Women Directors’ Program information sheet
Woman Directors’ Program calendar
taken from australianplays.org
There’s been controversy recently about a perceived imbalance between opportunities for male and female practitioners in Australian theatre. At the same time, there's also been a lot of energy around ways to address the issue and move forward.
The Women Playwrights Solutions Roundtable, jointly supported by the Australia Council’s Theatre and Major Performing Arts Boards, took place on Friday, 12 August 2011 at the Richard Wherrett Studio generously made available by Sydney Theatre Company.
It was a gathering of women playwrights, theatre programmers and other key stakeholders who set aside a day to consider the under-representation of women playwrights in Australian mainstage productions and contribute practical ideas for a sector-driven response to the problem.
In its larger context, the Roundtable was one of several recent Australia Council initiatives to promote the fair and equitable inclusion of women in the core creative processes of mainstage theatre companies, the other main components being the Women Director’s Forum in May 2010, commissioned research and development of a reporting tool and guiding principles for Council supported theatre companies.
These initiatives are nearing completion and will be considered in their entirety by the Major Performing Arts and Theatre Boards in coming weeks.
The Women Playwrights’ Solutions Roundtable was facilitated by Gail Cork, director of the Australian Script Centre and a commercial mediator. Her report documents the processes and people involved, the substance of the discussion and the outcomes.
For the report, check out Australian plays.org
You come to expect it, as a woman writer, particularly if you're political. You come to expect the vitriol, the insults, the death threats. After a while, the emails and tweets and comments containing graphic fantasies of how and where and with what kitchen implements certain pseudonymous people would like to rape you cease to be shocking, and become merely a daily or weekly annoyance, something to phone your girlfriends about, seeking safety in hollow laughter.
An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they'd like to rape, kill and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation and abuse.
Perhaps it should be comforting when calling a woman fat and ugly is the best response to her arguments, but it's a chill comfort, especially when one realises, as I have come to realise over the past year, just how much time and effort some vicious people are prepared to expend trying to punish and silence a woman who dares to be ambitious, outspoken, or merely present in a public space.
No journalist worth reading expects zero criticism, and the internet has made it easier for readers to critique and engage. This is to be welcomed, and I have long felt that many more established columnists' complaints about the comments they receive spring, in part, from resentment at having their readers suddenly talk back. In my experience, however, the charges of stupidity, hypocrisy, Stalinism and poor personal hygiene which are a sure sign that any left-wing columnist is at least upsetting the right people, come spiced with a large and debilitating helping of violent misogyny, and not only from the far-right.
Many commentators, wondering aloud where all the strong female voices are, close their eyes to how normal this sort of threat has become. Most mornings, when I go to check my email, Twitter and Facebook accounts, I have to sift through threats of violence, public speculations about my sexual preference and the odour and capacity of my genitals, and attempts to write off challenging ideas with the declaration that, since I and my friends are so very unattractive, anything we have to say must be irrelevant.
The implication that a woman must be sexually appealing to be taken seriously as a thinker did not start with the internet: it's a charge that has been used to shame and dismiss women's ideas since long before Mary Wollestonecraft was called "a hyena in petticoats". The internet, however, makes it easier for boys in lonely bedrooms to become bullies. It's not only journalists, bloggers and activists who are targeted. Businesswomen, women who play games online and schoolgirls who post video-diaries on YouTube have all been subject to campaigns of intimidation designed to drive them off the internet, by people who seem to believe that the only use a woman should make of modern technology is to show her breasts to the world for a fee.
Like many others, I have also received more direct threats, like the men who hunted down and threatened to publish old photographs of me which are relevant to my work only if one believes that any budding feminist journalist should remain entirely sober, fully clothed and completely vertical for the entirety of her first year of university. Efforts, too, were made to track down and harass my family, including my two school-age sisters. After one particular round of rape threats, including the suggestion that, for criticising neoliberal economic policymaking, I should be made to fellate a row of bankers at knifepoint, I was informed that people were searching for my home address. I could go on.
I'd like to say that none of this bothered me – to be one of those women who are strong enough to brush off the abuse, which is always the advice given by people who don't believe bullies and bigots can be fought. Sometimes I feel that speaking about the strength it takes just to turn on the computer, or how I've been afraid to leave my house, is an admission of weakness. Fear that it's somehow your fault for not being strong enough is, of course, what allows abusers to continue to abuse.
I believe the time for silence is over. If we want to build a truly fair and vibrant community of political debate and social exchange, online and offline, it's not enough to ignore harassment of women, LGBT people or people of colour who dare to have opinions. Free speech means being free to use technology and participate in public life without fear of abuse – and if the only people who can do so are white, straight men, the internet is not as free as we'd like to believe.
