Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Age: Women's theatre group slams MTC as a 'boys' club

Women's theatre group slams MTC as 'boys' club

Robin Usher September 30, 2009

THE Melbourne Theatre Company has been accused of operating as a boys' club because of the lack of opportunities for women in creative roles, especially directing.

A convener with the Australian women directors' alliance, Melanie Beddie, wrote to the company in August complaining of ''an overwhelming downturn'' in opportunities for Victorian women theatre directors in recent years.

She said this was in defiance of the equal opportunity policy of the company's parent organisation, Melbourne University.


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?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Katherine Lyall-Watson's post

Katherine Lyall-Watson's recent blog post on gender equity in theatre.

Letter to the MTC

Below is a copy of the letter sent from the Australian Women Directors Alliance to the Melbourne Theatre Company on the 7th August, 2009. As it has now been almost two months, and we have received no response or acknowledgment of the letter, we felt posting it here might be of more use. This letter was written by Melanie Beddie, co-convener of the AWDA, prior to the release of MTC's 2010 season. As the 2010 season is as bad, if not worse than previous years, the issues raised in this letter are of even greater concern today than they were in August.

"Dear Mr Young and Members of the MTC Board,


I write on behalf of the Australian Women Directors Alliance. We are a group of theatre practitioners incorporating sixty or more female directors and theatre makers. We range from emerging artists, in their first five years of practice, through to experienced and highly regarded directors who are in their third and fourth decade of practice. The purpose of the Alliance is to offer professional development and networking opportunities for female theatre practitioners and to work in areas of advocacy for our members.

We have a number of concerns about what we believe is an ineffectiveness of the University of Melbourne’s Equal Opportunity Policy as applied by the Melbourne Theatre Company.

You may or may not be aware that there is considerable discontent with what is perceived to be a lack of opportunity for women in key creative roles within the Melbourne Theatre Company. We note that women (and also culturally diverse theatre practitioners) are rarely offered work as directors at the MTC (see attached table). At the 2009 Green Room Association Awards ceremony there was a comment published in the programme about the imbalance of gender equity on the main stages of Melbourne companies and also several less formal comments made from the stage during the evening. None of these public comments reflected well upon the MTC .

For your information we attach a table giving a breakdown of the employment of female theatre directors on the MTC main stage over the last few years. The statistical data indicates that there has been an overwhelming downturn in opportunities for Victorian women theatre directors in recent years.

While we are encouraged by many of the principles articulated in the Melbourne University EO Policy such as a commitment to providing “programs in education and employment which redress, where appropriate, the effects of past discriminatory practices within the community” we also note that the University states it “has a responsibility to take positive steps to overcome inequality of opportunity”. We applaud the Policy, but, in relation to the Melbourne Theatre Company, we wish to question both its past effectiveness and current application. We are aware that our concerns have been taken up with the Board on at least two other occasions. In 1993 a letter was sent to you by the Australian Women Directors Association calling for more support for female directors and then in 2003 a letter was sent from MEAA requesting some open discussion about this issue. We feel that it is now more than timely to revisit the questions raised by our colleagues.

In particular we see few pathways for the many practising Victorian female directors to work at the MTC. Of the two women listed as directors in the 2009 MTC program, one is Cate Blanchett, Artistic Director of Sydney Theatre Company directing a co-production by her own company. The other is Marion Potts, also a Sydney-based artist. This means that of the twelve opportunities for directors at the MTC in 2009 only two are women and both are from interstate. Both these directors have received considerable and progressive professional development through their own state theatre companies (and other funded companies) over a period of many years. We would like to see similar opportunities available to women working in Melbourne and would be happy to discuss ways in which such professional development might occur. There do appear to be opportunities for female directors to work in your Education Department but as these women seldom go on to work on the main stages of MTC it is difficult to view these education positions as a part of a continuous pathway into the company.

We feel that the statistics we have provided you with are far from encouraging and that in order for your EO Policy to be judged effective there would need to be a discernible and positive change in the statistics from year to year. There would also need to be a series of programs and opportunities in place within the Melbourne Theatre Company to offer “positive steps” for both entry level and more senior women. We acknowledge that Anne Browning will be directing a show in the Lawler Studio later in the year which we see as an important but small step towards redressing the balance.

