Them the breaks

[This is long and a little bit rant-y and I still didn’t include half the things that have flitted across my brain over the past week. If you’re short of time, skip to the end where I have included a few suggestions towards action. Also, I am aware that it’s not just women who are discriminated against in the arts, and in the world at large. Theatre is dominated by middle-class, white, able-bodied men. I’m writing about discrimination against women because that’s what I know, and because I want to add to the conversation that’s happening and keep up the momentum that has built over the last week. I expect/hope that getting more women in positions of power will help to open the doors to all, particularly because women have experience being the Other and the Outsider.]
Fiach Mac Conghail ‏@fmacconghail Also, sometimes plays and ideas that we have commissioned by and about women just don't work out. That has happened. Them the breaks.

Because I’m still on my holidays, I haven’t been spending as much time in front of my computer as I usually do. I saw the reactions to the Abbey’s Waking The Nation announcements on Twitter before I read anything from the Abbey. And maybe because I’m in holiday mode (ie had a few glasses of wine), I didn’t pay much attention to it. There’s nothing new about women being ignored by the big arts institutions. The Abbey isn’t even the worst of them – at least they included a few women. You have to go a long way back to find the last time the Gate staged a play written by a women. But then the discussion didn’t go away. There were more comments on Twitter and conversations on Facebook. I realised I needed to take a closer at this before weighing in with an opinion.

I went to the Abbey’s website and looked at the programme and I read the press release and then I got angry. The more I read, the angrier I got. The programme is described as “an exciting roll-call of new Irish voices alongside major revivals of the some of the great plays from the Abbey Theatre repertoire”, but doesn’t include a revival of a great play by a woman and those new Irish voices are almost all masculine. In 2015, that is a disgrace. I am particularly disappointed that all the revivals are by men. This suggests that nothing written by a woman in the last 110 years was deemed worthy of inclusion. Then Fiach’s comments on Twitter just added insult to injury. He said he programmed the things that spoke to him, and they just happened to be all written by men. That’s just not good enough. When you are the Artistic Director of the National Theatre with €8 million of taxpayers money to spend, you should feel obliged to include the voice of half the population, even if it isn’t to your personal taste.

Pointing out sexism is a bit of a hobby of mine. In my experience when you tell people they are being sexist they get defensive. The Abbey was no different. While defending this bit of blatant sexism, a lot of the blame was thrown back at women – there was the suggestion that if they were good enough, they would have been included; that the plays weren’t ready and it would be unfair to the playwright to stage them; that there were just more good male playwrights to choose from. The other thing that surprised sexist-deniers do is point out all the things that they have done for women. In Fiach’s tweets he listed the plays by women that have been programmed since 2008 (all nine of them, three by Marina Carr) and the female to male ratio of the New Playwrights Programme (13 out of the 24 writers were women). It’s always the same – sexists will blame women or deny the sexism is happening. Nobody has ever turned around to me and said “oh, you’re right! I hadn’t noticed. How did we let that happen?”

Because I don’t think it was done on purpose. I don’t think Fiach is intentionally or maliciously keeping women off the Abbey stage but I do wonder if he didn’t notice the lack of female voices or just didn’t think it was important. If I was feeling generous I might say that it’s understandable not to see this lack of women as something unusual or unacceptable. For a long time, leaving women’s voices out of public discourse was the norm. We live in a patriarchal society and those attitudes are ingrained at every level and in every aspect of our society. Patriarchal attitudes are insidious, they are so deep in our brains that we are mostly unaware of them. That’s why we have work against those unconscious attitudes and biases.

This means that, if you think there are no suitable plays by females writers that fit into the big centenary programme at the National Theatre – try harder! Find the one you dislike least or spend more time discovering and working with female writers until you find one you do like – don’t just shrug your shoulders and say “Them the breaks”. That’s not good enough. You need to do more. Some might say that’s not fair – why should they spend more time working with women or cultivating female talent? If it’s all about equality, then shouldn’t the women be treated exactly the same as the men? But the cards have been stacked against women for centuries and because of those insidious patriarchal attitudes women still aren’t regarded the same as men. We need to take the time and effort to balance the scales. And now is the time to do it.

