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. 

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival, Hampstead

“Join the movement for righteous anger”

With
 over 100 cast, writers, directors and crew, and 25 plays (none of which were by Agatha Christie!) spread over 7 programmes, Sphinx Theatre’s Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival was a full-on day indeed for those of us who stayed the course from midday to nearly 10pm, with scarcely time to imbibe yet another coffee as we moved from rehearsal room to studio to main house. But though I was 90% caffeine by the end, the buzz I was experiencing was one of delight at the sheer breadth and quality of the theatre we’d been privileged to witness.


The Women Centre Stage Festival was initiated by Sphinx to bring together artists, venues, commissioners and funders in expanding the range of women’s roles and this it has done in a number of different ways. Workshops ran throughout the week at the Actors Centre, a panel discussion broached the larger question of how to improve gender equality in theatre and the plays that were presented throughout the festival’s performance day ranged from works commissioned and developed from the 2105 festival, to the fruits of Sphinx Writers Group, to rapid responses to this week’s headlines.
(Slightly) more detailed reviews of each of the sessions are linked below:
In Conversation | Changing the Landscape 
But I wanted to highlight some of my favourite works of the days – the writers, plays and performances that made me sit up and pay (even more) attention and which will be well worth keeping an eye out for in the future.
Camilla Harding and Alexandra Sinclair’s Man Up! was an astonishing look at the fluidity of gender identity and a challenge to the norms that society imposes, Claire-Louise Cordwell’s idiosyncratic abuse survivor in Justice has the makings of an epic character, and it was a pleasure to revisit Chloe Todd Fordham’s agonisingly poignant The Nightclub alongside new work from Dawn King and Jessica Siân, Marlene Sidaway’s liberated widow simply joyous. But the standout programme for me was New Women, consisting of three stonkingly good pieces.
How could I not love The Hiccup Project’s May-We-Go-Round with its Spice Girls, Pulp and Cher routines but the knowing glint in the eyes of Cristina Mackerron and Chess Dillon-Reams lends an intriguing depth to their comedy slash dance slash performance art awesomeness – I can’t wait to see them again. Winsome Pinnock’s hypnotic Tituba recasts The Crucible as a slave narrative to glorious effect as delivered by the smokily charismatic Cecilia Noble. And April de Angelis’ razor-sharp Wilderness saw Janet Suzman and Kathryn Pogson wage amusing battle over mental health.
(c) Deniz Guzel
Chaired by Sarah Crompton, the panel discussion was also hugely enlightening. Timberlake Wertenbaker giving the playwright’s perspective and Suzanne Bell of Manchester’s Royal Exchange and Elizabeth Newman of the Octagon Theatre in Bolton giving an organisational view of how gender equality does, or doesn’t, work in reality, the things they have to push for, the attitudes they need to push against. It really made me reflect on my own practice in my own small way and what I could be doing better (namely, restarting my own data collection and carrying out regular gender audits on my own theatregoing). A most thought-provoking and theatrically-inspiring day all-round.

News – Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival begins

Monday 14th November sees the launch of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival at Hampstead Theatre and The Actors Centre. Produced by Sphinx Theatre Company and Joanna Hedges, Women Centre Stage exists to promote, advocate for and inspire women in the arts and has developed and commissioned a wide range of new work which uniquely brings together a diverse array of women characters far from the margins into centre stage.

This is the second year of Women Centre Stage and the festival features a range of workshops and creative comings-together which will culminate in the Performance Day on Sunday 20th November which will feature seven programmes throughout the day. This will include opportunities to see emerging work from new and established writers, plays commissioned from last year’s festival, and see four playwrights respond the headlines of the day in writing a new play each in 24 hours. 

“What will we say at the Women Centre Stage Festival? Enough of being backgrounded. The world will just have to get used to our stronger presence in every walk of life and art. I’m happy to be part of that conversation.” 

Dame Janet Suzman.

(c) Ruphin Coudyzer
Reflecting the significance of the festival and the work it has been and will continue to achieve, there’s a mightily impressive role call of British talent contributing to the programme. Writers such as Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Evening Standard Award-winning Charlene James, Dawn King, Howard Brenton, Vinay Patel, April de Angelis and Sabrina Mahfouz will be represented with actors like Dame Janet Suzman, Ann Mitchell, Maggie Steed, Cecilia Noble and Ronke Adekoluejo treading the boards.