In relation to these questions of employment and opportunity we are particularly interested in understanding how key creative positions (permanent and contract) are allocated in the company. For instance whether it is policy that these jobs are advertised and suitable applicants interviewed. The recruitment and selection processes within a company are usually seen as key indicators of how well Equal Opportunity is working within a company and we would be keen to increase our understanding of the procedures in place.

Our research into equal opportunity issues both here and overseas shows that effective equal opportunity occurs in organizations when two things happen. Firstly, the drive for change towards a more equitable workplace needs to come from the top, hence this letter to you. Secondly, the organisation benefits from undertaking extensive consultation with all stakeholders (be they current or potential employees) in order to develop a strategic plan which outlines goals, timelines and key performance indicators for increasing the representation of women and culturally diverse practitioners in creative positions within the company.

The intention of this letter is to create a genuine and open dialogue with the Board and the Company about the issues which arise from the statistics we have put before you. Our hope is that a meeting can be arranged between your representative and representatives from our association to further address the matters raised in this letter."

The letter also included the following statistics:

MTC 2005, Shows 15
Male Playwrights 11, Female Playwrights 4
Male Directors 11, Female Directors 4

MTC 2006, Shows 11
Male Playwrights 7, Female Playwrights 4
Male Directors 10, Female Directors 1

MTC 2007, Shows 12
Male Playwrights 10, Female Playwrights 2
Male Directors 11, Female Directors 1

MTC 2008, Shows 12
Male Playwrights 10, Female Playwrights 2
Male Directors 10, Female Directors 2*

MTC 2009, Shows 12
Male Playwrights 7, Female Playwrights 5
Male Directors 10, Female Directors 2*

*All four from interstate/ o'seas

(Stats from Lucy Freeman @ La Trobe)

Monday, September 28, 2009

We Are Here

Thank you, Nicholas Pickard, for your clear sighted questions about the lack of women directing for our main stage companies. Believe me, we women directors exist. It would be an insult to the many capable and experienced directors I know to suggest they are not there or that they don’t have main stage skills. But there are obviously problems with the way the selection of cultural product is managed in Australia’s professional companies. Culture is universal, both high and low in its concerns, free to everyone as an interest, and essential to the health of all. Women make up half of society. Men are born of women and often choose to live with women and create daughters as well as sons. Therefore women are not a sub-group to them, and should no longer be characterised this way. If book stores stocked their shelves the way that many companies choose to stock their culture, they would go broke. Women can see their own lives reflected in the creation and composition of books, movies, music, dance and circus, and the visual arts. Are Australian theatre companies really serving their audiences?
Theatre is for audiences, and women are the majority of single ticket buyers in many countries. Please note that the word ‘audience’ is generic and has no genetic code. So where are the women? Elizabeth Schafer has theorised that women directors have been critically marginalised. Many directors, including myself, don’t want their gender to be the issue. To quote Nancy Meckler of Shared Experience “I just want to be chosen because I am good.” But it is the notion of being chosen that is the problem. It is impossible to have a career path as a successful director in Australia. Like many directors I have followed the good energy of alternative directing opportunities, and currently turned away from the mainstream companies because I can’t get ‘chosen’, despite working for and succeeding at MTC, Playbox, QTC and The State Theatre Company of SA. This is also despite many letters, pitches and visits to such companies in recent times. I have rejection letters ranging from charming to churlish. At this year’s Australian Theatre Forum, it was implied and acknowledged that there may be an issue with the leadership patterns of some of Australia’s companies, and I agree. I have no axe to grind regarding the individual’s right to choose repertoire and select the individuals they prefer to employ. But I believe that publicly funded companies have a duty to get real about succession plans and to consciously reflect Australia’s cultural diversity in leadership models and in artistic planning. Due to the influence of an implied global mono-culture, which is shaped essentially by celebrity marketing, it seems as if the companies believe they now have the freedom and the right to programme largely pre-tested overseas works and share a handful of ‘talented directors’ who bring with them the whiff of America and Europe. I have no patience with this. It looks like the Australian cultural awakening of the late 1950s and early 1960s never happened. The co-pro has killed any notion of cultural complexity. It is time for transparency of theatrical opportunity. The exclusion of women’s input to this degree wouldn’t be tolerated in any other industry.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Victorian Women Theatre Directors at the MTC