Quotas

The mere mention of quotas tends to makes people uncomfortable. I understand that, I used to feel the same way. But as I saw how how slowly things are changing – sometimes the change is so slow if feels like we are going backwards -I changed by mind. I’m impatient; I would like to see a more equal society within my lifetime and I think quotas are necessary to make that happen. Change is uncomfortable, so the fact that quotas provoke that response means they must be a good thing.

People are against quotas because they are afraid they will allow unworthy women to get things that should have gone to more deserving men. My instinctive response to that is; I don’t care! Again, it’s about balancing the scales. If quotas move us towards gender equality, then the risk of hiring a few under-qualified women is one I’m willing to take.

I also think that the chance of that happening is really small. There are loads of very talented, very capable women out there who are not getting the breaks they deserve because our patricachical society favours men and has done for centuries. There are loads of statistics that prove that this bias against women exists. If you believe that there are less women in politics or running companies or making work for the Abbey stage because they are just not good enough, you are dismissing a long history of sexism and you need to read up on the subject. Or you know, just believe women when they talk about their lived experience of sexism. The #WakingTheFeminists tag on Twitter is a good place to start. And if you think any woman who gets a place at the top table after the introduction of quotas is not going to work incredibly hard to prove that she belongs there, you obviously don’t know that many women.

In order to see make real change in gender equality in the arts, I believe we need quotas and that they should be linked to funding. Either the programme is 50% female, or you don’t get the money. That would speed up the rate of chance! As a kindness to those who can’t cope with the word quotas, we can refer to them as targets instead. This is what the film funders did in Sweden. When Anna Serner became CEO of the Swedish Film Institute in late 2011, she announced that by the end of 2015 Sweden would seek to have equal gender funding in all productions – the first country in the world to do so. At the time of this announcement, 26% of funding went to female directors. That was almost doubled and they reached their target ahead of schedule in a mere two and a half years. Targets work and it would be wonderful to see that sort of commitment from the Arts Council of Ireland. That’s my big pipe-dream plan for change. Here are a few other smaller suggestions.

Actions towards change

1. Go and see work made be women.
I’ve already talked about #FairPlayForWomen here. There’s also a Facebook group and a calender of events with lots of suggested shows.

2. Open Space meeting.
I love the conversations and sharing of personal stories that’s been happening on Facebook and Twitter over the last week. I’ve felt very connected and engaged with the Irish theatre community over the last week. So many voices saying the same thing makes it clear that this is not a small issue and it’s great that those voices have been amplified by Lian Bell. (This article is a good summing up of things that have been said already.)

Now we need to meet in the real world and start making plans. (No doubt this is already in the pipeline.) I think we should do this in an Open Space meeting on the theme of gender equality, something similar to the Devoted & Disgruntled meetings that happen in London each January. Theatre Forum have also hosted Open Space events around the country, though generally without a theme. I’ve been to a couple and I think the form would really suit this discussion. The agenda is set by those in the room, but everything is recorded for those who can’t attend. Actions are agreed on for each topic and a person is chosen to get the ball rolling, and keep it rolling.

3. Riot at the Abbey.
In her piece for the Irish Times, Una Mullally suggested it’s time for another riot at the Abbey. I’m not sure how I’d feel about walking out of or disrupting a theatre performance. It would feel disrespectful to the actors and other artists, as well as the audience. Am I too timid for this revolution? I suggest a picket line outside the theatre on opening night instead.

4. Theatre of Change Symposium
In response to Una Mullally on Twitter, Fiach said that women will be represented in the Theatre of Change Symposium in January. I really enjoyed the Symposiums over the last couple of years and I’m looking forward to the next one. But anyone included in that programme will get at most 90 minutes to speak to a fairly niche audience. (It’s more likely to be a 20 minute presentation, followed by a Q&A.) It’s not the same as a 4-6 week run on the Abbey stage. I think Gender Equality needs to be a topic included in the symposium. At this stage, it feels like the least the Abbey could do.

