Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Some Observatons

by Melanie Beddie, Jane Woollard and Lucy Freeman | Wednesday December 16 2009 |

Regarding the need fo Equal Opportunity in Theatre Companies which are funded through the Australia Council ‘s Major Performing Arts Board (MPAB) .

The benefits of successful Equal Opportunity within the workplace are well documented and proven (see for instance the most recent submission from the Human Rights Commission to the Rudd Government).
Women directors are neither a minority group nor should they to be considered as constantly “emerging”. We cannot solve this problem whilst we continue to marginalise and trivialise the work of women theatre artists.

In our opinion a MPAB company which is unable to source, employ and collaborate with women in key creative roles in not functioning in a healthy and productive way. Nor are it’s current employees being given the opportunity to work with as wide a pool as possible of artists nor develop artistic relationships across the broadest range of practice .

MPAB companies have a narrow perception about what an artistic leader is, and as such the majority of work in
these companies is shared amongst a small pool of directors who have experience working within a narrow band of similar venues with similar budgets. Work on large-scale productions in the CCD sector, in fringe or unconventional venues, in touring productions or in the education sector, needs to be seen as professionally relevant to MPAB company expectations.

The mechanism for how directors get their initial ‘break’ in the MPAB companies needs to become clearer. Once working
within these companies, young directors can receive MPAB development funding to increase and strengthen their careers toward positions of greater responsibility. At present the beneficiaries of this in-house training model are overwhelmingly men between the age of 20-30. Thus it is possible to survey the Australian theatre landscape and ask the question ‘Where are the women?’ because they are invisible and not recipients of career guidance or promotion, what the Artistic Director of Malthouse Theatre has called ‘big opportunities.’

We believe women must be considered core business of any company and not relegated to special and
occasional funding programs. This ‘add-on’ version of equality has been tried before and has not changed the culture of the companies into which the women were placed. Rather it has meant that as soon as the funding program ceased so did the inclusion of women.

The MPAB companies’ lack of accountability to EO legislation has created a ‘bottleneck’ in career pathways for
women directors. The situation in the small to medium sector is entirely different .Subsidised by State and Federal project funding it has stringent criteria regarding EO and cultural diversity which all applicants must address in their proposals.

When a company begins to commit its core funding and programming to female creatives it will take the issue
seriously enough to effect permanent change.

Equal Opportunity policies which are thrust upon unwilling organisations have been shown to be ineffective.
Instead a willingness to engage with change and an enthusiasm for the opportunities for learning and expansion which arise from a more diverse workplace are the key to success in this area.

Equal Opportunity implementation here and overseas tells us that the proven road to success is twofold. There
must firstly be consultation with all stakeholders in the area .Secondly an essential element towards creating change in an organisation is that the genuine desire for a transformation must come from the highest level of management and in this case this would refer to Boards, General Managers and Artistic Directors.

So now some Proposals:

Due to their extensive research and personal experience female directors (and other creatives) are a vital
resource when developing policies regarding the placement, development and mentoring of women within larger organisations and as such it would be to the advantage of the companies to consult these artists.

We propose each company appoint an EO officer and that staff and the Board are given training in the area of EO
and diversity

We propose that each MPAB company needs to develop its own unique Strategic Plan which reflects the specific
interests and conditions of that company.

The Strategic Plan should set real and achievable targets for the coming year, three years and eight years etc.
This provides a series of benchmarks by which that company and stakeholders can then measure its progress. We believe that any additional funding should be attached to demonstrated and long term Strategic Plans and the success of these programmes measured and assessed.

Companies need to be required to report to their own Boards and also to MPAB about the continuing success of
their EO Policy

The Australia Council and MPAB need to take an active and ongoing role in supporting and monitoring EO in
funded companies. We ask that the Australia Council create programs that assist companies to reach and then maintain their EO targets.

Most importantly in addition to developing a Strategic Plan towards the development and advancement of women
within the organisation, the companies need to interrogate the existing company structure and culture and to assess whether these are working well for the encouragement of women into the organisation . It may be necessary to instigate corporate change in order to lead to more equal employment of both women and men within these MPAB companies.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Where are the Men?

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.

EO Policy change at MTC: AWDA's letter to the VC & the VC's reply

As you may know, the Melbourne Theatre Company has recently been asked, by the University of Melbourne, to appoint an Equal Opportunity Officer and Equal Opportunity Committee. They have also agreed that in future, all Associate Director positions will be advertised.

Prior to this change (and can we be so brazen as to say, a precursor to it?), Australian Women Directors Alliance wrote to the University of Melbourne's Vice-Chancellor, Glyn Davis, outlining concerns that as a department of the University of Melbourne, the Melbourne Theatre Company was failing to follow the Equal Opportunity Policy as required by the university.

Below is that letter and Mr Davis' response.

