Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Age

Today there is an article in the the Age about these very issues. you can view it on the web or buy a paper for the full colour version!
I wonder whether you will feel as I do that the MTC has responded very poorly to our very reasonable and mature requests for engagement on these issues.
Apparently it is not their responsibility nor is it within their budget to make a difference. Actually I feel this must be in clear contradiction with their Equal Opportunity Policy. Anyone know some smart lawyers?
So you can see the sort of dismissive arrogance we are up against.
I feel that to be silent now is to be complicit with these attitudes. I wonder how people maintain their self respect working in these environments. These sorts of attitudes ultimately brutalise people and make their artistic work into mere toil.
Please think carefully about how you wish to respond to this sort of exclusion. Let me know here what you think we should do next?


  1. Obvious notes on the MTC response:

    Clearly the MTC doesn't wish to be a leader in the arts, or in any capacity - "But the company's chairman, Derek Young, said yesterday that it was not the MTC's responsibility to provide gender equality when it was a problem for the whole."

    And the salaried positions go to - yep, you guessed it - the men!

    "The MTC's director, Simon Phillips, said budgetary constraints meant most directing jobs went to salaried staff. ''Of the few that remain, I'm very conscious of giving jobs to women, but I concede they tend to go to established women directors,'' he said."

    But, of course, the major theatre companies of Australia are falling over themselves to give work to the rakish young men of theatre (Mr. Stone, Mr. Lutton, Mr. Strong etc. - no disrepect meant to these fine artists).

    I may be shooting myself well and truly in foot (bugger it, right is right), but it is god-damn time that the King-makers of Australian theatre stopped this self-gratifying, mini-me trip, and started supporting and giving well-deserved opportunities to all of the artists in our community and not just to the bright young male things.

    Congratulations to the AWDA. Thank you for fighting the good fight. And I suppose this response of mine is somewhat self-serving too - if things don't change soon the theatrical arts in Australia will soon be well and truly dead, and I don't want to live in that world.

  2. I was so disheartened by MTC's response. There are many wonderful 'established' female directors in Melbourne (Jane Woollard, Melanie Beddie, Kirsten von Bibra, Mary Siterinos, Catherine Hill, Naomi Edwards, Tanya Gerstle - just off the top of my head). How is it the MTC is completely blind to their talent or success? It is such a shame. It is a loss for the whole industry when these women don't get their time or voice on the mainstage.

  3. Yes Mel- the MTC has responded very poorly. But you Nicholas and Petra have responded very well! Although, I am conscious that Petra only listed a few names there ... there are so many more I could add. I understand that the MTC does not stage enough shows per year to offer employment to all worthy candidates- male or female. However, if they are going to continue to insist that they select directors based on MERIT then surely they have to admit that based on MERIT alone, you'd expect to get roughly an equal mix of suitable male and female candidates. Unless of course men are percieved by the MTC to have, purely by way of gender, more MERIT. If that is the case, then I think the next thing we should do is consult a lawyer.

  4. I didn't want to stoop to making a list of qualified female directors who have worked for main stage companies in Melbourne beyond the last five years - but it would make an interesting list, especially since we still exist and work, but can't get seem through the doors again. Derek Young's criteria have been fulfilled in Melbourne by Lindy Davies, Gale Edwards, Jenny Kemp, Ariette Taylor, Catherine Hill and myself, just to start with. To my knowledge I was the first woman to direct on the Playhouse stage. My esteemed colleagues who have been working in the small to medium sector are doing theatre work of importance in a different arena: often brilliant, the work cannot support large ticket sales due to its style, content and performance spaces. That's all. Like them, I don't have any box office figures to prove my ticket sales at Playbox, QTC, or the State Theatre of South Australia. Funnily enough, ticket sales are not generally the criterion applied to any discussion of employment for the main stage companies, and no one has ever asked me to identify that as a personal strength. Obviously theatre is a business, but the business questions are not the only issue.

