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Mentoring scheme aims to attract female arts students to professional theatre

Vicky Featherstone. Photo: Mark Hamilton

Vicky Featherstone and Jude Kelly are among leading creative women who have signed up to mentor female arts students in the hope of getting more of them working in the sector.

English National Ballet artistic director Tamara Rojo and director Lucy Kerbel will also take part in the one-off scheme, which will see 10 women studying for arts courses assigned a mentor for one-on-one help with their careers.

Organisers hope the year-long University Women in the Arts initiative will help close the wide gap between the number of women studying the arts at a university level, and those who go on to work professionally in the sector.

More than 70% of the students at University of the Arts London – the largest arts-specialist university in Europe – are female, a figure the scheme’s organisers say is a “similar picture” to other institutions in the UK. Despite this, only 31% of professional playwrights are female.

Data from Tonic Theatre in 2013 shows almost 60% of graduates from directing courses were female, but women make up just a quarter of all theatre directors.

Kerbel, who founded Tonic Theatre, said: “Young women who are keen to build careers in the arts often have to look harder for role models than their male counterparts.

“Consequently, a programme such as this, which connects female students with trailblazing women, is hugely valuable because it makes it easier for them to visualise themselves in top roles.”

The mentoring programme is a collaboration between Drama Centre London’s MA dramatic writing course, development body Writers at Work Productions and the Women of the Future programme – with support from Tonic Theatre, which works to highlight and address gender inequality in the performing arts.

Other mentors include Pentabus Theatre artistic director Elizabeth Freestone, The Guardian’s chief culture writer Charlotte Higgins and both BBC Writers Room head Anne Edyvean and its founder Kate Rowland.

Applications for the scheme [1] close on March 26.