Last week I took part in a fascinating consultation evening for a new theatre company. They had invited a group of 15-20 actresses of all different ages and races but all with a strong theatre background to discuss their ideas of how to address the gender inequality issues within our industry.
They wanted to hear and discuss with us the situations we continually came across where we felt there was gender inequality, whether that be a lack of decent parts for women - generally speaking there are very few opportunities bar the mother/daughter/sister/cop show sidekick or the many rape victim parts used to inject instant drama into a piece, situations where actresses feel they must diminish their feminity (and/or parental status) in order to be considered equal....the list and experiences went on.
This particular theatre company have chosen to put a clause in their manifesto that all their productions whether community or professional are to have 50% of the creative team (writing, directing, acting) male and 50% female. Sounds so obvious doesn't it yet it hardly ever happens here in England unless it is under a political umbrella of feminism, which we all know has broadly become a dirty word.
It wasn't an evening of moaning and whining but it was an invaluable opportunity to share experiences that were all too often incredibly common. However the point of the evening was to start thinking of ways in which we can resolve and address it. The artistic directors themselves had plenty of ideas that they wanted to float by us for consideration and feedback.
I have been very lucky and have had a great career so far but last night I realised, mentally scanning through my CV, how few jobs I have had where I wasn't the only female in the room. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it does make a statement doesn't it about the level of gender inequality in terms of the material being produced.
I have been in 11 pieces of performed theatre in my career so far, in 7 of those I have been playing the only female part.
Some people may argue that there just aren't enough good plays out there with 50% female parts, please don't misunderstand me, last night we all agreed that the play has to be great in order to go on, it can't be produced simply because there are loads of female parts in it. Their artistic directors would disagree that the problem is lack of decent material as they have recently read a library full of plays and have found over 60 pieces featuring an equal division of male and female parts so far. However even if that were the case, why is that? Where are women's voices in mainstream theatre? A voice that isn't defined by being simply a mother/daughter etc.
One of the many ideas they raised was to increase the amount of female writers and they floated a suggestion to offer writing workshops to actresses who have an interest in writing - all of us put our hands up to having tried but due to lack of confidence or understanding of structure haven't pursued and developed our ideas. They explained that as we know theatre and good characters it makes perfect sense to see what we come up with.
They also explained they'd like to address general gender inequality issues by putting on plays in schools where, for example in a play about global warming, one scientist is played by a woman and the other scientist by a man. I think that is the smartest and most direct way. Re-educate and re-programme society's ingrained perceptions.
Nobody likes being preached to and certainly nobody, myself included, wants to see a play about women, purposefully played, written and directed by women because that's not a balanced view of our world.
It's not a women's world, but it's not a man's world either.
I am really looking forward to watching their development as a new theatre company who happen to want to address this issue along with many other important topics. I know they were looking to have many more and varied discussion evenings. For my part, I really enjoyed being in a room with so many different actresses, as you saw from my theatre career maths it's been quite a rare experience!
“Without wonder and insight, acting is just a trade. With it, it becomes creation.”