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Women Severely Underrepresented in British Theatre

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by Melissa Silverstein
January 3, 2013 2:00 PM
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Last month the Guardian, building on earlier research of Elizabeth Freestone, artistic director of Pentabus theatre, took a look at the status of women in British Theatre and found some disturbing statistics.

Men outnumber women by 2:1 in all areas except one - the audience where women are the majority.  (Last stats show that women make up 68% of the theatre-goers.)

At the top 10 subsidized theatres - women are only 33% of board members; 36% of artistic directors; 38% of actors; 24% of directors; 23% of designers.  And just 35% of new plays produced are by women.  The only good news is in the area of executive directors.  And the two artistic directors at the largest theatres -- The National and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre -- have never directed a play written by a woman. 

One thing the piece points out is that women do very well at the beginning stages of their careers but it is more difficult for women to maintain a career, gets commissions, be produced on larger stages and make it into senior level positions.

This is about valuing and embracing women's voices and visions of our culture.  When we only see plays from a male perspective we leave out the experiences of half the population.

Here's a quote from playwright Zinnie Harris:

It is somehow harder for people to embrace a play written by a woman, whatever its quality. There is something slightly unseemly about filling stages with our voices, whereas men have a sense of filling Chekhov's or Ibsen's shoes. The woman who raises her voice becomes shrill and hectoring; the man becomes authoritative.

The news is that like stats for women in film and theatre here in the US, their study also showed that women produce women and that women writers write more female characters

This is again about pipeline and leadership.  Women may fill up the pipeline in offices in their 20s but then they don't make it through to senior level positions.  Women playwrights may be the voices of their generation in their 20s but they never make it to the larger theatres to become part of the national cannon because women's voices are not seen in the same way as men's voices. 

Here's a plea from playwright Stella Duffy from a blog post for more women in theatre:

When we do not see ourselves on stage we are reminded, yet again, that the people running our world (count the women in the front benches if you are at all unsure) DO NOT NOTICE WHEN WE’RE NOT THERE. That they think men (and yes, white, middle class, middle aged, able-bodied men at that) are ALL we need to see. We are reminded they think that we women – who buy more than 70% of theatre tickets after all – are fine with seeing season after season of theatre (and films, and TV) written by men, about men. Or even (and this is where it gets really interesting) written by women about men. The young women playwrights currently in the ascendency have clearly noticed this, noticed that they are likely to be taken more seriously, that their work is more likely to be produced, if it’s about men. Just as the young women directors are directing plays about men. (It’s certainly a way to make sure you’re not lumped in the ‘women’s writing’/'women’s theatre’ ghetto. Sigh. Assuming it is possible to be in a ghetto made up of 52% of the population?!)

Women in theatre: why do so few make it to the top? (The Guardian)

Women missing out at top theatres (The Guardian)

Text of Theresa Rebeck Laura Pels Keynote Address

Women Playwrights Demand Equality (Women and Hollywood)

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More: theatre, Statistics, Women Writers

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