From the theme of the Talentetreffen, to a women-in-directing exhibit, to yesterday’s “Feminism: Today a Dirty Word?” discussion and more, gender has been a big topic at this year’s Theatertreffen. As the Theatertreffen Stückemarkt prepares to wrap up tonight with the awarding of the 2011 playwriting prizes, which include cash for the author and a production of the winning play, there are numbers that beg the question: what is the Theatertreffen as a whole really doing to contribute meaningfully to the gender debate – other than just talking about it?
We’re thrilled to see a debate happening on the blog – over a sexist-or-maybe-not-remarkHerbert Fritsch, invited twice to the Theatertreffen this year, and both times with a play centered on a strong female character (in the case of A Doll’s House, one of the strongest female characters in the dramatic canon). For you non-German speakers, it boils down to a little something like: Fritsch says he likes a woman who’s a “Luder” (hard to translate but suggestions include “hussy,” “minx,” or my personal favorite, “a sly cow”). Some folks find this sexist and unacceptable for a theater director because of the way that implies he interprets female characters onstage, others find it to be a mere personal preference and therefore don’t see the harm in it, still others seem to be worrying about how the actresses themselves must feel having to act out Fritsch’s female caricatures for an audience. from director
Personally, I’m inclined to say Fritsch can go ahead and show whatever he wants onstage – as long as there’s room left for other perspectives to be shown. It shouldn’t be a problem for him to tell a story the way he wants to tell it – as long as other stories are getting their chance to be told.
And in theory, everybody gets to tell their story. But there’s a big gap here between theory and practice.
The “post-migrant theater” movement represents one part of the population not getting its proportional share of stage time. Yet there is another group whose presence in the theater world is far smaller than it is in the real world, whose voice is not being heard, whose perspective isn’t being seen. So let’s look at it through some numbers, because after all, numbers are neutral, aren’t they?
Let’s start with the Stückemarkt. There are 15 playwrights listed among the “Stückemarkt Success Stories” (playwrights who were invited to the Stückemarkt in some capacity in past years and are now doing well). 3 of them are women. Huh? 20%? Are there really that few women out there writing plays? Are their plays really that bad? How does that 20% happen?
Well, let’s take this year as an example. Out of 356 submitted plays, 156 were written by women, 200 were written by men. So about 44% of the submissions were by women. Not quite half, but not terrible.
However, of the eight plays selected for the Stückemart (by a jury that is 40% women), only three have female authors. That’s down to 37.5%.
And not all Stückemarkt plays are created equal. Five of the plays receive staged readings; the other three playwrights receive a workshop. The idea with the workshop is that the plays are “less finished” – there’s more work to be done. Instead of receiving individual, fully staged readings, these three workshop scripts are lumped together into one “reading of excerpts,” to be shown tomorrow night.
Of the five plays receiving full readings, one was written by a woman.
So we’ve gone from a 44% representation among submissions to a 20% representation among selections. And if you were at the writer’s panel with the Stückemarkt playwrights last week, you wouldn’t have seen even that 20%; the playwrights at the table were all men. (And Simon Stephens, who opened the Stückemarkt with his keynote, is also a man – don’t let his luscious locks fool you.)
Another set of numbers can be found in the March 2011 edition of Theater heute. Some of them have to do with Germany as a whole:
Other numbers are specific to the Theatertreffen. Of the 472 total productions invited to the Theatertreffen from 1964-2010:
Fritsch liking a woman who’s “a sly cow” is no scandal, in and of itself. What is a scandal is that the Herbert Fritsches of the world get far more stage time and pay for their work than the Karin Henkels. What is a scandal is that male playwrights are the face of the Stückemarkt – that they continue to be the face of modern as well as of canonical drama. What is a scandal is sub-titling an exhibit about female directors “a male profession in female hands,” turning what should be a celebration of women in theater into an affirmation that theater belongs to men. And it’s oh, so nice of them to let us in.
Let’s be clear. I don’t like the idea of a quota and will not argue for one here. I don’t think it works and I think it is a lazy attempt at a solution. The problem is incredibly complicated. Tradition and history are naturally a part of it. The assumption that success for women in the field consists of succeeding within a male heteronormative structure that Leo beautifully criticized (in German) is another part of it. We also can’t write the gender disparity off as blatant sexism. The Stückemarkt plays, for example, were read anonymously; the jurors didn’t know the gender of the playwrights. So how do we assess the dramatic difference between the percentage of women applicants and that of selected female writers? Does this support the thesis that there’s some kind of empirically discernible “female aesthetic” that’s “boring” – or is it that “women just can’t write”? (In the States, the 2010 Wendy Wasserstein Prize jury seemed to be of a similar opinion. This is not a Germany-specific problem by a long stretch.)
