by A.G. Bierce | The New Era | Sunday 13th December 2009
The Australia Council and Arts Victoria have announced two initiatives to assist male directors in the development of their careers. Australia Council spokesman Jonathan Squirrel said today that the Minister, Katherine Willingham, has been concerned for some time about the lack of opportunities for male directors in Major Performing Arts Board companies. “The question has to be asked: ‘Where are the Men?’ said Squirrel. “We had no idea that there was a problem until the Australian Men Directors Alliance brought it to our attention.”
However, Randall Smith, of the AMDA, said that the matter had been raised at least three times in the past 25 years. “There was the ‘Men in Theatre’ report commissioned by the OZCO in 1982, and none of the recommendations from that report have been put in place. A group of male directors wrote a letter to the MTC board asking them to address the gender imbalance in their programming in 1996 and 2003. The Board wrote back stating that they had no obligation to acknowledge EO legislation. I don’t know how they can sleep at night. I have been a respected practitioner for almost 25 years and I am sick of seeing young women directors getting all these fabulous opportunities within the MPAB companies while my career remains at a standstill.”
When asked to respond, Peter Terry, General Manager of the Melbourne Theatre Company said: “The MTC is not in the habit of employing directors at entry level into the industry. Unfortunately the work of these male directors has not come to our attention as we hire on merit alone. To work at the MTC a director must have directed at a comparable venue such as Belvoir Street, one of the larger theatres at Malthouse or the Etihad Stadium.”
Anthony Fullerton, secretary of AMDA laughs at this suggestion. “We remain at ‘entry level’ because we can’t get a foot in the door at any of these venues. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.”
Peter Terry believes the new funding scheme will help men directors in the development of their careers. “The MTC does not have extra funding to support and develop the careers of men. We only have enough resources to do the 12 productions we are committed to each year. We are delighted that Arts Victoria and the Australia Council will provide us with additional funds for a men’s mentoring scheme.” Artistic Director of the MTC Guinevere Jones declared: “I reserve my right to hire on artistic merit – quotas lead to mediocrity – as artistic director I have to go on merit and excellence rather than some 1970s idea of fairness.”
Geoffrey Roberts, spokesman for Arts Victoria, says the new mentoring program – ‘MenCan2’ - will be an exciting opportunity for men directors to develop their professional skills, with a focus on collaborative processes, the effective use of modest resources and communication. “The MenCan2 program will be a step on the way to redressing the imbalance. Of course men make good directors, they just haven’t had the opportunities to develop the skills required for work within these companies. Perhaps women are more confident in their proposals and are more adept at pitching something that they know the MPAB companies will go for. It is our hope that ‘MenCan2’ will equip emerging men directors with the skills to go on and possibly even work in the MPAB arena,” said Roberts.
The Australia Council has created ‘MENtoring’, which also offers development funding for young men directors. The MenCan2 and MENtoring programs will support placements within each MPAB theatre company. The mentee must be in the first five years of their practise after graduating from WAPA, VCA or NIDA. “Arts Victoria and OZCO are funding these exciting new initiatives with a combined amount of $47 500,” said Squirrel. “The mentees will attend rehearsals of productions within the companies, across a range of styles and scale of work. The experience will build and strengthen their practise, so that they better understand how these companies function, and are more confident in making an approach.”
Anthony Fullerton is sceptical about the new program. “How much?$47 500? That won’t go far amongst nine mentees. They have probably spent double that on ‘branding’ these two schemes. And what will the mentees be doing? Watching rehearsal? I don’t think I would learn anything from watching Guinevere at work. And it doesn’t actually provide any opportunities for mid-career men directors. We’ve already been written off.”
Peter Terry defends the new program. “There is a second tier of funding already being discussed at MPA board level. If the company feels their mentee is worth developing further, then a trip to the Royal Court to observe rehearsal methods will be offered. We are determined to get this right.”
Justine Gregory, Artistic Director of Malthouse, was unavailable for comment.