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Leading female directors: ‘We are not allowed to experiment like our male counterparts’

Jenny Sealey, Roisin McBrinn, Caitlin McLeod, Victoria Sadler, Nadia Latif, and Rebecca Frecknall (left to right). Photo: Ellie Kurttz
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Female directors are made to “live or die” on their first production while men are given more opportunity to experiment, leading directors including Rebecca Frecknall and Nadia Latif have claimed.

They were speaking on a panel called So You Think You’re A (Female) Director as part of the Almeida for Free Festival in London, which also included Graeae Theatre’s Jenny Sealey, Clean Break artistic director Roisin McBrinn, and Caitlin McLeod, artistic director of female-focused company the Coterie.

McLeod argued that her male peers were allowed to “test out who they were on stage”, whereas she was not given the chance to “find out who she was”.

She said: “As a female director, I don’t feel like I’m considered to be in the process of a career that has its own artistic arc to it.

“I have felt that my male peers can do a show, and it wouldn’t be that successful or it would be quite out there and people weren’t sure if it was good, but they were given another chance because they were on a journey.”

She added: “For me, it feels like you live or die on your next show, you have a chance to do this and if you don’t do this well, that sort of proves you aren’t a good artist.”

Frecknall, whose production of Summer and Smoke is currently running at the Almeida, echoed her comments, arguing it was a “problem” that artistic directors and producers often “do not have the confidence to give female artists a second try”.

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“There are so many male directors who have a body of work and therefore have an aesthetic, a style and a brand, and have this whole other wave of commerciality.

“If you live or die on your first chance, how can anyone have a great first chance, because of the pressure?” she said.

Frecknall added: “How can anyone make some kind of vital artistic expression from that place of fear?”

Latif concurred and said: “I saw Darren Aronofsky’s film Mother!, and I was like, ‘man, this is what white straight man auteurship looks like, make whatever the fuck you want, it doesn’t even have to make sense.’

“It’s a terrible film, but it’s amazing because it must be nice to make whatever you want. The reality is that none of us do get to make whatever we want because we are so put upon by the whole tits and vagina thing.”

Latif added that it was not simply a case of “getting in the room” but also an issue of giving women, people of colour and disabled artists main stages, rather than confining them to studio spaces.

Sealey urged female directors to speak out and question why they were not been giving equal opportunities to their male peers.

She said: “Say two plays happened, they are both all right, but the bloke gets the opportunity and you don’t. We need to ask the question again and again: ‘Why? Why?’. We have to keep that tenacity until we get some proper answers.”

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