minority.
  • Opinions divided as to whether women are in fact on top
  • Drama schools have been known to admit majority men according to jobs available, not reflecting 52% female population and talent
  • There are more male roles on screen
  • Scandinavian culture has created more female-led successes (e.g. Borgen, The Killing)
  • Motherhood and childcare requirements make careers difficult to sustain – the industry doesn’t allow for these
  • As creative people, we should be creative and change our working models, e.g. welcoming children into the rehearsal space. The fear is that the industry will default to easier working models – ie. men in charge
  • It’s difficult to square the circle between being a parent and being an artist, but as artists we should come up with creative solutions and “be the change we want to see”.
  • Many examples of excellent female role models and leaders, including Vicky Featherstone, Erica Whyman
  • Feeling was that organisations (especially mainstream) aren’t producing enough female work, e.g. Donmar, Hampstead, Bush seasons have little / no work by women
  • Should it be the duty of women on top to ensure opportunities for next generation of women?
  • Women should be able to be artists in their own write, not just “female artists”
  • It was noted that 10 minutes in to the session, there was only one man present
  • Sisters have to do it for themselves!
  • A call to make conscious decisions in programming – a lot of the problems are down to unconscious choices
  • Female writers aren’t part of the canon
  • We need to see more female writers on syllabus and in schools
  • Growing up, women’s work is equated with a feminist political agenda. What if you don’t want to be political? Will this change for the next generation?
  • Why do people want 30% participation for women, and not 52%?
  • Some organisations operate blind script reading policies – see Lyn Gardner’s article and Bruntwood prize
  • Implications of gendered language discussed. We don’t say “he’s a male director” or a “career man”. Why do we / should we say that for women?
  • Concern about the lack of continuity and support for women’s second and third plays
  • We didn’t have feminism – we jumped straight into post-feminism
  • “This isn’t just about the arts, we need to change the whole fucking thing!”
  • Anecdotes about the aspirations of a group of young producers: all men wanted to be Nick Starr, the women just wanted a job
  • We need to work on women’s lack of a sense of entitlement and audacity, which is endemic in society
  • We all have to be the change we want to see, and do it from our own position, e.g. programming women’s work, only mentoring women and making conscious choices every time
  • The importance of women looking after other women
  • At one drama school, of 10 directing students, there’s only 1 woman. The boys are confident, where as the 1 woman isn’t able to say she’s a director yet
  • In Canada, positive discrimination in education pushed so far that boys underperformed in schools. There’s now a counter drive to address that.
  • Do women help other women enough? Some are territorial, which is endorsed by society.
  • Should a female artistic director programme work by women even if it’s not as good as the male work? The question should actually be “what can we do to ensure that women’s work is as good?”
  • We have to talk about a different kind of leadership, and different types of success
  • 85% of audiences outside of London are women, who want work with a strong message
  • It’s important to have sell-able plays, and some think women’s work is harder to sell
  • There’s a tension between programming what people want and educating their taste
  • There’s an idea that work about women is only for women – e.g. if a woman writes a family story it’s a “domestic drama”, whereas if Mike Leigh writes it, it’s “universal”
  • Value and sell-ability: does our society value fun enough? It doesn’t all have to be political. It can be Mamma Mia – all women: producer, writer, director
  • We shouldn’t apologise when work is being made about women, for women. It’s not a dirty word / concept.
  • Why aren’t men involved in the feminist debate?



  • Blind submission policies
  • Conscious choices about who we work with
  • Being conscious of our working styles and practices, shifting them if necessary to accommodate different needs
  • Diversity in panels / people evaluating work
  • It’s everyone’s responsibility to back women – men’s as well as women’s
  • Being sensitive to everyone in the conversation, but still getting the work done
  • Evolving our working models
  • Celebrating really great work by women and their achievements
  • Starting young and starting messaging with tiny tots
  • Being aware that we need to support women at different stages of their career - not just at the start
  • Not being afraid to challenge stereotyped gender roles in popular culture. E.g. panto
  • Compulsory female mentors for all senior men in theatre
  • Compulsory male mentors for women in theatre
  • Ensuring feminism is NOT a dirty word
  • Next time we choose a play to see, choose something made by women



Women and money:

  • In publishing, men are paid more
  • Nationally, women earn 10% less than men in equivalent roles
  • Women don’t ask
  • Need for consciousness-raising groups so that women know what they’re worth


Positive examples of all-female plays

  • House of Bernard Alba and Playhouse Creatures
  • Tim Crouch’s Taming of the Shrew


Conversations to be continued:

  • Gatekeepers: why do they make the decisions they make?
  • Female narratives and role models when working with young people



Email me and I’ll make it :)

[email protected]


(lets do it out of London too!!)

Stella x