14th October 2009

Glyn Davis
Vice Chancellor
The Office of the Vice-Chancellor
The University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010

Dear Sir,

We write on behalf of the members of AWDA, 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 in their third and fourth decade of practice. The alliance grew out of the Australia Council’s Australian Theatre Forum in March 2009 and our purpose is to offer professional development and networking opportunities for female theatre practitioners and to work in areas of advocacy for our members.

We have recently tried to engage in an open and genuine conversation with the Melbourne Theatre Company over what we see as a crisis in career opportunities for female theatre directors at that company. We wrote a letter to the Board (see attached) in which we did a number of things:

-We provided the Board with some statistics about declining opportunities for women over the last five years at the MTC

-We queried the success of their implementation of the University of Melbourne’s Equal Opportunity Policy

-We offered to begin a dialogue with the company in helping to address the problem of the lack of women employed in the company in key creative positions.

-We asked the MTC to take positive steps and adopt a leadership role given its position as a successful State Theatre Company

-We acknowledged the opportunities, which do already exist for women in the MTC Education Department and asked that these positions be considered as part of a pathway towards directing jobs with greater responsibility.

-We sought to understand how key creative positions are allocated in the company. Whether these positions are advertised for instance.

We feel that the response of the MTC Board (see attached) has been less than satisfactory as they have not chosen to engage with the issues we raised. We are also taken aback by the Board request for a list of our membership and hope that this was not intended as an act of intimidation.

The response from the Board does not seem aligned with contemporary attitudes towards equal opportunity in the workplace, although we note that your Equal Opportunity Policy offers;

"Cover for all training programs for staff with management responsibility, principles of equal opportunity and means towards its achievement”.

Additionally, the letter from the Board acknowledges that there has been no change in company policy since 2003, when this issue was last raised with them. Indeed the issue was also raised in 1993.

In their letter they define the method, if not the criteria by which employment is offered to directors. They believe that appointment of a directorial position should be merit based, decided by senior MTC personnel after viewing the work of potential directors. However they also acknowledge that gender equity for female directors is a problem occurring throughout several strata of the theatre industry, and in particular on these very stages that the work of directors is judged. We too are aware of this conundrum and hence our request to the MTC to put in place the ‘positive steps’ promised by their Equal Opportunity Policy.

We do not believe that the failure of equal opportunity in other medium-sized companies provides the MTC with an excuse to avoid employing women. Indeed it should suggest to the MTC that it can no longer rely on these other companies to train their main stage directors. Instead we suggest it may be more productive for the MTC to instigate structural changes that allow the company to have greater control over developing the kinds of directors it seeks.

We are in the main very disappointed that the Board of the MTC do not see themselves as being leaders of change in this area or having any role in promoting a culture that is inclusive of women.

We are now asking you to engage with us in a serious and respectful dialogue about how to proceed in making the MTC a genuine equal opportunity employer. We have also requested the assistance of the Australia Council, Arts Victoria and the Office of Women’s Affairs in this matter.

We would ask you to please acknowledge the receipt of this letter and also let us know a likely timeline for your considered response.

We look forward to understanding how you intend to proceed in this matter and also how we can assist you in understanding the issue from our perspective.

Yours sincerely

Melanie Beddie and Lucy Freeman

And one month later, a response:

17th November 2009

Dear Ms Beddie and Ms Freeman,

Apologies for the delay in providing this substantive reply, a result of time required to consult with various parties and secure an appropriate outcome. As you know, the University is very committed to equity and diversity in its workplace, and has established a Staff Equity and Diversity Framework 2008-2012 which is intended to guide the Equity and Diversity Plans of our faculties, divisions and departments.

Following receipt of your letter, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (University Affairs) Prof Warren Bebbington has met with the General Manager of the MTC, Anne Tonks, and as a result I am pleased to report that, at its next meeting, the Board of MTC will be asked to appoint an Equal Opportunity Officer and an Equal Opportunity Committee to take leadership of these issues at MTC. This Officer and the Committee will be charged with developing a plan for enhancing equal opportunity policies and practices aligned with the Company’s overall strategic plan. The University's Equal Opportunity Unit will arrange for the necessary staff training so that the Equity and Diversity Framework and its expectations are widely understood at MTC.

I can also report on some positive strategies to be put in place by the Board in the immediate future. The positions for Associate Directors, in the past filled without advertising, will henceforth be advertised and recruited through processes that meet best practice standards and comply with the University’s equal opportunity policies and with anti-discrimination legislation. The Company will also make an application to the Australia Council for a Young and Emerging Artists Grant to provide opportunities in 2010 to specifically develop young and emerging women Directors.

I am assured that the Company's request for a list of your members was not intended as an “act of intimidation,” but rather one intended simply to better inform the Company of women Directors available for work, in case there are those not known to them. However, I do understand the sensitivity of this issue. There may be better ways of informing MTC of women Directors who are available for engagement.

As you will have seen from our Framework (available on the university website), our goals for women's participation in employment for 2010-2012 are very broadly framed. However, I do hope the steps set out here assist in addressing your concerns.


Glyn Davis

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]