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Theatre gets its own Bechdel Test

A scene from Top Girls by Caryl Churchill. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Theatre company Sphinx has launched a new initiative aimed at combating the under-representation of women on stage.

The Sphinx Test has been created to encourage theatremakers to think about how to write more and better roles for women.

The initiative follows research by Tonic Theatre in 2014 that found that only 37% of roles are for women [1].

Inspired by the Bechdel Test – which was created to highlight the lack of female characters in film – Sphinx’s plan is broken down into four main points, which include a series of questions for writers and theatremakers to consider when creating or programming work.

The test asks how prominently female characters feature in the action, whether they are proactive or reactive, whether the character avoids stereotype and how the character interacts with other women.

Sphinx artistic director Sue Parrish said the test was “in no way prescriptive” but would enable theatremakers to “think about how they might address the gender imbalance” on stage.

“This is the result of a lot of conversations about how frustrating it can sometimes be that it seems that the repertoire is just stagnant and is repeating itself with very small changes, but no huge step forward,” she told The Stage.

The Sphinx Test was launched at an event at the Actors Centre in central London on November 28, and will now be distributed to organisations and theatres across the UK.

“Following the arts council’s agreement to monitor equality, the pressure is on programmers and artistic directors to actually find a way of improving their presence of women, but also BAME actors. So this tool is also a way of helping artistic directors and people who commission at all levels to think about how they might address imbalances,” Parrish added.