It is well publicised that this year marks the centenary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK, and there is no doubt that since 1918 women have become more visible as leaders in the theatre industry. However, just as it was only some women who gained the right to vote one hundred years ago (those over thirty in select constituencies), many women still struggle to find platforms for their creativity today. It is not that their experience, qualifications, or expertise are lacking but that, as Tonic Theatre put it, ‘the principles that lie beneath how our industry functions […] can create barriers.’ The fact that the Hampstead Theatre’s autumn season failed to include a single play by a female playwright shows that arts policy is still far from ensuring gender equality in theatre, but below are five inspiring initiatives that it could learn from.
Set up by Jonna Blode Hanno and Laura Thomasina Haynes in 2016, Bossy is a creative collective with over 14,000 identifying female or non-binary members who support each other by sharing arts opportunities, project ideas, advice and recommendations. The Facebook page is full of energy, with as much enthusiasm generated by posts documenting the creative industry’s progress as frustration in response to posts illustrating the industry’s backwards tendencies. Now the group are campaigning to raise £3 million to buy the Theatre Royal Haymarket and provide a permanent space for female-led arts in the capital. Ambitious, organised and most of all supportive – what’s not to love?
Mothers Who Make
Parenting is a career challenge that, whilst not unique to creative industries, is exacerbated by unsociable hours and the need to be physically present for much of a project. It is also a career challenge that deeply, but not exclusively, affects women. In 2014, Matilda Leyser started Mothers Who Make as a meeting group, but it is now a national initiative supported by Arts Council England that values participants equally as mothers and creatives. Artists are encouraged to bring their children to sessions and value their motherhood as an additional tool in their creative arsenal – something other industries could also learn from.
Presented by Damsel Productions, Damsel Develops is an all-female directing festival that premiered at the Bunker Theatre last November. It provides a space for emerging talent to breathe life into work written or conceived by women under the guidance of fantastic female mentors. Most refreshing was the unpredictable nature of the programme, the work was empowering without falling into themes typically considered female. Another festival in 2018 please!
VAULT festival is doing all kinds of theatrical good in its sixth event below Waterloo Station, including launching Writers Gap – a progression scheme that enables female writers to meet with key figures from top London theatres. The aim is to uncover the barriers faced by women in getting their work programmed and respond with a long-term programme that sees more female voices on stage – only a good thing.
Last, but definitely not least, Tonic Theatre work with the biggest establishments in theatre to shine a light on practices that have become so ingrained into the organisational culture it has been forgotten they were set up when the world of work was dominated by men. Founder Lucy Kerbel also launched their Platform programme in 2015 which develops plays that have majority female casts and most importantly three-dimensional female characters. If that isn’t enough, they also consult on achieving broader diversity in the arts. However, their Tonic Celebrates programme is what I love most – a regular Q&A with women at the top of their respective creative fields sharing advice, anecdotes and making anything seem possible.