In light of the lack of women in writing and directing positions in the National Theatre’s season release, I think there is a case to be argued on behalf of the audience.
As ‘premium’ pricing goes up to £88 for Friday and Saturday nights at the National, it seems increasingly inaccessible. And combined with a male-dominated programme, what is the incentive for audiences, primarily made up of women, to see these shows?
As a person of colour, I believe the importance of shows such as Small Island, Barber Shop Chronicles, Nine Night and the upcoming ‘Master Harold’ and the Boys cannot be ignored – as well as shows like The Great Wave, which featured a prominently East Asian cast.
The National Theatre has never been hostile to black, Asian and minority ethnic theatre but this isn’t reflected in its audience. It can do more to ensure no audience member feels alienated.
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While a gender balance may be desirable, it seems these days that more emphasis (among new writers) is given to women than men to promote equality.
I can’t help feeling that new male writers are missing out because they are male. It seems that across the board this emphasis is resulting in more productions being flagged up because they are female rather than because they are good. Surely the ultimate criteria is that the material is good, not that it is by a man or a woman.
Shakespeare’s Globe recently produced an all-female production of Richard II – why? I did not see that show, but imagine the furore if there were a production of the same play with an all-male cast – that used to happen in the 17th century.
I can see no good reason for women to play male roles, any more than men should play female roles. I am not anti-female in any way, but I find it sad when gender is the only issue under discussion.
The argument that men have become disadvantaged is not valid. Gaining the necessary experience and honing one’s craft takes time and needs full exposure.
Playwrights such as David Hare and Alan Bennett have repeatedly been invited to have their work produced on the National’s stages, regardless of their success. To give women the same opportunity to establish themselves, we need to allow them the odd miss, as men had in the past.
Men have historically had more parts written for them and it would be boring to reproduce classics as if nothing had changed in society since a play was conceived. Casting women gives them the opportunities to explore male roles in society from today’s point of view. As sex is not the most prominent aspect of Hamlet, having a woman in the role adds to the interpretation.
Making a big fuss of a 50:50 female-to-male ratio may be a false economy, but not because women have it easier than men: they are far more scrutinised and still have to work harder and juggle more family responsibilities.
This issue could be compared to raising the retirement age of women to that of men, completely ignoring that due to the gender pay gap, women earned far less over their lifetime, therefore contributed far less to their pension, but have to work longer. Unless the past is equal, the present won’t be a fair competition.
Elisabeth von Glasenapp
In response to the recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report claiming that creative arts are among the most expensive for the public purse, we would like to state our different point of view.
As a higher education institution in the arts sector, London Contemporary Dance School equips students with skills such as critical thinking, communication and creativity that are among those most valued by businesses across all sectors of the economy. The Nesta Report Horizon 2030 predicts that as creative roles are more resistant to automation than in other sectors, these skills will become even more valuable, with future employers looking for advanced cognitive skills such as originality, active learning, strong social and communication – the very hallmarks of creative work.
Nesta reports that the creative industries continue to be among the fastest-growing sectors in the UK economy. Employment in our sector has increased by more than 25% in the past five years, almost three times faster than the UK workforce overall. Creative Industries Federation data shows that in 2017 our creative industries were worth £101.5 billion.
The creative arts also contribute to society in ways that cannot be measured financially. Defining the value of a university degree on future earnings alone is a dangerous approach, it undermines the contributions of artists as well as teachers, nurses, care workers and other crucial benefactors of society.
LCDS students and alumni over the past 50 years have reflected great artistic achievement and educational attainment, making an immeasurable contribution to the quality of life in the United Kingdom and abroad, regardless of their background. This is something our government and the Office for Students are so vividly striving for.
We hold an unwavering belief in the catalytic role that the creative industries play in the growth of society and economy and we invite our politicians to invest in our creative future as a nation.
Chief executive of the Place and principal of London Contemporary Dance School