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Leading theatres commit to gender equality measures

The Crucible, which is run by Sheffield Theatres. Photo: Craig Fleming
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Leading venues including Sheffield Theatres, Chichester Festival Theatre and the Tricycle Theatre in London have committed to new measures for improving gender equality in creative and backstage roles, following research which has revealed the drastic lack of women working in theatres around the UK.

Gender equality organisation Tonic Theatre analysed productions staged on September 13. This found that of the 24 productions staged across the top 20 theatres in receipt of the most Arts Council England core funding, women accounted for just 8% of writers, 37% of performers and 38% of directors. Women made up 17% of sound designers, 22% of lighting designers and 57% of set designers.

When looking at 20 theatres in the commercial West End that staged a play on this night, the findings showed that just 4% of shows were by female writers, with 29% of actors and the same proportion of directors being female.

Across the most heavily subsidised venues and those in the West End, the figures showed that just one play in each case was solely written by a woman – the Ugly Duck at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and The Mousetrap at the St Martin’s Theatre.

The research was conducted as part of a six-month project by Tonic Theatre, run by theatre director Lucy Kerbel, which explored the working practices of 11 theatres and how they could improve career paths for women. Actions plans have now been drawn up by the theatres to increase the number of women working as actors, writers, directors and designers of set, sound and lighting.

Sheffield Theatres has pledged to create equal numbers of parts for male and female actors across its in-house productions within the next year.

Artistic director Daniel Evans acknowledged that the theatre had traditionally employed more male actors than female and said this needed to be redressed.

“That’s not just about numbers, but also about the scope and range of parts that female actors get to play across the year. I’m particularly excited about the spring and summer season – I’m hoping that we will smash our pledge,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chichester Festival Theatre has said it would commission more female writers over the next five years and will share information about emerging writers who are women with other venues. This comes after the venue found it “does not have a track record for actively commissioning mid-career level female playwrights for its stages”.

The Tricycle Theatre looked at its own statistics and found that in its 2014/15 season, while women made up 70% of its directors, 64% of its writers, 55% of actors and 70% of sound designers, only 10% of its set and lighting designers were women. It will now introduce workshops for lighting designers and provide more networking opportunities for designers and its artistic team.

The Gate Theatre in west London has committed developing a scheme to focus on giving greater opportunities to young, female lighting and sound designers, while the Young Vic has pledged to organising discussions and workshops that focus on supporting female directors and producers to become leaders.

Touring company Headlong has agreed to a measures including supporting female writers to transition from the studio to the main stage by providing more development opportunities. This comes after the company found that over the past seven years, only 35% of plays it has produced have been written by women.

English Touring Theatre has pledged to improve its safety information for female actors and stage managers travelling between venues to their accommodation while on tour, and Pentabus Touring Company will create a pregnancy pack for female actors that will be used to inform performers and organisations about practical steps that should be in place when employing expectant mothers.

Tonic Theatre director Kerbel said: “Achieving greater gender equality on our stages isn’t just important because it’s the right thing to do, but because without it, we’re short-changing our audiences. No theatre can confidently say it’s offering its audiences the broadest, most exciting range of work if it’s systematically failing to showcase the ideas, stories, and creativity of half the population.”

Equity has welcomed the theatres’ commitment to changing their programmes and working practices in a bid to improve gender equality and said it was keen to see their detailed proposals.

The union’s general secretary Christine Payne said: “This is a welcome development and a big departure from the recent position many theatres had taken on this issue. We monitored the gender balance of roles on stage and wrote to artistic directors in 2011 with the results. We asked to engage with them on this issue and only a very small number responded.”

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