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Emma Rice speaks out against sexist criticism

Emma Rice. Photo: Steve Tanner Emma Rice. Photo: Steve Tanner
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Shakespeare’s Globe artistic director Emma Rice has highlighted the loaded criticisms she has faced running a major theatre as a woman.

She described it as “extraordinary” how much her first few months in charge of the theatre have upset critics.

The director also said some of the language people use to describe her is “blood boiling” – revealing that one senior arts figure continually refers to her as “naughty”.

Her comments come three weeks after The Times published an article by Richard Morrison on September 30 titled ‘The Globe has been a success story – and Emma Rice is wrecking it’.

Rice was speaking on stage at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as part of a Tonic Theatre event celebrating successful female theatremakers.

Playwright Tanika Gupta and fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown also shared stories of their experiences at the talk, which was chaired by Tonic founder Lucy Kerbel.

During the event Kerbel suggested Rice had got “more [negative coverage] than most” new artistic directors.

Responding, Rice said she was “protected from the worst of it” because she did not use social media, and revealed she had “stopped reading reviews a little bit”.

She continued: “On some levels you do have to get a really thick skin, and you have to trust your instincts because there is almost nothing else.”

Asked by an audience member whether she thought opinionated and ‘loud’ women attract more criticism, she replied: “I don’t think I am loud. I think I have led an incredibly private life.”

When Kerbel then suggested there may be a perception that a director is automatically a ‘loud figure’, Rice responded: “Who says that about a man?”

She continued: “I have had no axe to grind at any point in my life. But I sometimes hear language that [makes me] feel a little bit of my blood boiling.

“What do you mean opinionated and loud? I’m not, I’m doing my job. And I’m doing it really well. And I’ve worked really hard. I haven’t been fast-tracked – I’m nearly 50.”

Rice then revealed she had been emailing someone “pretty high up in the arts” who had referred to her three times as ‘naughty’. “And I want to say: who would use that word to a man?” she said.

She continued: “There’s undercurrents, but as I say, that’s not what defines me. I define myself. But I don’t think I am loud, and I actually don’t think I’m opinionated.

“I’ve spent my life making work that’s incredibly complex, in a way that’s very complex as well – in a traditionally female way. It’s collaborative and surprising and unafraid. So I don’t think I’m either of those things.”

Giving advice to directors who may receive similar criticisms, Rice said: “It’s really, really tough, but nobody said it was going to be easy. And there isn’t an artist out there that hasn’t had a bashing.

“There isn’t a great artist who hasn’t been destroyed at some point. So you also have to think: on some level, I’ve made it. I’m obviously upsetting people so enormously.

“And I’m a very soft, feminine director, and I’m telling stories that tend to have love or hope at the heart. If you look at my canon of work I think it’s extraordinary how much I’ve upset people.”

Discussing the criticism Rice has faced, Gupta suggested the terms ‘loud’, and ‘opinionated’ were “about going against the grain, and producing work that’s extraordinary and different and radical”.

She explained: “Actually, that’s what theatre’s about. It’s about creating a new language and a new way of doing things. And I think when people talk about being loud and opinionated they often mean that you’re not doing things the way that they should be done.”

Before starting her tenure, Rice said she aimed to put more women on stage at the Globe, and hoped to achieve a 50/50 gender split across all roles.

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