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Eleven of the UK’s leading theatres have come together to promote greater gender equality in the industry.
Gender equality campaign group Tonic brought together the Artistic Directors, Chief Executives, and senior creative staff of a cohort of 11 theatres: Almeida, Chichester Festival Theatre, English Touring Theatre, the Gate, Headlong, Pentabus, Royal Shakespeare Company, Sheffield Theatres, the Tricycle, West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Young Vic.
These theatres recognised that something was preventing talented women in the theatre industry from rising to the top and wanted to do something about it. From October 2013 to May 2014, they looked in detail at the root causes behind the comparative lack of women in key creative roles. Tonic says: “Rather than settling for quick fixes or advocating a ‘sticking plaster’ approach, Advance tasked the theatres to understand not only where barriers to female talent exist within their organisations, but why.”
Having concluded the programme all the theatres now have concrete plans in place for how they will create change. They are working towards progress within their own organisations but are also beginning to consider how they can drive for industry-wide change
The programme centred on individuals employed in artistic, and generally freelance, capacities by the theatres involved i.e. as directors, writers, actors, designers (including lighting, sound and video) and other ‘creatives’.
Tonic’s previous research showed that these roles rather than those in administration, participatory work, producing, or stage management were where women were significantly less likely to be represented than men, particularly at top level in the best resourced, most prestigious theatres.
Over the course of the six months, the theatres took part in group and one-to-one sessions, conducted intensive research and looked at how they could move forward, using new approaches.
Following the programme, the theatres have all now put into place firm plans for new ways of working that they will begin to implement over the next 12 months.
One area they looked at was playwrighting and the number of good female roles. They found that, although there are roughly the same number of new plays being produced by women as by men, there is a significant difference between where these plays are being produced. A new play by a man is more likely to be produced on a large stage and a new play by a woman is more likely to be produced on a smaller stage. The research also showed that across the sample of new plays produced by these 12 London theatres in 2013, of those written by women, 52% of the cast were female and 48% were male. In those written by men, 35% of the cast were female and 65% were male. Ongoing work by the theatres will aim to commission an equal number of female and male playwrights and question the number of parts for women.
Tonic says: “Whilst we believe that writers must be free to create work without the onus of fulfilling quotas, we wonder if there is an unconscious bias towards creating male characters. Consequently, we will aim to simply raise the question of female characters as we are in the process of commissioning both male and female writers. In so doing it will be interesting to see whether this affects the statistics for the number of female parts created.”