Monday, October 5, 2009

A letter from Melbourne Workers Theatre

This is the full and original version of a letter written by the current ensemble of Melbourne Workers Theatre. A much shorter version appeared in last Saturday's copy of The Age. (Please note: this letter was written prior to the receipt of Derek Young's reply to Ms. Beddie, following a considerable amount of lapsed time from when the original letter was sent, with no reply received.)

Over the past fortnight Australian main-stage theatre companies have been unveiling their 2010 seasons to a barrage of complaints and criticism about the lack of opportunities for women in key creative roles, especially directing.

Last week the Melbourne Theatre Company followed suit by announcing that out of 12 productions only one is to be directed by a woman.
A recent article in your paper cites a letter sent by director Melanie Beddie on behalf of the Australian Women Directors’ Alliance to the MTC questioning their commitment to their equal opportunity policies. We understand there has been no reply. Derek Young, the MTC’s chair, said that the company does not feel it should be held responsible for gender equality; rather that it is an issue for the entire theatrical industry. He pointed out that Beddie had made a similar complaint in 2003 and that nothing had changed.

We, the current ensemble of the Melbourne Workers Theatre, wish to offer our thanks and support to Melanie Beddie and the Directors’ Alliance for bringing this issue to light. We would like to say to the MTC that to admit that nothing has changed since 2003 is to admit that the company is stagnant and out of touch with what is happening in theatre beyond its doors.

The Women Directors’ Alliance comprises 60 members: a significant proportion of those members, Beddie included, have spent decades directing excellent, profound and mostly under-funded theatre in Melbourne and beyond. Our industry relies on these women’s efforts as mentors for cultivating writers, performers, designers and technicians, but in turn they are not rewarded with professional work that is commensurate with their experience and skills. If artistic director Simon Philips is suggesting that the MTC’s gender inequality is the result of a lack of experienced Victorian female directors then we would like to ask him: are you blind, or scared, or both? There is no shortage of female talent in Victoria, simply a lack of opportunity.

We understand that budgetary constraints limit the number of external directors that can be employed by the company. But, when the proportion of directors is always overwhelmingly male we are interested in finding out what your recruitment criteria are that so many experienced women continue to be overlooked. That said, if the cost of external directors is causing gender equality to remain grossly unbalanced then it would seem logical to include women in your salaried creative staff.

If the MTC is the flagship theatre company of this state then it, more than any other company, has a responsibility to set an example and act fairly when it comes to gender equality. To relinquish that responsibility and make excuses as to the current state of discrimination implies that the MTC does not hold this issue to be important and therefore does not intend to act to promote change.
The Melbourne Workers Theatre would like to entreat all theatre-goers to take a stand and boycott main-stage plays that are directed by men until the imbalance is addressed. Theatre is nothing without an audience and an audience is almost nothing without women.

Dana Miltins, Maude Davey, Georgina Naidu, David Adamson, Jada Alberts, and Greg Ulfan.


  1. You know someone should really do a review of Rosalba Clemente's time as Artistic Dircetor of the State Theatre Comapny of SA. Proof that such programming can work for a mainstage company.

  2. There also should be a debate about the sort of work that is produced by companies i.e. representation of women, are women central to the narrative/s in text?, what is the discourse on women? What about cultural representation? etc. As recipients of Government funding isn't there an obligation to ensure equal opportunity representation in all aspects of an organisation and in the work? Don't we have to tick the boxes anymore? As much as some people hate it, policy directives from funding bodies ie Indigenous as priority, or mulitculural, regional or women as priority, does exert influence and bear fruit. If it wasn't for these past priorities of the Oz Co and State funding bodies, we propably wouldn't have any Indigenous or women directors or writers working (or not) today. Perhaps it is time for the funding bods to and shake the comfort zones or the white male middle class boys club again.

  3. And how does MWT feel about the response from the MTC? Still want us to boycott their productions?

  4. In response to Catherine f,the AWDA is in the process of reaching out to multiple state and ferderal bodies to invite discussion and support in a move to establishment some real initiatives that attempt to both address the issues at hand, and promote positive, tangible outcomes. In the first instance the issue needed to be on the table and acknowledgement across the sector that there is in fact a problem needed to be bought to light.

  5. The call for a boycott was interesting wasn't it? Was it made from a desire to punish someone for not letting us in? Or was it a rhetorical flourish, inviting consideration of the audience, and the fact that the majority of the MTC subscriber audience is female. What would the blokes do if women didn't come to their shows?

    I don't want people to stop going to the theatre. But I do want people to recognise the current situation for what it is - and that is pretty stinky.