Sunday, October 4, 2009

Melbourne Theatre Company Responds to AWDA

Below is Melbourne Theatre Company's response to the letter sent by the Australian Women Directors Alliance on the 7th of August, 2009. To read our letter first, click HERE.

29 September, 2009

Dear Ms Beddie,

Thank you for your letter of 7 August 2009 concerning the employment of women directors by Melbourne Theatre Company, which was discussed at some length at our August board meeting. We were particularly interested to hear about the Australian Women Directors Alliance. ls it possible for you to send a list of your members to MTC? The Company generally obtains information about directors from seeing shows or recommendations from agents but may miss out on knowing about directors particularly if they don't have agents.

As you know, MTC presents 10-12 mainstage plays each year of which 1 or 2 are usually buy-ins from other companies. As Artistic Director, Simon Phillips usually directs 3 shows; our main Associate Director will also direct 3 shows; and in recent times, our Associate Director with a particular interest in literary development will direct 1 to 2 shows. This means that there is usually only an opportunity for 1 or 2 external directors to work with the Company on mainstage shows each year.

Through the Associate Director positions, we provide the opportunity for experienced directors to do more work but more importantly, we provide a training environment for them to learn about how a complex multi-million dollar industry works. Since 1995, MTC has employed 6 Associate Directors. Two of them were women who then moved on to become Artistic Directors of major theatre companies.

The Company's approach to the employment of creative personnel in its main season hasn't changed since the letter written to the MEAA to which you referred. The two main criteria are that the person engaged has an extensive artistic track-record; and that they have a passion and aptitude for the project at hand. ln other words, at MTC we employ seasoned creatives who have been working long enough for their artistic strengths to be clearly identifiable. Our position regarding employment of creatives is clear: it must be 'the best person for the job', man or woman. lt is the decision of the Company's Artistic Directorate who that person might be.

Of course, there may be bias at this level. lf it is accepted by the industry that there are equal numbers of men and women directors, of equal professional standing and equal suitability to a Company like MTC; and if, over time, there is a marked gender bias in their employment, then discrimination, conscious or structural may have been detected. A quick look at employment aggregates doesn't necessarily reveal bias but rather could show the reality of suitable personnel available in a particular area such as direction.

A number of activities in which MTC currently engages have a development aspect to them - most notably the Education and Literary Development programs - and we do try to provide opportunities for directors who haven't worked with the Company before. Not all directors are interested in Education work and not all directors are suited to it. However, for your information, the directors of Exploration Education shows over the last 5 years have been;

Year Female Male

On the development front, in 2009 we have a project with 6 young and emerging artists, 3 writers and 3 directors - of which 3 are women and 3 are men.

MTC is a company that wants to achieve gender balance but as we said in 2OO4 and the comment still stands, gender equity is a problem that starts long before people are employed as directors on our main stage shows or as Associate Directors. Gender equity is a still a problem shared across a range of institutions in the theatre industry. From initial training at colleges like NlDA, VCAM and WAPPA; through first jobs with fringe or non-mainstream companies; to eventually work with state theatres, each link in the employment chain is vital to the development of the skilled professional creative. Each link plays a part in addressing the issue of gender equity. It is unreasonable to expect one level of the industry to compensate for the shortcomings of another.

The theatre industry’s problem is real and exacerbated by the downsizing of the small-to-medium sized theatre sector that has traditionally provided most of the employment opportunities for emerging creatives of all kinds. lt is neither fair nor reasonable to expect a state theatre to take up the functions of an alternative, non mainstream company because this sector is in government-induced crisis.

MTC is proactive in the area of gender equity in programs which have a development aspect to them. However, its core business is main stage work. Directors have to have the skill to create a work that will sell 15,OOO to 30,OOO tickets and there are currently only a handful of such directors in Australia. The final line in the University of Melbourne's Equal Opportunity Policy that was quoted in the letter to the MEAA applies: The policy is designed to support the principle that staff are selected or promoted according to merit.

Merit in terms of the quality of direction required by MTC is not to be found through an advertising and interview process. lt is to found through viewing productions. To this end, senior MTC artistic staff attend shows in small and large venues, in capital cities and regional venues. ln order to take on the responsibility of directing a main stage show at MTC, a director will need to have demonstrated advanced skill on the stages of Griffin or Belvoir or La Boite or Malthouse. Without that experience, it's very difficult to determine whether they have the skills that we need.

Should any of your members' work be represented in these, or similar venues, please keep our casting department informed and we'll make sure we get along to see it.

Yours sincerely,
Derek Young
MTC Board Chairperson

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