In the meantime, we will keep shouting about it. We will remind everyone that this is not acceptable behaviour. It’s time to stop feeling unsurprised and start feeling outraged. We have to keep talking until we are listened to. Hopefully nobody will have to throw themselves in front of a horse this time before that to happens.

#FairPlayForWomen

Last Wednesday the Abbey Theatre announced Waking The Nation, their 2016 season and there were immediately comments being made online about the total lack of gender balance. Only one of the ten playwrights featured is female, and there’s only three female directors. Four days later, the conversation is still continuing on Facebook and Twitter which I think is fantastic. This is not going to go away any time soon. Lian Bell did a sterling job of collecting responses from the theatre community last night (Oct 31) – have a look at her twitter stream here or follow the #WakingTheFeminists tag.

I do plan on writing about it, it’s just taking me a little while to get my thoughts in order. This is a placemarker post with some suggested action! It’s one of things that came up in conversations online – instead of just talking about this injustice, what can we do to make it better? Tanya Dean‘s suggestion was to put your money where your mouth is and see more work by women.

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This is really easy to do because, despite what the Abbey programming might suggest, there are lots of women making great theatre in Ireland right now. As I said in my last post about Feminist Film Festival, I think it’s important to support female artists and because it’s the first of the month, I thought I’d do a short list of work by women on this November.

Foxy, written by Noelle Brown and directed by Oonagh Murphy.
Project Arts Centre, 27 Oct – 7 November

How to Keep an Alien, written by Sonya Kelly and directed by Gina Moxley
Civic Theatre, Tallaght,  6 & 7 November
Axis, Ballymun, 27 Novemnber

Dusk Ahead, created and choreographed by Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy
Project Arts Centre, 6 & 7 November

New Addition:
Wrapped, written an directed by Tracey Martin
Civic Theatre, Tallaght, 10 – 14 November

The Bells Of, written by Barry McEvoy and directed by Louisa Sanfey.
Theatre Upstairs, Nov 10 – 21

Separated at Birth, written by PJ Gallagher, Joanne McNally and Una McKevitt, directed by Una McKevitt
Mill Theatre Dundrum, November 28

Through A Glass Darkly, adapted for the stage by Jenny Worton and directed by Annie Ryan
Project Arts Centre, 12 November – 5 December

It is a very Dublin centric list, though How to Keep an Alien and Separated at Birth are both on tour throughout the country. (Links above will bring you to full list of tour dates.) Please let me know if there’s anything you think should be included.

NewWritingFestFinally, there’s an opportunity to see new writing by men and women during the New Writers Week at the New Theatre, 9 – 14 November. You can enjoy a new play every night at 7.30pm, Monday – Saturday. Three new plays by men and three by women – fancy that!

Dr. Mads Gilbert at PalFest Ireland

PalFest Ireland Arts Festival Supporting Palestine

Over the weekend, in Dublin and around the country, PalFest Ireland took place. It was a wonderful mix of events – music, poetry readings, lectures, meditation, a football match – all organised by volunteers. It was timed to commemorate the 51-day attack by Israel on Gaza in 2014. This was the fourth Isreali assault on Gaza since 2006. These bombardments are named military attacks, which I didn’t know.

2006 – Operation Summer Rain
2009 – Operation Cast Lead
2012 – Operation Pillar of Defence
2014 – Operation Protective Edge

And over the eight years, each attacks has been more brutal and the death toil for each assault has increased. During the 51 days in July 2014, over 2100 people were killed, 551 of them children.