And what about this: Uwe Gössel, the director of the International Forum at the Theatertreffen, says that every year the Forum receives far more female than male applicants (which they correct for in their selection, trying to create the “most diverse possible” group). Why is that? Could be because the proportion of women in the independent theater scene, which is where most of the Forum applicants come from, is also much higher than the proportion in the state-funded theaters. And that is also something that brings down the average pay for women in theater. It’s not just that they’re taking breaks to have babies (which is what every woman wants, after all!). It’s that they’re running groups like She She Pop and Gob Squad and Turbo Pascal, working at the boundaries of theater – and, in many cases, not because they couldn’t or can’t get a job at a state-funded theater, but because that isn’t what they want. As the independent scene gains influence and attention, maybe this implicit criticism of the traditional theater structure will lead to a gradual and organic change – more meaningful, with more lasting potential, than imposing any quota could bring.
The theater is a space where artists present their – naturally subjective – visions, preferences, interpretations and dreams. You may find, like Kathrin Röggla cautioned Theater heute, that “feminism has become unsexy”: but even if that’s true, you should still listen up. Because if theater is going to be a relevant part of modern society and a place where we are truly able to engage in meaningful discourse, it can’t continue to obsess over the dreams and visions of the white heterosexual European male.
We already know how the cuts in arts funding are going to reduce a lot of good companies to one show a year and possibly put some companies out of business entirely. But what I've not seen any discussion of, anywhere, is how these cuts will affect women working in the industry, possibly even more disproportionately than within other industries. Instead we seem content to parade a few "success stories" as examples of how all-inclusive the arts are, reducing legitimate achievements to a headline and unwittingly shutting the door to more women through sheer ignorance.
The Running in Heels blog recently published a list of successful female theatre practitioners, designed to demonstrate support to those achieving success within the arts. But showcasing a few successful women – often part of corporate structures, an entirely different prospect to the freelancers who actually drive the industry – implies that other women will only be interested in the arts if given permission. While trying to fix something that's not broken we're avoiding addressing the genuine issue of opportunity.
Persisting with the myth that women are under-represented due to lack of interest serves nobody. On my drama school MA alone, there were 30 women and six men on the course – hardly a dearth of interested, intelligent and engaged females. Lack of interest is not the problem; women are already flocking to the industry in their droves. Opportunity to progress, meanwhile, is nowhere near as bountiful. In assuming that simply bringing more women into the industry will fix under-representation, we're addressing completely the wrong issue. Surely the real goal should be supporting women to stay in the industry for longer than a few years, therefore at least partially addressing the frankly ludicrous turnover in the process?
Showcasing already successful women as an example of the industry's "equality" will, also, not help a young stage manager struggling in a career based on living in a different town each week, while managing any number of family obligations. Nor will lists like this negate the fact that a freelance fringe theatre producer is usually self-employed, and thus entitled only to the bare minimum statutory maternity leave. Add to that the fact that the rare staff roles are often more business-oriented than theatre production's creative drive, and we end up presented with the same glass ceiling bemoaned by businesswomen the world over. With those practicalities in mind, is it any wonder that many young women, forced to choose between an unstable career, family or sheer burnout, end up leaving the industry to the next generation of theatre's big cliche, middle-class, white men?
Women in theatre are too often stuck between a rock and a hard place. The work ethic of the arts industries is, by necessity, both notoriously "flexible" and demanding; it is what is thrilling and frustrating about the profession. It cannot be met with a government response to issues like maternity leave which ignores the industry's fundamental quirks, and leaves women with next to no support. The cuts will only make these issues more pressing, diminishing already scarce opportunities for a sustainable career further; opportunities which many women will have to forego due to their personal circumstances.
It will offend some quasi-liberal sensitivities to say so, but if we are truly serious about encouraging more women to achieve success within the arts, it's vital we now stop pretending equality prevails. Maintaining the status quo only prevents us from solutions that will enable women towards a sustainable career path. Until we do, using a few successful corporate examples as poster girls for the industry's supposed equality will only continue to disguise the massive inequality that is many female arts professionals' reality.
Why do we see so few plays by Australian women?
Something, somewhere, in Australian theatre is not working. Are female playwrights not out there, or are they being denied opportunities? And if there is a problem, what’s being done? With calls of sexism and a push for the introduction of quotas, many Australian women playwrights are on the warpath. Playwrights Patricia Cornelius and Van Badham talk with Artistic Directors Marion Potts and Ralph Myers, moderated by Chris Mead from Playwriting Australia.
Chris Mead is artistic director of PlayWriting Australia.
Ralph Myers is Artistic Director of Belvoir Street Theatre and one of Australia’s foremost set designers. He has designed for most of the country’s major theatre companies, including extensively for Belvoir and Sydney Theatre Company as well as Melbourne Theatre Company, Bell Shakespeare, Griffin Theatre Company and Legs on The Wall.
Lucy Freeman Chair
Melanie Beddie Deputy Chair
Jane Woollard Treasurer
Maureen Andrew Secretary