It all promises to be a fascinating and valuable day and I’m currently planning to attend a significant amount of the programme – more details below – and if you’re interested in coming along too, then take a look at their website here

Programme for the Performance Day – Sunday 20th November

A Question of Identity – 12.00pm

Three performances from emerging companies and artists looking at the question of female identity, featuring F*cking Feminists by Rose Lewenstein originally commissioned by Theatre 503 and Mama Quilla, Road to Huntsville by Stephanie Ridings originally commissioned by China Plate, Warwick Arts Centre and mac birmingham and Battleface by Sabrina Mahfouz originally commissioned by the Bush Theatre.

Women on the Edge – 1.30pm

Sphinx Theatre presents three plays commissioned and developed from the 2015 festival featuring She Didn’t Jump She was Pushed by Matilda Ibini starring Anita Joy Uwajeh and Ronke Adekoluejo, Man- Up by Camilla Harding and Alexandra Sinclair and Justice by Judith Jones and Beatrix Campbell.

In Conversation: Changing the Landscape – 2.45pm

How can we encourage change in the cultural landscape to improve gender equality in theatre? A panel discussion chaired by Sarah Crompton former Arts Editor in Chief at the Telegraph with playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, Suzanne Bell – New Writing Associate at Royal Exchange Theatre and Elizabeth Newman -Artistic Director of the Octagon Theatre.

PRIDE and Prejudice – 4.00pm

Presenting work which provokes us to talk about prejudice. Join us for Chloe Todd Fordham’s The Night Club, an excerpt of Tanika Gupta’s A Perfect Match plus Graeae Theatre Company showcase 6 brand new pieces from an all female Deaf/disabled creative team featuring writers from all over the UK; promoting empowering female narratives and shining new light on the perceptions (and misperceptions) of women today.

New Women – 5.30pm

We present new plays by April de Angelis, and Winsome Pinnock including performances by Janet Suzman, Kathryn Pogson and Cecilia Noble plus The Hiccup Project join us straight from tour to present an excerpt of May-We-Go-Round.

Sphinx Writers Group: Power Play – 7.00pm 

Six months in development, we present new writing from the Sphinx Writers Group; Dawn King, Georgia Christou, Jessica Sian and Catriona Kerridge.

24 Hour Plays: Making Headlines – 8.30pm

Four writers are given 24 Hours to write a new play responding directly to that days news headlines. The new work will be rehearsed on the day of the festival and presented at the end of the day as the Festival Finale. Featuring four new plays from Howard Brenton, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Charlene James and Vinay Patel. Ann Mitchell and Maggie Steed plus others will join us to perform in this hour of exciting new writing.

Women in Theatre – 2014 in review

A bit belated but I’m pretending that it was always my intention to coincide with International Women’s Day… Back in January of last year, I decided that I would conduct a year-long gender audit on my theatre-going – recording the number of women both working in and on the shows that I saw. As a statistical exercise, there’s no pretending that this is a representative sample of anything in particular – it is simply the 383 productions that I saw in 2014 in London, elsewhere in the UK and beyond (but not Broadway) – repeat viewings of shows and all. Initially, I started off just booking everything as I would have done normally but I do have to note that as the year progressed, and these statistics mounted up in the monthly tallies (which you can read here), I did find myself consciously avoiding shows that had all-male casts.

But with a total of nearly 400 pieces of theatre included here, I think it is interesting to see what numbers the data threw up. In lieu of the the Bechdel Test, I recorded how many shows had 50% or more women in their cast, with a grand total of 164 out of 383 or 43% reaching that marker but of course, this doesn’t indicate the quality of the female roles at hand. What is interesting – and this will be something of a recurring theme – is the range sits within the 30%-52% bracket, suggesting something of a tendency here.  


Shows
With 50% or more women
%
Jan
35
11
31%
Feb
27
12
44%
Mar
31
16
52%
April
30
14
47%
May
34
14
41%
June
36
15
42%
July
29
13
45%
Aug
24
12
50%
Sept
37
11
30%
Oct
47
20
43%
Nov
35
17
49%
Dec
18
8
44%
Total
383
164
43%
Likewise with the actual numbers of women in the casts, where the percentage total comes out again at 43%, the range is actually slightly smaller here 37%-50%. Whereas I only managed one month where there was actual parity and not a one where there was a majority of women on the stages I visited, that average of just over two-fifths suggests the imbalance isn’t – dare I say it – perhaps insurmountably huge…    

Total Cast
Women
%
Jan
327
126
39%
Feb
265
97
37%
Mar
288
134
47%
April
241
102
42%
May
310
126
41%
June
319
135
42%
July
268
114
43%
Aug
267
111
42%
Sept
312
133
43%
Oct
553
237
43%
Nov
395
198
50%
Dec
268
123
46%
Total
3813
1636
43%

But when we drill down on the creative side, it becomes abundantly clear where the sector has representational issues (and thus we may need to call Joan…) I tallied writers (and co-writers, adaptors etc), directors, designers, lighting designers and sound designers where they were cited (the number in brackets in the header of the table below indicates how many shows I was able to source the info for, out of the 383 that I saw). The data has been put into bar charts too as I wanted to see if I could remember how to do it.