    Read Love Your Work on the Australia Council website and post a comment.It would be great to get the energy of this question bubbling at Australia Council level too, since most major companies contributed to the research. The Love Your Work report makes depressing reading on the issue of directors' careers. I found myself most concerned about the way it talks about Artistic Directors needing to 'get excited' about someone in order to employ them. We have all lived with this model of employment opportunity in the arts for a long time but is it really modern? What is the professional list of criteria which is being implied? Is it talent; main stage skills (i. e. staging skills, collaborative skills, aesthetic and cultural skills, ability to handle large casts and crews, and keep to budget and deadlines...gee, I bet none of us have done that before...); creation of good door sales or bringing co-production dollars? I thought vision and creativity was a part of the work: the biggest part. And that is not gender specific.

    Where is the transparency of opportunity? I have experienced for many years a sly implication that women can handle the small emotional territory of close theatre environments but they are biologically incapable of directing big shows. I wonder what Gale Edwards, Julie Taymor and Susan Stroman have to say about this?

    Many women are indeed qualified but their opportunity to contribute is being blocked. If the issue is that women do it differently, that can only be good for culture. I have been asking around, and men are telling me they would like to see other styles of theatre; they can't identify how, but believe that most of what is on offer is a formula. To speak as if a show is an audition is merely to state the obvious: you need to be seen as a good director to get work as a director. But to imply that women can't be employed because there is nothing to see and no-one to employ is just ill informed.

  5. Absolutely Lucy. The merit scale is a funny one - certainly in our business anyway. It's so rarely what we hope it might be, and never, ever 'ideal'. And even though we 'know' this, we find it difficult to believe, or at least, we too easily forget. Forget that when you get down to the nitty-gritty too many decisions are made on the basis of arbitrary concerns (arbitrary to a 'living theatre', that is) like looks, spunk, gumption, notoriety, celebrity, marketability, and the old, 'I see myself in him' thing.

    But that is, and will always be, the nature of the beast - at least to some extent. We cannot help but be subjective; the funny thing being that we should be when it comes to art. After all, it is the personal response that really matters in terms of audience and appreciation.

    The real problems occur when those judgements and choices that are made in terms of appointments – deliberate or otherwise - are harmful to others; when decisions and appointments are made that are at the exclusion of any particular group, be they of a different gender, sexual preference, race, creed, or social clique. This is the heart of the problem with the status quo: That the norm is conservative, privileged, white, middle-class and male. That this particular group, on the whole, owns the arts in our country. That they are the ‘music makers’ and the ‘dreamers of dreams’ of our time – and they will be the ones to decide who else can dream and dance and teach and entertain.

    We have to be careful, though, in our response to this inequality. We (me, you and the rest) must not allow our frustration to become fury. We must approach this calmly and generously. Because there is no argument. It is a clear case of exclusion, of poor representation, of favouritism, and of cronyism. These decision makers have simply made a mistake. And now it is time for that mistake to be rectified. However entrenched the inequitable attitudes may be, however unaware of their own prejudice these silly men (and women) are, however much they believe they believe in openness and inclusiveness it is a cold hard fact that there is something rotten in the state of gender balance in the Australian dramatic arts. And we will help them see the error of their ways.

  6. Thankfully, we are preparing a range of different action steps to set the wheels of change in motion. You are quite correct Nicholas, anger is not nearly as useful as action.However, keep in mind that this issue was raised at the AFT in May, in a letter in 2004, in a letter 7 weeks ago .... and in a similar letter 17 years ago. So we can be patient, and fair, and give the benefit of the doubt. But we also need to ensure that we keep up the dialogue until such a time it becomes clear that there is a) recognition that the problem exists, b) engagement in steps toward positive solutions.
    I know this will take time. But I am also aware of the ebb and flow of gender issues which creep in and drop back, time after time, year after year, decade after decade. So I am patient ... you know, sort of.