So here we are! Blog number two. The sequel. Sequels are always better. Just look at Shrek 2. Now I’m not wrong there.
It’s been 100 years since British women were allowed to vote, and though we are seeing the inequality gap narrow within the fields of income, education, politics and health, women still lack a distinct presence on the English stage. And it is not only the actors that are suffering; playwrights, artistic directors and pretty much any female trying to break into the industry is undergoing an uphill battle. My tone may be too negative, but I am currently auditioning left, right and centre for various university shows to no avail, so this blog is also a little pity party to myself, for myself, by myself.
The Theatre industry is such a way that not all those deserving of recognition and success actually get it. You could work 20 hours a day for 20 years, but it’s not a Junior School sports day where everyone gets a participation medal. It's brutal for everyone, especially women. To kick-start this off I’m going to hit you with some cold, hard facts about the inequality there is surrounding women in theatre. I’m sorry in advance for how despondent you may feel after reading these, but there will be a hopeful end if my writing goes to plan, I promise…
- In the industry in 2016, 39% of casts were female, as were 28% of playwrights and 36% of directors. This is despite the fact that 65% of theatre audiences were women. (The Stage)
- A decade ago, 30% of new plays produced in UK theatres were written by women. Not a great statistic, but not an unexpected one. Now, 10 years on we have hit 31%. Less good. While that 1% has for certain made careers for those lucky few, I feel we could have done slightly better in 10 years (3,500 days!!!). If we keep moving at this rate I’ll be 40 by the time we’re on the “same page as men”, if you’ll pardon the pun. (The Guardian)
- Women as actors and comedians earn 26% less than men; as authors and writers, 12% less; and as producers, directors and choreographers, 16% less. (The Stage)
- Women make up over half of all theatre school students, yet after graduation, make up fewer than 30% of the profession’s creative leaders. (Equality In Theatre)
- One fifth of artistic directors are female and there has never been a female artistic director of The National Theatre. Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of The National Theatre for 12 years until 2015, directed no play written by a woman. (The Guardian)
So here is the crux of the problem: theatre is devoted to male narratives, written by males, directed by males. At this point I would like to point out it is not man’s fault that the industry is set out like this. It’s not a conspiracy by men to keep women off film or stage, it’s just they don’t notice if we’re not there, because we never have been. Rewind a couple of hundred years and entire casts were being played by males!
Shakespeare said, “all the world's a stage” (it wasn’t for nothing that he called his own theatre The Globe). This is true and at its best, theatre is the art form that best represents our world. But how can we realistically present the world on stage when we are leaving half of it out of the process? Where are all the histories of our mothers, sisters and grandmothers? This failure to represent women is deeply entwined with society's wider failure to put women's voices on an equal footing with men's.
So what can we do about it? My little input into this much bigger problem is to just keep working. I’ll audition, I’ll write, I’ll direct and I won’t stop talking about it until female playwrights can simply be called “playwrights” and female directors, “directors”. The more noise we make, the more we’ll be heard.
Changes ARE happening. The tides ARE turning. Finally, complex female characters are being written, playwrights are being discovered and all female casts are infiltrating the stage. In December 2017, the new head of the England Arts Council announced a 50-50 male-female split on its national council. This in turn should give us momentum in working towards a 50/50 employment for female creative artists. We may hate the concept of a quota system, but it is only when women’s rights and talents are acknowledged on the English Stage, that we can say our theatre is truly representative of our society.
So please keep working and don’t stop, because we’re lifting the glass ceiling across the nation so everyone can stand taller, together.
Now I’m off for another audition…