I missed most of the PalFest events but I did attend the lecture by Dr. Mads Gilbert in the O’Reilly Theatre on Friday night, where I learnt all these facts. Dr. Gilbert is a Norwegian doctor from Tromsø and who has regularly worked in the Shifa hospital in Gaza over the last 15 years. He is a vocal opponent of the Israeli occupation in Gaza and the Israeli government have now banned him from entering the country. He is also a man who knows a lot about Palestine, about the Palestinian people and what life is like under the occupation and siege. He was in Gaza during the assault last year and has published a book of photos and stories about what he experienced. Friday night’s lecture was based on that book – A Night in Gaza. He had some terrifying statistics about the number of people killed and injured during those 51 days, the number of schools bombed, the paramedics who were targeted as they worked. 70% of those who died during the assault were civilians. The Israeli army claims the aim on their weapons is 90% accurate so we have to assume that these schools and hospitals, the medical personnel and journalists were all targets. Under international law, it is a war crime to deliberately target these people or buildings.

As well as the huge numbers of killed and injured there were also stories of those not included in those numbers.  Like the parents and three young children who got out of the house before the bomb fell on it and arrived in the emergency room uninjured, but completely terrified and homeless.

Dr. Gilbert was a passionate, engaging speaker, particularly when he spoke of his friends in Palestine, people he has known and worked with for many years, and their resilience. He talked about how they worked non-stop throughout the night during the worst of the bombings, about the inventiveness in the hospital because of the blockades and about their determination to rebuild their towns and cities. He has huge admiration for the Palestinian people; for their hope and their spirit under occupation. You can read more about his experiences in Gaza and an extract from the book in this Guardian article – ‘My camera is my Kalashnikov’.

Dr. Gilbert also gave the Noble Call at the Abbey after the performance of Carol Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children that was also part of PalFest.

Chris McCormack wrote an article for Broadway World last month The Art of Winning a Referendum, about how artists engaged with the Equality Referendum campaign and the effect it had on the vote. PalFest is in the same vein. It’s art with a purpose. It’s art that recognises a greater social context, art in solidarity with people who need to be seen and recognised. I think it was a wonderful thing to do, and I hope it does help the Palestinian to be recognised as part of the human family and be accorded the same human rights that the rest of that family enjoys.

I know the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is incredibly complex but there was a wonderful Malcolm X quote in Dr. Gilbert’s lecture which for me, makes things very simple.

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”

YES! Ireland makes history.

Just before we leave the topic of Marriage Equality, here are a couple of links about the historic weekend in Ireland.

 

Miriam Lord in the Irish Times does a wonderful job of describing the events of the day as the Yes tallies kept rolling in.

And a shout out to all those who came Home to Vote, it couldn’t have happened without them, espeically the amazing Joey Kavanagh who lead the Get the Boat to Vote initiative.

And finally, I really like Una Mullally’s article on being who you’re meant to be and how the world will change around you when you allow yourself that freedom.

Now – as President Bartlett would say, “What’s next?”

A Noble Call for Marriage Equality

YesCampSome wonderful sights and sounds from the Noble Call for Marriage Equality at the Abbey last Wednesday. It sounds like a joyous morning full of love and support and enthusiasm. The video is just a little taster and then the SoundCloud is a recording of the entire morning’s events. It’s 90 minutes long and full of passionate speeches, joyful songs and performances from people including Roddy Doyle, Marina Carr reading from Molly’s soliloquy from the end of Ulysses, and Wayne Jordan performing a section of Sarah Kane’s Crave, the wonderful Sonya Kelly and loads more lovely people.

Top Tip: Paul Reid and Sarah Greene singing
Paul Reid and Sarah Greene singing “We’re All on the Edge” from Alice in Funderland is at 33 minutes, 50 seconds.

Live Collision 2015

LiveCollision15I am always very appreciative of festivals who bring international artists to Dublin, especially smaller, more niche performers who generally don’t tour that often. This year’s Live Collision programme is a great mix of Irish and international artists. Visiting artists are also doing workshops or collaborating with Dublin-based performers, which I think is a great way to keep a festival vibrant and meaningful to local artists and audiences. This blog post is late – Live Collision started on Wednesday, so it’s half over at this stage, but there is still lots to enjoy.

There is an Artist Salon workshop on Friday afternoon with UK artists Curious. You have to bring with you some sort of ‘information’ about your body that is invisible to the naked eye. The workshop will involve writing and movement to create work both solo and collaboratively. Tickets are €15/20 and it’s on in Fringe Lab.

