Thursday, December 2, 2010

Victorian Theatre Network Meeting ‘3 Minute Pitch’ September 16th, 2010

Lucy Freeman

Straightjacket Productions: Artistic Director

Chair: Australian Women Directors Alliance

La Trobe University: Theatre and Drama Department

The Underrepresentation of Victorian Women Director’s on the main stage

While many industries have been adopting strategies toward a ‘critical mass’ of one third representation of women in leadership roles, the past 15 years in Australian theatre has seen the number of women in key creative appointments decrease. The statistics are particularly bad for women directors in the Victorian professional sector. Of the last 58 productions at the MTC, 7 shows were directed by a woman. 3 by Kate Cherry and 4 by other women who do not reside in Victoria. The news is no better out of The Malthouse. In the past five years, Victorian based women directors have had as much opportunity to increase their perceived ‘merit’ (which dictates their appointment suitability) as women seeking leadership roles in the AFL, the Armed Forces and the Catholic Church.

My pitch is for subsidised companies to outline their Equal Opportunity strategies and have their effectiveness assessed by a regulatory body. Non-compliance should carry consequences and results or reports be made public.

In the face of limited opportunities throughout history, a few Victorian women directors have shattered glass ceilings, some prefer the artistic freedom found working in the margins, and many have found strength in the community, youth, independent and education sectors. But many have walked away, fatigued at forever being dubbed ‘emerging creatives’ and ‘alternative’ to an imposed norm. Many are frustrated by the banging on seemingly locked doors, the unanswered invites to see their work and the longitudinal development opportunities offered young male directors – whose artistic sensibilities align with those of the monolithic decision makers. The popular catch-cry that women directors are responsible for their plight because they do not network and pitch “like men” – derives from a gendered assumption that men pitch the “right” way.

Under the leadership of Melanie Beddie, Jane Woollard and myself, the AWDA (Australian Women Directors Alliance) has recently reminded the theatre industry that workplace equity is not a choice, but a legal, ethical and moral requirement. Similar to the atmosphere in 1994, it is currently felt that ‘a breeze is blowing’. The current theatre industry’s legacy will be how well the issue is addressed THIS time. For lasting change, political and industry leaders must take the baton from the un-resourced AWDA and strategically advocate for an increase in interpretive female voices in the nation’s theatre.

The theatre industry is not exempt from equal opportunity because individual male or female artistic director’s aesthetic taste or personal and professional relationships necessitate it. MPAB and other state and federally subsidized companies are supported by the society for whom theatre is made. It is therefore reasonable to demand at least one third of all theatre company board and key creative appointments are female.

Women are not a sub-set of men. And, despite being listed as a ‘special category’ in arts funding, women are neither a homogenous nor a minority group. Men and women must together re-imagine an ethos and structure that welcomes the creative authority, artistry and potential of women, in all their diversity. Enough is enough. History has shown that a breeze is never enough to affect change. It is time for a wind machine, even if hiring one means re-jigging the budget and turning it on forces things to shift in unquantifiable ways.


  1. Well written Lucy. Still the Lucy I nice to see you doing so well.

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