Since 10pm on Monday I night I have received text messages, facebook messages, emails- I’ve read the installments from 7-On: (http://sevenon.blogspot.com/2009/06/what-is-going-on-here.html) and Joanna Erskine (http://www.joannaerskine.com/cluster/), and talked and listened to the frustrations and the disappointment of many of those in the industry. This is a post about the reactions, my thoughts, my feelings and my perspective about the theatre industry as it is right here and now. And what it means to be a practitioner working in that industry. A practitioner who happens to be a woman.

Firstly the issue that has surprised and even shocked and infuriated some is that in the 2010 Belvoir Season that was launched on Monday night, there was a clear lack of female key creatives at the helm of the shows. Belvoir st will be celebrating their 25th year- no mean feat! And within the next 6 weeks there will be the naming of the new artistic director…. its a big turning point.

Belvoir has always had a special place in the hearts of many- practitioners regard it with pride having worked their- they talk of community and family and equality. (Perhaps this has to do with the egalitarian pay structure?) They regard it as the place whcih was started by a syndicate of like minded practitioners who all fronted cash- put money where their hearts were – to start a theatre. This mythology has captured the imaginations of already a highly imaginative group of people. And rightly so.

Belvoir has hosted a range of Australia’s top practitioners- launched the career of many a celebrity… names Australia and the Australian creative industries are proud of- Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchette, Wayne Blair, Lee Lewis, – You know the ones I am talking about.

Belvoir has also championed new Indigenous writing and indigenous practitioners- giving space and time to the oldest living culture of storytellers the world has known. Though sometimes seen to be treated as a token pattern of programming- this is still an essential part of theatre practice in this country- it is essential for Indigenous stories to be told by artists who are Indigenous… as this exchange is artistically and culturally vital as a step towards any sort of healing and understanding.

However- there is another side of this- if you look at Belvoir as a place of equality- lets look a little further. Lets look at the Contact Us section of the website…

The top and most influencial names of the company- the taste makers- the folks chosing and priviledging the practitioners, the plays, the stories that are told- are all men.

The women of the company are in positions of education. Of promotion. Of support.

It seems the age old saying is true- behind every great men are great women. And Belvoir certainly has impressive women working there- Brenna Hobson- a remarkably intelligent and skilled producer and manager whom I first met in 2000 and have ever since held in very high regard for her clarity and strength and her calm and sensible ability to overcome all challenges.

Tahli Corin- one of the most supportive and passionate and brave and change making individuals in the independant sector- she is largely an unsung hero for the opportunities she has provided and projects she has spearheaded.

But the question begs- are women fairly and equally treated in our industry in general? I am not going to discuss the wider world politics of women- that is for another time. Is the Belvoir season indicative of Australian/local theatre talent?

As someone who sees between 1-4 productions a week, I would say, no. And then the question is- does this matter that Belvoir’s Season has not equally represented women, or new australians, or first Australians, or transgender identifying?

My thoughts are-
The gender issue only matters if there is not equal opportunities available for female artists as there are for male artists.

The gender issue only matters if there are not avenues for people to be selected, based on talent and merit.

The gender balance only matters when there isn’t one.

My programming practice-

I program on talent. I program based on potential, not genitals. I program for Brand Spanking New and Off The Shelf, based on the heart of the work- that speaks to me. That reflects stories that confront , puzzle and reassure me- who I am living as a person right now in society. I can not avoid nor deny I am a woman. I am not sure how, but I am sure somehow all the things that make up who I am affects how I see the world- those things ranging from my small country town background, my university education, my partner, my experiences of travel, all theatrical experiences I have experiences (as audience and practitioner) up until this point. I can not escape who I am, how I feel and what I want from theatre. I program accordingly. And the results of gender split if scrutinized are as follows:

Brand Spanking New 2009 has 7 writers out of 15/ and 9 directors out of 14 who are women.
Brand Spanking New 2008 had 9 writers out of 14 /and 9 directors out of 14 who are women.
Off the Shelf # 2 has 10 creatives involved half of which are women.
Off the Shelf #1 had 10 creatives involved, four of which are women.

And the truth is- Belvoir is the same- they are a collection of people programming from their perspective- now if that means that female key creatives don’t figure in that- that is their choice. And I can’t and won’t expect them to be anything but true to what they believe in. I don’t want women programmed due to their genitals but their talent- their story. And if Belvoir is not a place for key female creatives in 2010- well thats fine… because women will continue to create and develop work and be in this industry forever- like it or not.

The main issue for me is, has and always will be- are there opportunities offered to people from all backgrounds, regardless of sexual preference, race, gender? Is there enough of a mix- is what we are seeing on Australian stages a diverse and spectacular array of works- or is it the same old story by the same people? Are we chalenging each other and ourselves and our audiences by opening up the industry?

If not why not and how are we going to fix it?

So we’ve had a wake up call from Belvoir- through the absence of female creatives in their mainstage season they have shown us what we DO want to see. So great now we know what we want- let’s make it happen. Can and should one theatre answer all the problems and questions? No. But 100 theatres might.