There are also lunch time talks taking place in Project on Friday and Saturday. These are public discussions, with questions from the audience. Friday’s theme is We are in Public, with Nic Green and Massive Owl and it’s about artists who create participatory work. Nic Green is part of this year’s festival and also did Trilogy in the Fringe in 2010, which I participated in. Massive Owl are doing an Artist Exchange with three Dublin-based performers as part of Live Collision. Saturday’s panel, We Are Only Human with Francis Fay, Amanda Coogan, Kris Nelson & Vaari Claffey will explore current trends in live art.

Irish artist Amanda Coogan is performing Smoking in Bolero in Meeting House Square on Friday night at 7pm and it’s one of the many free events happening across the festival. Another one is Nic Green‘s Abhann Liffe on Saturday evening. The meeting point for that performance is outside Project and it will take place at low-tide, which will be around 5.15pm.

There is also a performance in the Science Gallery as part of their new exhibition Home/Sick. It’s a live, interactive installation called 97 Years and will happen on Friday and Saturday at 12.30pm, 2pm and 3.30pm. Tickets are €8 and available from the Science Gallery website. It’s nice to see the festival spread across the city.

And of course, there’s the main events of the festival – the double bill performances in Project Cube. On Friday night these are Workshy and 27 and on Saturday you can see Stud and Dickie Beau Unplugged. Tickets are €15/13 which means you’re basically getting two shows for the price of one!

And if none of that tickles your fancy, there’s also a strand called We Are Dancing which includes 27 Club drinks in Project Bar on Friday night and Yes Yes Yes at Mother on Saturday.

So go – enjoy some Live Art! You might find it odd or irritating or inspiring but it’s worth giving it a go – it’s not scary.

Voting

When the polling stations across Ireland open on May 22nd, I will be on a plane to Barcelona to celebrate my parents wedding anniversary. I didn’t plan to be out of the country for the Marriage Equality vote and it seems a little bit perverse to be celebrating traditional marriage while the country votes on whether or not to extend that privilege to all Irish citizens, but my parents are forty years married this year and I couldn’t really miss the celebrations.

The flights were booked weeks before the date of the referendum was announced. I am sad and disappointed to not be able to vote. The government has been talking about and promising this referendum for a very long time, it’s annoying to be out of the country when it finally happens. Voting is important to me. In 2002, in my final year of college, I travelled home to vote on the very confusing “abortion referendum” when Bertie Ahern’s government tried to over-turn the ruling on the X-case. It was confusing because a yes vote meant you wanted the case over-turned and the laws around abortion to become more restrictive, or you could vote no and keep things as they were. By a small majority, the people voted not to over-turn that ruling and it still took the government over 10 years to legislate on it. That vote was on a Thursday and I went home to vote on Thursday night and then back to college on Friday morning because I was in final year and we were finishing projects that week.

MarRefIf I was here to vote on May 22nd, I would be voting yes in the Marriage Referendum because I’m a big fan of equality. I’m not that bothered about marriage but I recognise that my ambivalence is a pretty privileged stance to have. I can turn my nose up at marriage and say I’m not sure it’s for me because I get to take it for granted. I can get married if I want to or not. Anyone who wants to get married should be allowed to do so. I’ve heard lots of people be very enthusiastic about marriage, that committing yourself to another person in that way can make you feel like part of a team, a true partnership. Why would you want to deny that to anyone?

I really want this referendum to pass because a yes vote would say so much about this country. I don’t want to live in a backward, mean-spirited, homophobic country that believes that it’s ok to treat people differently because of their sexuality. To me, that’s what a no vote says – it says you think LGBT people should be treated as second class citizens. I want to live in a loving, inclusive society where people are treated equally. Passing this referendum won’t instantly make that happen, but it would be a step in the right direction. It could be great turning point for Ireland, which, let’s face it – has had a rough few years. This could be the start of something new.

