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Less than a third of new plays written by women, report finds

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Under a third of new plays performed in UK theatres are written by women, a new report has revealed.

The report, published by the British Theatre Consortium in collaboration with the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, also studies repertoire variations across the UK and provides a breakdown between the commercial and subsidised sectors.

Of new plays by single writers presented in 2013, 31% were written by women, while only 24% of total performances in 2013 were shows written by women. This suggests that female-written works have shorter runs than plays by men.

It also found that on average, new plays by women are performed in theatres that are 24% smaller than those which present new work by men, while the ticket price is 23% lower.

Women are also less likely to undertake new translations of plays, the research found. It added that projects such as this are often commissioned by theatres, marking an active choice in favour of male writers.

Of the 24 new translations in 2013, only two were solely by women.

The report, called Still Looking Through a Glass Ceiling?, is a supplementary report to the BTC’s British Theatre Repertoire 2013, published in February.

Playwright Dan Rebellato, who is part of the BTC, said: “Our discovery that new work had overtaken revivals for the first time for a hundred years is a sign of a healthy theatre. However, it appears that the benefits of that change are unevenly distributed.

“Women playwrights do worse than male playwrights overall, and particularly in those forms where theatres have a choice about who to commission, like translations and adaptations.”

The report, which analysed 3,132 productions in 273 auditoria across the UK, revealed that 30% of all theatre productions originate in London or the south-east, an area which also makes up 62% of all theatre attendances and 71% of all box office income.

The average ticket price in London is £45.55, the report states, which is more than double the price of the average ticket in seven other regions. The report does note, however, that the average ticket price is largely proportional to regional variations in income.

Outside London, the West Midlands has the highest number of theatre visits per head – probably boosted by the presence of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatres in this area – followed by the south-east and north-east.

The initial British Theatre Repertoire study found that for the first time since records began, the amount of new work has overtaken that of revivals.

The new report details that across the 12 regions of the UK, new writing makes up the largest proportion of the repertoire in every region, followed by adaptations and musicals.

The BTC’s research also takes into account the breakdown of performances in the commercial, subsidised and not-for-profit sectors – Shakespeare’s Globe, the Old Vic, Greenwich Theatre and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – in London.

While the commercial sector contributes a little over a third of productions in London, it accounts for 85% of box office income and three quarters of all performances.

In the case of musicals, the commercial sector dominates, contributing more than 98% of all box office income in London. The subsidised sector produces less than 1%.

However, the subsidised sector boasts better attendance. The average attendance in London’s subsidised theatres is 86% compared to 71% in commercial theatres.

Rebellato, who is professor of contemporary theatre at Royal Holloway, said that London’s predominance as the “powerhouse” of British theatre continues, largely driven by musicals and the commercial sector.

“It’s interesting however that the subsidised theatre achieves higher box office percentages than the West End, and that London seat prices are not substantially higher – in relation to Londoners’ incomes – than seat prices in the rest of the UK,” he added.

The report follows research undertaken by Equity’s Women’s Committee into the gender balance in casting across the country.

Of the 36 theatres surveyed across the country only one – Manchester’s Royal Exchange – employed more actresses than actors.

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