Salon 2 Women in Theatre Research: Conversation started by Gail Cork (Australian Script Centre), Elaine Lally (University of Technology Sydney) & Sarah Miller (University of Wollongong).

(Here we are in a small theatre… a ring of women and two men… where are the artistic directors? Busy at one of the other Salons? Or perhaps they think they’ll read the paper later?)

“Since 2009, there has been prolific debate about the persistent under representation of the work of women directors and playwrights at the highest levels of the theatre industry. Despite rigorous debate in formal and informal contexts, strategies for addressing this under representation have been elusive. The Australia Council has commissioned researchers Elaine Lally and Sarah Miller to analyse the issues affecting women in theatre, as the basis for informing the development of strategies and actions. As part of their research, Elaine and Sarah will share their findings to date and test some ideas to drive change.”

Have a look at the reference material that is a conversation starter about the issues facing women in theatre,
It gives you a bit of a cultural and background scope for the discussions : http://australiantheatreforum.com.au/atf-2011/resources

(I will now declare that I was one of the people that was interviewed and contributed to this paper. So my opinions are represented in this paper…)

The question of the representation of women in theatre is an ongoing discussion – it has been ongoing since 1984 in a formalised way (with a series of Australia Council commissioned papers).

Gail Cork: What is the role of the Australia Council in policing accountability in the theatre sector?
“The MPAB is a completely different board than to the TB… the aim of the Australia Council is to keep people at the table… you don’t want the OZCO to own your issue… our bit of it is to work with companies to track what is happening, and it’s about goal setting and to ask what do you do now, how do you use the opportunities that are already there… then make sure they are reporting at the end about what actually happened – what was good , what was bad and how can we help. Our role is to collect data and track and have an open conversation.”

(It is clear – the Australia Council is there to facilitate and certainly sees itself as an organisation to assist the industry address and solve its own issues.)

A question from the floor: What are the role and responsibilities of the flagship companies – is it still relevant that they should be honouring the canon in their artistic leadership? What is the contemporary function of these flagship companies?

One comment from the floor was: It is hideously white-bread, male and conservative in its programming.

(Yes. I agree. I yearn for new Australian work by local, living, dynamic artists – both male and female)

Another observation from the floor: The major companies seem to only program their friends… and it’s largely often who you’re at the table with… and who you know is who you’ll programme…

(And I think that is completely true. And why wouldn’t they?)

Why aren’t women being invited to dinner?

(Interesting question – another question is – why are some women being invited to dinner and others not?)

Another question from the floor: Why is it that women represent 70% of development but only 30% of production?

(Interesting question – do women enjoy the nurturing of a development – and is that enjoyment a distinctly female thing?)

An observation: A woman has to have 10 years more experience to get the same opportunities a young man gets.

I think it’s interesting to ask:
Why are we expecting the Australian Council to remedy the problem?
Why is it that we want other people to solve our problems?
How do we learn to ask to be noticed, visible?
Why should women demand to be included – any more than men?
Is there an inherent female sensibility women demonstrate when they are making art?
Why is this so difficult to talk about?
Why don’t women agree with each other?
Could it be that it is how we talk about gender that puts people (and ADs) from engaging with it?
Can one woman speak on behalf of all women? If not how many women WOULD be entitled to talk on behalf of all women?
What are the problems in theatre sector on the whole – and what are the problems which are unique to women working in theatre?

(And so during this forum I went on a wild and random rant. I think I was talking about the incohesion of women as a group. I think I said something about the importance of women supporting and being honest with each other. I also suggested that it is not the boobs that get in the way of female playwrights getting programmed – but perhaps the female playwrights attitudes about their own boobs. I turned into one of those crazy people who talk too much in forums. I ranted. I then needed to leave. I felt utterly vibrant with the force of it all. I ranted like a crazy woman. I felt the need to apologize to all who was in that room. I left 15 minutes before the end of the sector. I needed to have water, calm down, debrief. I feel embarrassed about my outburst. I hide in the next session by sitting next to Lachlan Philpott… )

And now I am left thinking: Why are we expecting the theatre companies and artistic directors to represent everyone, all the time? They clearly don’t. And I don’t think they practically can. They don’t equitably represent Australian artists from non-English speaking backgrounds. They don’t represent hybrid arts, nor do they represent anything than their own tastes. Programming is about taste. The current artistic model is about the Artistic Director curating and choosing the works – and they choose the works based on their interests, aesthetics, ideas, sensibilities. And that’s a big deal. It’s a big deal to be an AD because you risk not pleasing people – artists and audiences. It’s a tough job. It’s a personal job. And we support companies (and ADs) through our ticket purchases and our theatre attendance. IF you don’t like how or what someone programmes – don’t attend. Let your bum vote.

I wondered why at the women’s theatre forum research – why there wasn’t 50% of men there. I wondered where all the ADs were (fatigued by the discussion). I wondered why this forum was relegated to the dungeon of the powerhouse. I wondered why the discussion just becomes a disintegration of professionalism into crazy rants (I’m talking about myself here) – I wonder why nothing ever is concrete or solved (why am I wishing for a resolution -perhaps I am too masculine?).

For me it comes down to this:

VISIBILITY of women artists is vital.
EXAMPLES of awesome talent women should be widely and constantly publicized (as much as talented men are.)
AWARENESS brings change.
CONFIDENCE wins over arrogance.
TASTE drives programming over merit.
I don’t believe in QUOTAS.
there is a difference between GHETTO-ISATION and INCLUSION and we’ve got to be consistent with what we want.
IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE EITHER/OR – we can and should want both men AND women.