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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

How can we help straight, white, middle class, able-bodied, cis men know they are the minority and the not the norm?

Stella Duffy - 14 January 2017

WHO WAS THERE

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Called by : Stella Duffy

Who came (with apologies for names mis-spelling) :
Mark, Kate Maravan, Mandy Fenton, Rebecca Manson Jones, Catherine Wright, Tom McDonagh, Charlotte Duberry, Jacob Harmon, Ed Browning, Morvern Macbeth, Tim Atack, Marie Hamilton, Daisy Bowie-Sell, Chris Goode, Jo Bryant, Jess Brewster, Alice Massey, Joanna Mackie, Mike Tweddle, Eddie Latter, Ben Kulvidnit, Alex Murdoch, Luke John Emmett, David Lockwood, Pauline Mayers, Dylan Frankland, Mary Swann, Sarah Peterkin, Wendy Petitdemage, Chloe Masitor, Annette Chown, Kate McStraw, Jenna Omeltschenko, Rikki Henry, Amy Clare Tasker
And more …

Stella : I called this session feeling tearful because I’m so tired of calling it, of the lack of change, of it (or variations) being needed, coming up time and again – I also called it with a bit of shame because it’s the session people probably expect me to call, the one that is maybe a cliché for me to call. And, anyway, I called it because hey, it isn’t all about how I feel!!

Lots of people came, there was a lot of talk about how it is, how we see it to be, and also some very practical suggestions of methods for change, and some hope.
The following are some of the many things said, unattributed because too many people (attribute your own if you want to!)
- there is a lack of noticing
- my menfolk (ie the ones who are aware) think “they don’t mean me”
- can men choose to step back? (can white people?)
- theory vs practice (lots of awareness in theory, much less in practice)
- useful to champion the men who create space for others
- share good practice
- balanced panels and boards are vital (useful method – when selecting a panel ask women, people of colour, disabled people, LGBTQ+ - and those who are any/all of these! – FIRST, THEN fill up the gaps with white men – not the other way round as is more usual)
- there should be no funding unless there is a balanced board
- the use of screens in orchestra auditions has helped – is there a similar thing theatre can do (quotas!)
- inequality of pay – the need for better-paid men to speak up and demand women are paid as well as they are
- support THIS conversation – can we be less embarrassed to talk about inequality?
- the person with privilege needs to step up/step aside to make way for the person without – can do this by suggesting alternatives
- value of correct data in challenging the idea that it’s all ok now
- women are NOT a minority
- a choice to refer to every inanimate object/animal/doctor/postie as ‘she’, to normalize ‘she’ as the core/central figure
- nb : quite often people with power/money are He and they do need to give more
- we can all model better behaviour, we can model generosity
- let’s talk about : what is power? What is representation?
- it’s important to recognize when you are in a position of power – we are making change (albeit slowly) AND/OR …
- why is it still SO SLOW? Why do we have to wait?
- let’s not be fooled by the idea of progress, let’s ask what can I do TODAY? NOW? To make a difference?
- the use of quotas and how it can both energise a creative process and create change
- being against quotas problematises diversity (nb, lots of enthusiasm for quotas in the group)
- in casting/getting board members/staff, if finding it hard to get diversity – TRY HARDER, “go shopping in a different mall”, look wider ALWAYS
- when ‘they’ say they didn’t get submissions from a wide enough range of people, it indicates that their system is flawed – tell them.
- (from science pov) : the arts are incredibly nepotistic, eg applications are via email or phone call – this kind of thing would be illegal ikn science (& other fields) but is common in the arts
- value of advocacy, let’s stop the ‘Highlander Effect” (ie, lop off each others’ heads because there can only be one powerful person at a time – if we can support each other to be powerful, we can all share a LOT more power)
- fear of losing power – we can model a growth of power based on sharing/yielding power
- be clear where women in power (whatever their politics) are abused because of gender
- we don’t have enough models of power that aren’t patriarchal
- because we are all swimming in the same water, it’s hard to see what might be solutions
- what are the strategies for helping the privileged/powerful to know they’re taking all the air/time/talking space? The Icelandic women in parliament speaking up for each other & noting when men were taking all the speaking space; use the person’s name when pointing out that they are over-speaking (helps them hear it!), “I don’t retweet men, I only RT women, to boost the signal of women”; you can put your hand up (if you are one likely to be asked to speak) and give that speaking space to one less likely to be offered it
- it is possible to cunt-spread in response to man-spreading (or to politely ask him to take up only his fair share of the seat!)
- so many ASSUMPTIONS
- how do we help children in being aware/political
- become school governors
- the invisibility of older women
- to get to the equality ideal, where our identities are less important because everything IS equal, we have to get past a place where so many identities are marginalized (and conversely, many of us are proud of those identities – even where they include oppression, so giving them up is also problematic)
- the importance of knowing the history of many identities, not only our own
- it does require being brave and risking danger to step up and speak out and sometimes we have to be the ones who suck up that danger in order to make it better for others, if not for ourselves (as others did for us – LGBT pioneers, suffragettes, civil rights activists etc) – and when you are IN work, even if that’s the scariest time to speak up, that’s when you at least have the privilege of work to speak from!
- childcare – everyone’s problem, not just women’s (book suggested - “King Kong Theory”)
- there is a double-edged sword of being out in theatre, that of being pigeon-holed in work (trans actors only cast as trans, disabled only cast as disabled etc); AND we make it better for others when we’re out; AND we need to be out safely for ourselves
- no-one (including straight, white, middle class, able bodied, cis men!) are only one thing. It is better for all of us to be seen in our variety and multiplicity.
- an intersectional footnote : that none of us are immune to fucking up/abusing power/holding privilege (eg sexist gay men, racist feminists etc)
- AND … we are all pleased that there are so many intersectional conversations this year – it feels like some progress!

(and I didn’t feel teary or clichéd afterwards, so thank you all for joining me. Stella x)

the image is Stella's stick figure drawing of Pauline Mayers' “Highlander Effect” concept.
The words say “lop off the heads of any potential ‘competition’ OR more power cumulatively.”
Benjamin Monk took the photo.

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COMMENTS: 1

Chris Grady

15 January 2017

I wish this wasn't necessary - but it is. Thank you Stella for focussing us on this. Challenging assumptions - including that its all getting better - is essential.

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