Writer
(382)
Director
(382)
Designer
(362)
Lighting
(347)
Sound
(352)  
Jan
29%
40%
29%
23%
13%
Feb
50%
54%
55%
23%
5%
Mar
35%
23%
38%
18%
14%
April
17%
40%
52%
10%
17%
May
21%
35%
22%
10%
10%
June
39%
42%
49%
25%
18%
July
34%
31%
32%
8%
26%
Aug
29%
29%
29%
9%
21%
Sept
38%
24%
28%
16%
23%
Oct
26%
34%
38%
16%
16%
Nov
34%
34%
60%
6%
15%
Dec
11%
28%
33%
0%
11%
Total
31%
35%
39%
14%
16%

So here we can see that women are best represented as designers and directors, though still averaging at well under 50%. Writers check in further down the scale at 31% and lighting and sound direction languish at 14% and 16% respectively.

What does it all mean? How can we use this? Can we even use this? With such an academic exercise that is so inextricably linked to my own theatre-going and the decisions around it, it is worth making the point that there’s nothing global that we can say with any real authority. But as an anecdotal study, I’ve found it quite instructive – as I hope others might do too – and it leaves me with questions for myself and my blog.

I’ve always been about diarising every aspect of my addictive theatrical habits on here, and hopefully promoting any number of shows in the process, but there’s a wider sense of responsibility that I think I want to be a better part of now. Even with that in mind though, it is difficult to know what the best thing to do really is – do I impose strict quotas on my reviewing opportunities, thereby maybe denying myself some good stuff that happens to be all-male (My Night With Reg for example); or do I just stick with trying to improve the percentages for this year’s theatregoing so that at least I’ve made some progress, or is that just chickening out of making substantive change? 

And given that this particular exercise has just been about gender and doesn’t touch on the equally pressing case for better ethnic representation in British theatre – something I’d love to report on in a similar fashion, though quite how I would get the data is anyone’s guess – there’s an argument to say that there’s only so much one person can do with one blog. I reject that though, so I will be striving for something of a middle ground between the two above-mentioned paths – a bit of a cheat perhaps, and hardly a way to lead by example, but this way recognises the realities of my theatre-going (I love a gay play and am not prepared to stop seeing them) whilst acknowledging the need for a change as well.

I’ll have to play catch-up as I’m not doing brilliantly on the figures for 2015 thus far but I’ll be reporting monthly once again, so you’ll be able to see exactly how I’m doing. And what about you? Do you think you have a responsibility for helping to change the gender balance of the theatre industry – as a theatre-maker, blogger or just a viewer – or are you just hoping it will sort itself out one way or the other…?


Women in Theatre – December 2014

The headline figures

% of women in the 18 shows seen in December

Actors: 46%
Writers: 11%
Directors: 28%
Designers: 33%
Light: 0%
Sound: 11%

Number of shows with 50% or more women in the cast – 8

Shows With 50% or more women % Total Cast Women % Writer Director Designer Lighting Sound
Jan 35 11 31% 327 126 39% 29% 40% 29% 23% 13%
Feb 27 12 44% 265 97 37% 50% 54% 55% 23% 5%
Mar 31 16 52% 288 134 47% 35% 23% 38% 18% 14%
April 30 14 47% 241 102 42% 17% 40% 52% 10% 17%
May 34 14 41% 310 126 41% 21% 35% 22% 10% 10%
June 36 15 42% 319 135 42% 39% 42% 49% 25% 18%
July 29 13 45% 268 114 43% 34% 31% 32% 8% 26%
Aug 24 12 50% 267 111 42% 29% 29% 29% 9% 21%
Sept 37 11 30% 312 133 43% 38% 24% 28% 16% 23%
Oct 47 20 43% 553 237 43% 26% 34% 38% 16% 16%
Nov 35 17 49% 395 198 50% 34% 34% 60% 6% 15%
Dec 18 8 44% 268 123 46% 11% 28% 33% 0% 11%

 

