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Headlong adopts 50:50 gender balance for new play commissions

Headlong's The Nether A scene from Headlong's The Nether by Jennifer Haley. Photo: Johan Persson
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Theatre company Headlong has committed to commissioning an equal number of plays from men and women.

The touring theatre company, which has produced plays including Jennifer Haley’s The Nether and Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica, made the commitment after finding that only 35% of the plays it produced in the past seven years have been written by women.

It currently has eight plays on commission – four by male playwrights and four by female playwrights – and plans to commission a further six plays this year, three by writers of each gender.

Artistic director Jeremy Herrin told The Stage: “I’m very proud that Headlong is one of the first companies to publicly commit to these important and achievable objectives. Those of us who believe in equality need to make ourselves accountable, then things might change.”

He said he was happy to make the objective public, and added: “Although producing plays is an unpredictable business, we optimistically commit to commissioning equal numbers of women and men.”

The pledge comes after a report by the British Theatre Consortium found that fewer than a third of new plays are written by women.

It also found that work by female writers was more often performed in smaller theatre spaces with lower ticket prices.

In addition to the 50/50 commissioning commitment, Headlong is running several writers’ groups to “encourage and support female writers to make the step up from studio spaces to the main stage”.

The company’s executive director, Henny Finch, said the findings of the BTC report were “frankly shocking”, and expressed hopes that Headlong’s increased female commissioning would help bridge the gap.

“I hope that in due course this crop of new plays by a balance of male and female writers will reach wide audiences in big theatres around the UK,” she added.

Headlong is one of a number of theatre companies to take steps to increase its opportunities for women following work with Tonic Theatre, which encourages arts organisations to set targets in order to improve their gender equality.

Last year Sheffield Theatres promised to create an equal number of male and female parts across its in-house productions in the coming year.

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