Women in Theatre – 2016 in review

Attending the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival late last year, it was amusing to hear Sphinx Theatre’s Sue Parrish’s favourite anecdotes about the first ever report on the status of women in theatre that she commissioned in 1983. It found that out of 1024 productions surveyed across the country, only 11% were written by women and the majority of those were by Agatha Christie alone. 

It got me thinking that I hadn’t continued the gender audit of my own theatregoing which I started in 2014 – the results of which can be read here – and whilst nothing comprehensive can be drawn from the 300 or so plays that I saw in 2016, I think it is interesting to break down the figures and see how they look. I think I do try and see a good mix, questioning why this production is all-male or that one has no diversity, but at the same time I do like to see a lot of gay theatre which inevitably skews male, it’s hard to keep everything balanced…

In lieu of the Bechdel Test, I opted to measure the number of plays I saw with at least 50% women in their cast and it was pleasing to see that I’ve managed to keep that proportion going up over the last couple of years. Obviously these statistics don’t record the quality of the roles being played, but in all honesty it is too hard to work out that level of detail in advance of seeing the number of shows we’re talking about here.

Shows

With 50% or more women

%

2016

332

164

49%

2015

313

147

47%

2014

383

164

43%


Similarly, the raw numbers of women I saw onstage this year show show a steadily increasing proportion, which again feels in line with the general thrust of my decision-making.


Total Cast

Women

%

2016

3232

1500

46%

2015

3477

1534

44%

2014

3813

1636

43%


Looking at the creative side though, I found myself surprised on two fronts. Design has always been an area where women are well represented but it is interesting to see the proportion of both lighting and sound starting to pick up. Obviously we can’t draw anything conclusive but hopefully the upward tick is indicative of general improvement.  

Writer

Director

Designer

Lighting

Sound

2016

31%

30%

49%

25%

20%

2015

37%

33%

40%

19%

17%

2014

31%

35%

39%

14%

16%


At the same time, I was disappointed to find that I’d slipped in terms of the number of plays written and directed by women, and quite a bit as far as the former is concerned. I would have sworn that I was much closer to parity with regards to the writing but clearly I need to make more of an effort to check the creatives as much as the cast-lists when choosing my shows (which has its own challenges as programming at too many venues isn’t too often helpful in this matter!).


To this end, I’m going to monitor the figures for 2017 on a monthly basis, at least for the first quarter, and see how realistic achieving at least parity for any, if not all, of these categories is, at least without substantially reducing the number of shows I see. 

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