British female writers in the UK are suffering a “poverty of opportunities” compared with their American counterparts, industry figures have warned.
Playwright Winsome Pinnock and arts writer Victoria Sadler are among those making the claim.
Sadler said that during informal conversations with venues about why this is happening, she had been told it was because American women “write more theatrically” than British female playwrights.
“Who gets to define what is theatrical? Considering how institutionally sexist British theatre is, the very definition of what is acceptable theatrically will be defined by the opinion of men,” Sadler told The Stage.
She added: “And even if you accept that as fact, it reflects further the poverty of opportunities for women writers in the UK.
“If the industry has such a stinging judgment on their talents, where is the support to address it? For me, it’s yet another example of how robust the barriers to entry and prejudice against the views and work of British women are.”
Sadler’s 2018 review of the number of female playwrights being programmed, at what she considers to be London’s eight leading theatres, included the Hampstead Theatre, Young Vic, Almeida, Royal Court, National, Bush, Old Vic and Donmar Warehouse.
Of the plays programmed on those theatres’ main stages up to the time of the count, 26 were written solely by women and 41 by men.
Sadler’s review shows that of the proportion written by female playwrights, 16 were by writers from the UK and nine were from American writers.
Pinnock told The Stage there is a particular lack of opportunity for British women of colour who are playwrights in the UK.
She said: “There are very few women of colour whose plays are produced in the first place. It feels as though often theatres are producing the plays of African American women – whose work I love, and I want to see that work, and many of them are my friends – so they can tick the diversity box and [are] not producing black British.”
She added: “Often those writers write about history, and so do we, but people are in denial about British history, and it’s easier to accept American history.
“Writers need experience, so those [American] writers are getting better and better, and they are brilliant, but the writers of colour here need to be invested in.”
Assistant general secretary at the Writers Guild of Great Britain, Lesley Gannon, agreed there was a lack of opportunities for British female playwrights in the UK.
She said: “It’s great to see work by women making it to the stage, irrespective of where those women come from.
“What’s important is that there are sufficient opportunities for new works by women to reach an audience, and that is where the challenge seems to be.”
She added: “A difficult financial climate means venues will often prefer plays – or writers – that are tried and tested. This means there are fewer opportunities for women to hone their craft and make it to the next stage of their career.”