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Elizabeth Freestone: Women are being ’sidelined’ from leadership roles in theatre

Elizabeth Freestone. Photo: Richard Stanton Elizabeth Freestone. Photo: Richard Stanton
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Women working in theatre are often sidelined from leadership jobs, director Elizabeth Freestone has claimed.

Freestone was formerly artistic director of Pentabus theatre company and was behind groundbreaking research in 2011 that revealed woman in theatre were outnumbered 2:1 by men.

Speaking at an event in London with mentoring organisation University Women in the Arts, the director said she believed women were often sidelined into education departments rather than being given more senior roles in organisations.

She said: “That always happens, women in their mid-20s get asked, ‘Do you mind just doing this workshop over here? Why don’t you run this platform event here? Why don’t you look after the post-show talks? Why don’t you assist on this project’, whereas the men are getting told ‘do you want to make this or do this?’.

“I think it happens because people go, ‘I think you’re really good, but I don’t quite have the guts to back you on this particular project, I don’t quite see you as a leader, but maybe I will in a few years time so I’m going to park you over here, then when I think you’ve been parked enough I might bring you back in.’”

She added: “I think women can let it not happen, and I think the offer should not be made in the first place. The company should be saying, ‘Yes, we’ll keep promoting you, we back you enough.’”

Freestone argued that a lack of childcare was also a key barrier for many women working in theatre and called for theatres “in every city” to work together to offer creches to staff in the same way as the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon.

She added that she believes the issue of gender equality in theatre has become more prominent since her research for the Guardian in 2011/12.

University Women in the Arts was set up to address the barriers women face working in the arts, and has offered 15 female students private mentoring.

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