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Women directors face gender gap at top theatres, ‘sobering’ report claims

York Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster. The SDUK report says the venue had a 56/44 split weighted towards women in the year studied. Photo: Jim Poyner York Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster. The SDUK report says the venue bucked the male-dominated trend with a 56/44 split weighted towards women in the year studied. Photo: Jim Poyner
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  • Men directed 100% of Hull Truck and Oldham Coliseum in-house shows in year studied
  • Male directors outnumbered women at 21 out of the 33 venues examined
  • RSC and Oxford Playhouse achieve 50/50 gender split among directors

The imbalance between male and female directors working on stages across England is laid bare in new research, which highlights Hull Truck, Oldham Coliseum and London’s Young Vic as among the worst for gender parity in 2016/17.

Carried out over 12 months to the summer of 2017, the research – conducted by Stage Directors UK – highlights Arts Council England-funded venues with the highest proportion of male directors on their stages.

Over the 12 months, all in-house productions at both Hull Truck and the Oldham Coliseum were directed by men. At the Young Vic and Chichester Festival Theatre, men helmed 83% and 80% of shows respectively.

Theatres with a better balance included the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Oxford Playhouse and the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, which all had a 50/50 split.

Meanwhile, York Theatre Royal, Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Donmar Warehouse were among only seven theatres where female directors outnumbered men. Male directors outnumbered women at 21 theatres. Five had a 50/50 split.

SDUK’s research, which looked at 33 venues, was carried out in response to recent conversations about gender equality, and in light of concerns from some SDUK members that seasons were heavily weighted towards male directors.

The research looked only at in-house shows produced by the venues themselves, rather than visiting shows, and included productions staged by artistic directors.

SDUK executive director Thomas Hescott said the statistics had been published to “provoke discussion, highlight inequalities and start a dialogue with theatres”. More than half (54%) of SDUK’s members are female.

“For theatres to be representative of the audience they serve, it is essential that the demographic of directors employed within a theatre matches the demographics of people living in the UK,” Hescott said.

He added: “SDUK will support and engage with any theatre looking to create a more diverse workforce of directors within their organisation.”

SDUK chair Kate Saxon called the findings a “sobering read” and said they showed “we have a long way to go to achieve parity for female directors in the UK theatre industry”.

Responding to the results, Oldham Coliseum chief executive Kevin Shaw said he was “aware of the gender imbalance”, but insisted the theatre was working to address it.

He added that opportunities for freelance directors at the Coliseum were limited because the venue has two male resident directors. He also said seven of the eight shows it produced in the year to the summer of 2017 were directed in-house due to “budgetary restraints” and claimed directing was the only area where this gender imbalance exists.

Hull Truck said it was “dedicated to redressing the balance” in its own work and aimed to have a 50/50 gender split across creative teams for Hull Truck Theatre productions from 2018.

Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director Daniel Evans and executive director Rachel Tackley described “increasing diversity in all its forms and in all aspects of our work” as one of the venue’s top priorities, but admitted: “We know we’ve got a way to go. Forty percent of the plays in Festival 2017 were written or co-written by women and we’re striving to achieve a similarly more equitable balance in other areas in the coming years.”

Meanwhile, the Young Vic said SDUK’s “snapshot does not reflect our values”.

“At the Young Vic, we do not programme by seasons or years – our productions come together over different periods of time. In the calendar years 2016 and 2017, we have been delighted to work with the following female and non-binary directors: Natalie Abrahami, Aletta Collins, Carrie Cracknell, Lucy Guerin, Ola Ince, Nancy Medina, Mimi Poskitt, Annie Ryan, Bryony Shanahan and Lucy J Skilbeck.”

Elsewhere, venues with a more equal split welcomed the findings.

RSC artistic director Gregory Doran and deputy artistic director Erica Whyman said: “We are committed to reflecting the diversity of the UK on all of our stages, in all our work and across the company.”

“It’s great to know SDUK is scrutinising the data as it is so important to be kept aware of how much more we and others in the industry can and must do to ensure that British theatre is consistently equal, diverse and inclusive,” they added.

York Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster said the venue – which had a 56/44 split weighted towards women – had dedicated its programme in 2017 to promoting women directors and writers.

“As this year draws to a close we can see that not only is our programme of work richer, more varied and more inspiring as a result of this strategy but we also now expect to have a 50/50 gender split across creative teams and casts wherever possible. We have successfully left behind the outdated ‘jobs for the boys’ mentality that has been so prevalent in this industry and is still lurking in many less progressively led theatres,” she added.

Key findings

Five theatres with highest % male directors in 2016/17
Hull Truck: 100%
Oldham Coliseum: 100%
Young Vic, London: 83%
Mercury Theatre Colchester: 83%
Chichester Festival theatre: 80%

Five theatres with highest % female directors in 2016/17
Theatre Royal Stratford East, London: 75%
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme: 67%
Derby Theatre: 60%
Donmar Warehouse, London: 57%
York Theatre Royal: 56%

Theatres with a 50/50 split in 2016/17
Royal Shakespeare Company
Oxford Playhouse
Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Watermill Theatre, Newbury
Unicorn Theatre, London

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