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Stage manager Katie Jackson: Backstage sexism is not just frustrating, it’s counterproductive

Photo: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock.com
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The female theatre community has become increasingly vocal about sexism in the arts. I won’t bother quoting statistics here – much more intelligent and qualified women have done so in a more succinct way than me. Yes, women are woefully under-represented on stage, but what about backstage?

There are gender-based stereotypes that exist within the backstage world. Like most stereotypes and cliches, on some level they are founded on truth. But just because the stereotypes are more often the case than not, that doesn’t mean those who don’t fall into that category should be treated any differently.

Recently, I was faced with the kind of prejudice and sexism in the workplace that is less frequently remarked upon in our industry.

As part of a recent tour, I was in charge of the fit-up and load-out of the set. All scenic decisions while we were on the road had to be communicated by me to the local crew of whichever theatre we were moving into that week.

And yet, while the crew knew what my position was, and knew I was the only one qualified to answer any questions they might have about the set, they would often seek out male members of the show staff to ask before they eventually turned to me.

One good example of this arose while building the flats that made up the set. I was explaining to the crew how we would put them together. This was several venues into the tour, so I pretty much had the system nailed. However, the head of stage, the man this particular crew looked to for answers about the daily running of the theatre and therefore respected more than me (as a stranger) decided, in the middle of my explanation, to talk over me with a counter plan to the one I was suggesting.

Having been shouted down and disrespected in this way in front of a group of men I didn’t know, from whom I had already spent several hours trying to establish some basic respect and attention, I was understandably more than a little miffed.

However, I’ve been put in this situation enough times before to realise by now that stamping my feet and throwing my (less substantial than theirs) weight around would only further cement preconceptions that these men held about me based on my gender.

So, I took a step back and I let them try to put the set together the way they wanted to. From my removed position, I had a very good view of their method failing. At this point, I stepped forward with the suggestion I had originally been trying to make. The set went together, we put it up, spiked and braced it down, and moved on to the next section. None of the crew said anything to me, half of them probably didn’t even notice what had happened. But in a small way, I got to feel as though I scored a point for women in technical theatre

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