Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Women act up over directionless careers

The Australian | December 4, 2009

WHEN artistic director Neil Armfield revealed that his 2010 season for Company B Belvoir included only one female director, he generated an outcry, and a topic for this Sunday's Philip Parsons Lecture.

The Sydney theatre group is devoting its annual industry forum to a discussion about the absence of women in key creative roles in Australian theatre. It has pulled together a panel of women, none of whom is in a key decision-making position.

The Company B situation is echoed at the Melbourne Theatre Company, where Kate Cherry is the only woman directing a show, and only then because it's a buy-in from West Australia's Black Swan, of which she is artistic director.

The Sydney Theatre Company and Griffin have also overlooked women, though to a lesser degree.

Now Company B is attempting to own the debate by asking "Where Are The Women?". [READ MORE]


  1. Women directors without children are just as under-represented on the main stages as women directors with children. Why is that? There are mothers working in theatre management and directing in the education, independent, semi-prof and amateur sectors. Why is that? And it seems, according to Australia Council stats, women in orchestras fare well. How is that so?Are they not mothers? If they are, how do they afford the childcare? How did they get the gig after taking time off to raise children? Or do they manage just like mothers in many other industries?

    When I work, my husband cares for our children. When he works I care for our children. When we both work, we pay for childcare. These costs are factored against our combined family income and considered part of raising a family in the modern world. I am certainly not against the notion of childcare costs in theatre budgets (the film and television industries have such models). However, I believe language that specifically aligns childcare and mothering is reductive. Childcare is an issue for parents.

    Organisations shift the onus of dealing with the inequities caused by their own models of practice when they adopt a shoulder shrugging "what can we do" simplistic response that suggests inequity exists because women raise children. Perhaps our professional theatre industry could look to successful models in other industries if it is keen to create sustainable work environments that are accessible to women and men who wish to combine parenting and work.

    I find the suggestion that the Australia Council can do nothing to improve the situation for women theatre directors without first assessing its entire funding program nothing short of ludicrous. Lets say findings indicate - for example - that women are well represented in dance, wardrobe, administration and acting - how does that have any bearing whatsoever on the imbalance in the representation of women in leadership roles and key creative positions of authority?

    On another issue in this article - being $2,000 out of pocket when directing in the co-op sector is not a gender issue (although as women are far less likely to get a professional gig it may impact women disproportionately). Furthermore, while the number of artists working without fee is a real problem, it is not the focus of the recent debate about the lack of representation of women directors on the mainstages in Australian theatre. I think it is important this issue stays central to strategies for solutions.

    And finally ... when Tony Grabowski says "we haven't had this conversation because Australia was beyond that" ... I have to ask beyond what???? As an Australian women theatre director who has practiced the profession for over fifteen years, while simultaneously raising four children, I must say that to my knowledge, women actually have been trying to have this conversation since at least 1994 and are still struggling to get support from above. While there is support from men who are active in the industry, I am hoping that this time leaders in major theatre companies and funding bodies will embrace the issue and illustrate with action, legislation, strategies and policies that Australia is ‘beyond’ the current models of professional theatre practice which - for whatever collection of social, political, cultural and structural factors – are not accessible to women and culturally diverse practitioners in the same way as they are to men.