To direct at the MTC is not every directors dream. It is no the only place to direct theatre in Victoria. However, it is our state's flagship theatre company and one of the few fully professional, tax payer supported entities so I feel the POSSIBILITY of being appointed SHOULD exist for Victorian based women theatre directors. Lasts nights MTC program launch again illustrates that just becasue the opportunity SHOULD exist does not mean it DOES.
In 2006 of 11 MTC productions, 1 was directed by a woman (Kate Cherry). In 2007 of 12 MTC productions, 1 was directed by a woman (Kate Cherry). In 2008 of 12 MTC productions 2 were directed by women- NSW based Gale Edwards and a UK import Marie Aitken. In 2009 of 12 MTC productions 2 were directed by women - both NSW based - Cate Blanchett and Marion Potts. Now in 2010, there is again one female appointment, Kate Cherry. In five years have there really not been Victorian based female directors worthy of a gig?
If there are Victorian women of excellence capable of directing theatre (which I wholeheartedly believe there are)- why are they not getting the work? And conversely, if one wished to argue that there are none capable of directing on the main stage, then that itself begs the question WHY? Where are the opportunities? Where are the professional development pathways? Where is the evidence that Victorian women are not capable? Is the current MTC equal opportunity policy effective? And so it seems that we women who are already time poor running independent theatre companies, raising families, educating ourselves, educating others, developing new works, producing semi-professional and co-op productions and lodging countless time consuming creative development and presentation funding applications must add to our 'to do' list changing an overarching patriachal mentality that is ever present in our industry.
The AWDA will not be the first group of women to attempt to affect change. But wouldn't it be nice if we were the last? I am absolutely appalled that in the 21st century when women in all was of life are managing big budgets and assuming positions of authority, that in theatre we are still in a position where we have to argue/convince/lobby to insist that we are not only capable but entitled to basic equal opportunity rights. An almost equal percentage of tax payers are female, a higher proportion of MTC audience members are female, plays written by women being produced at the MTC is on the rise. The available roles for female performers at the MTC looks pretty good this year (you know if you are not a female of diverse cultural heritage) ... so why is there not a rise in the appointments of women directors? Is it because a director is seen to asume a leadership role and hold a position of creative authority? Is so, shame. Shame on all concerned.

Equal Opportunity

Dear Fellow Directors,
what a sorry state of affairs that we are again spending our precious time trying to win a battle that was legally won for us decades ago. Equal Opportunity Law should have prevented this current situation where only one woman is employed to direct a mainstage show at both MTC and Belvoir in 2010.(Haven't looked yet at the other seasons -maybe someone else could dare to do this) What a shame too that my very constructive and inviting letter to the Board of the MTC was ignored.
You know I begin to wonder how anyone with any principles ( male or female ) can bring themselves to work for and support major companies who continue to exersise such discrimination across race and gender.Do we no longer have any pride or principles in the arts? I thought we were FOR humanity not mere self -interest.
So what do you all think. Where to now?
Melanie Beddie

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Australian Women Directors Alliance - Welcome!

The Australian Women Directors Alliance is a non-profit coalition of professional women directors and theatre makers. The alliance is run by a voluntary and elected committee. The purpose of the AWDA is to provide a community of peers for mutual support and to further the art, professional development and visibility of women directors in the theatre industry. The AWDA was formed in 2009 as an outcome of focus group discussion arising at the 2009 Australian Theatre Forum (ATF).

The Australian Women Directors Alliance is an organisation committed to:
•Increasing new opportunities for women theatre directors
•Developing and enhancing relationships between Victorian Women Theatre Makers
•Providing support and advocacy for emerging and established theatre makers