Women in Theatre – November 2014

The headline figures

% of women in the 35 shows seen in November

Actors: 50%
Writers: 34%
Directors: 34%
Designers: 60%
Light: 6%
Sound: 15%

Number of shows with 50% or more women in the cast – 17

Shows With 50% or more women Total Cast Women % Writer Director Designer Lighting Sound
Jan 35 11 327 126 39% 29% 40% 29% 23% 13%
Feb 27 12 265 97 37% 50% 54% 55% 23% 5%
Mar 31 16 288 134 47% 35% 23% 38% 18% 14%
April 30 14 241 102 42% 17% 40% 52% 10% 17%
May 34 14 310 126 41% 21% 35% 22% 10% 10%
June 36 15 319 135 42% 39% 42% 49% 25% 18%
July 29 13 268 114 43% 34% 31% 32% 8% 26%
Aug 24 12 267 111 42% 29% 29% 29% 9% 21%
Sept 37 11 312 133 43% 38% 24% 28% 16% 23%
Oct 47 20 553 237 43% 26% 34% 38% 16% 16%
Nov 35 17 395 198 50% 34% 34% 60% 6% 15%

 

Women in theatre – October 2014

The headline figures

% of women in the 47 shows seen in October

Actors: 43%
Writers: 26%
Directors: 34%
Designers: 38%
Light: 16%
Sound: 16%

Number of shows with 50% or more women in the cast – 21 


Shows
With 50% or more women
Total Cast
Women
%
Writer
Director
Designer
Lighting
Sound
Jan
35
11
327
126
39%
29%
40%
29%
23%
13%
Feb
27
12
265
97
37%
50%
54%
55%
23%
5%
Mar
31
16
288
134
47%
35%
23%
38%
18%
14%
April
30
14
241
102
42%
17%
40%
52%
10%
17%
May
34
14
310
126
41%
21%
35%
22%
10%
10%
June
36
15
319
135
42%
39%
42%
49%
25%
18%
July
29
13
268
114
43%
34%
31%
32%
8%
26%
Aug
24
12
267
111
42%
29%
29%
29%
9%
21%
Sept
37
11
312
133
43%
38%
24%
28%
16%
23%
Oct
47
21
553
237
43%
26%
34%
38%
16%
16%

Women in theatre – September 2014

The headline figures

% of women in the 37 shows seen in September

Actors: 43%
Writers: 38%
Directors: 24%
Designers: 28%
Light: 16%
Sound: 23%

Number of shows with 50% or more women in the cast – 11

Results from January, February, March, April, May, June, July and August

Edited 8th October 2014
Somebody pointed out to me that I could usefully collate the info so far rather than just linking back to the different pages, so here you go – a gender audit of my theatregoing this year so far.

Shows
With 50% or more women
Total Cast
Women
%
Writer
Director
Designer
Lighting
Sound
Jan
35
11
327
126
39%
29%
40%
29%
23%
13%
Feb
27
12
265
97
37%
50%
54%
55%
23%
5%
Mar
31
16
288
134
47%
35%
23%
38%
18%
14%
April
30
14
241
102
42%
17%
40%
52%
10%
17%
May
34
14
310
126
41%
21%
35%
22%
10%
10%
June
36
15
319
135
42%
39%
42%
49%
25%
18%
July
29
13
268
114
43%
34%
31%
32%
8%
26%
Aug
24
12
267
111
42%
29%
29%
29%
9%
21%
Sept
37
11
312
133
43%
38%
24%
28%
16%
23%

Women in theatre – September 2014

The headline figures

% of women in the 37 shows seen in September

Actors: 43%
Writers: 38%
Directors: 24%
Designers: 28%
Light: 16%
Sound: 23%

Number of shows with 50% or more women in the cast – 11

Results from JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJuly and August

Edited 8th October 2014
Somebody pointed out to me that I could usefully collate the info so far rather than just linking back to the different pages, so here you go – a gender audit of my theatregoing this year so far.


Shows With 50% or more women Total Cast Women % Writer Director Designer Lighting Sound
Jan 35 11 327 126 39% 29% 40% 29% 23% 13%
Feb 27 12 265 97 37% 50% 54% 55% 23% 5%
Mar 31 16 288 134 47% 35% 23% 38% 18% 14%
April 30 14 241 102 42% 17% 40% 52% 10% 17%
May 34 14 310 126 41% 21% 35% 22% 10% 10%
June 36 15 319 135 42% 39% 42% 49% 25% 18%
July 29 13 268 114 43% 34% 31% 32% 8% 26%
Aug 24 12 267 111 42% 29% 29% 29% 9% 21%
Sept 37 11 312 133 43% 38% 24% 28% 16% 23%