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Female theatre leaders hail Arts Council meeting as major step forward for gender parity campaign

Back row, from left: Jemma Gross, Sue Parrish, Julia Pascal. Front row: Polly Kemp, Chloe Todd Fordham, Elizabeth Newman, Maureen Beattie, Winsome Pinnock, Jennifer Tuckett. Photo: Isabella Ferro D
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Leading women in theatre have met Arts Council England chair Nicholas Serota for a “landmark” gathering aimed at driving forward the fight against female under-representation in the industry.

Earlier this year, a letter signed by several hundred people demanded a meeting with Serota to discuss gender equality in the UK’s stage and screen industries.

A delegation of women, many of whom have been central to the movement, met the Arts Council chair this week.

They included Equity president Maureen Beattie, Pitlochry Festival Theatre artistic director Elizabeth Newman, playwright Winsome Pinnock and Polly Kemp, co-founder of the 50/50 Equal Representation for Actresses campaign.

The meeting comes as the Arts Council consults the industry on its draft 10-year strategy, which will be published next year.

Efforts to secure a meeting with Serota were spearheaded by writer and director Julia Pascal and Sphinx Theatre artistic director Sue Parrish, who said: “This was a landmark meeting, and we are delighted that the Arts Council has listened and has assured us that it will continue to work with us for a more equal future.”

Among the topics discussed was a concern that women do not have access to the same support and resources in building-based organisations as men, meaning they are often given project grants that do not offer the same infrastructure and opportunity.

Statistics surrounding the under-representation of women across all roles in theatre were discussed by attendees, who also included director Jemma Gross, engagement director of Stage Directors UK, playwright and literary manager of Graeae Chloe Todd Fordham, and academic Jennifer Tuckett, director of mentoring scheme University Women in the Arts.

Beattie, who took over as president of Equity earlier this year, said she hoped the meeting would be a catalyst for progress, and argued that gender equality must remain a priority for the Arts Council.

She said: “We are on that track now and we are not getting off this time. We are not allowing it to be sidelined. I don’t want young people coming out of drama school being treated like that because I dropped the ball.”

“We felt like we were being listened to [by Serota]. We didn’t want to go in there and say: ‘You’re doing it wrong, this is appalling and dreadful,’ but to ask: ‘How can we help the Arts Council challenge the situation we have at the moment?’” she added.

Beattie said Serota had invited the group for a second meeting following the publication of ACE’s draft strategy to continue the conversation.

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