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Sphinx hosts gender equality conference

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Feminist theatre company Sphinx is hosting a conference to debate issues around the employment and representation of women in theatre, film and television.

Vamps, Vixens and Feminists – The Elephant in the Room, which will be held at the National Theatre next month, is being funded by Arts Council England and put together in collaboration with leading industry bodies, including Equity and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.

It will focus on women working in the industry in both performance and behind the scenes jobs – such as writers, directors and producers – and address issues relating to role equality, employment of older female performers and the representation of women in theatre and television productions.

Sue Parrish, artistic director of Sphinx, said the introduction of the Gender Equality Duty in 2007 – which states that public bodies must take steps to pro-actively promote equality between women and men – had presented an “opportunity to raise these issues and be heard”.

She said two years since the directive came into force, ACE was still in the process of implementing the Gender Equality Duty, and added: “The event seemed like a wonderful opportunity for professionals from different parts of the industry to get together and really discuss what is going on and what might be done.”

The conference will feature contributors such as playwright Tanika Gupta and Katherine Rake – the chief executive of gender equality campaigning body the Fawcett Society.

Parrish said that she had deliberately avoided inviting political figures, because she did not want to hear “a lot of empty rhetoric from politicians who are having to make a fairly bland statement”.

The conference will be made up of a number of panels, including one that will address cultural and historical female stereotypes, led by Manchester University professor Vivien Gardner. Other panels will focus on writers, with contributions from Writers’ Guild president David Edgar and screenwriter Tracy Brabin, and actresses, led by Kate Buffery, who has been at the forefront of an Equity campaign to address the inequalities faced by older female performers.

Parrish said she had approached the NT to collaborate on the event because she felt it had already been leading the way by employing a number of female directors and commissioning plays with female protagonists, such as Harper Regan.

The artistic director said she did not want the event to be an opportunity “to lay blame” and added: “It’s a chance to really look at this in depth, to explore it and to come up with good, new initiatives to take the matter forward.”

Vamps, Vixens and Feminists will take place in the Olivier Theatre at the National on Tuesday, June 16 from 10am until 1.30pm. Places, which are free, can be booked by emailing info@sphinxtheatre.co.uk or by calling 020 7401 9994 by Friday June 5.

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