To me, the people against marriage equality are against change. They are backward looking and nostalgic for an Ireland that doesn’t exist any more. But to me, Ireland is not a country that can talk about the “good old days”. We are forever discovering new revelations about how bad things were in this country, particularly for anyone on the margins of society. It’s a big step for Ireland to finally step out of the shadows of Rome and Catholicism and make it’s own decisions based on what it best for it’s people. I believe that equality makes life better for all people. I don’t want to have more rights than other people – that doesn’t feel right.

So if you are here on May 22nd, and you are eligible to vote – please make your voice heard! Check now to make sure you’re on the register and if you’re not, you still have time to get a vote before May 22nd. All the details are on the Yes Equality website. Maybe you think I’m a bit of a hypocrite tell you to use your vote when I’m not using mine. I don’t care what you call me, as long as you vote! If the referendum doesn’t pass, I will feel very guilty for going on holiday.

And if I haven’t convinced you to Vote Yes, maybe Bosco can!

(I’m not sure how I’d vote in the Referendum on the Presidential Age of Eligibility. I can’t decide if age and experience is more or less useful than youth and energy in a President. You can still have a youthful outlook when you’re over 35 but is there any substitute for experience?)

Other theatre writing from around the web

Here are some bits and pieces that I came across on twitter recently. They are all from the UK, a lot of them are from the Guardian.co.uk and some from other small blogs.

The Irish theatre community is small, and Dublin is smaller again. I mostly like the smallness. Small means it actually feels like a community, you know what other people are up, people support each other, etc. But it can be risky; communities can become inward-looking and isolated. They have to avoid self-absorption and clique-y-ness and thinking that their little bubble is the centre of the universe. It’s important to keep looking outwards, seeing what other people are doing, be open to new influences. Luckily the internet makes that really easy!

  • Can a relationship with theatre change people’s relationship to society?
    Slightly misleading title, I think. This Guardian article is about audience participation, artist engagement, immersive and interactive theatre and is full of links to other writings about all of those topics.

  • Little Acts of Hope
    Written by Action Hero’s James Stenhouse it about how the audience affect a show. The story at the beginning is really lovely.

  • Trust
    This blog post by Mary Halton was written just after Forced Entertainment performed Quizoola live in Sheffield and online for 24 hours. It’s about a different form of audience engagement.

A couple of articles from the Guardian about funding, and what companies and theatres should do to be “deserving” of public funding:

And an article by Lyn Gardner about an experiment in Stockton’s ARC theatre with a pay-as-you-go initiative, as a way of encouraging more people to go to the theatre. This is worth keeping an eye on, I think.

Christmas Theatre Events

There are a few Christmassy theatre things happening next week that could be described as “networking events”. For better or worse, you get a lot of the work in theatre through who you know so networking is fairly important for a career in theatre. This is not necessarily in a cronyism kind of way, but simply because nobody can hire you if they don’t know you exist or they don’t know what you do.

I am not one of life’s natural networkers and that’s ok – it’s not something I aspire to. In my mind, a good networker is a smooth-talking American business man, bullshitting everyone about how amazing he is and handing out business cards to anyone who looks in his general direction. I’m Irish and I’m a woman – two things that conspire to make me unlikely and unwilling to talk about how great I am. The idea of it makes me cringe.

networking

Through Cultural Freelancers, I found out that I’m not the only who feels like this. I lot of people want to run and hide at the idea of networking. I also discovered that networking doesn’t have to be an ordeal and doesn’t have to involve talking shite about how great you are. It can be about talking to people honestly about what you do and about what they do. I’ve found a new way of thinking about it – instead of “networking”, my aim is to make connections.

Where networking is all about selling yourself, connecting with people is more of a two-way street. Making connections is about finding people you have something in common with, people you get on with and who are interesting to you. It’s just having conversations. You don’t have to talk yourself up but don’t talk yourself down either. Another tip from Cultural Freelancers is to practice your elevator pitch – describing your work in two or three sentences. No bullshit, just who you are and what you do, said in a positive way with no apologising for your own success or down-playing your achievements.

Thinking about it like this makes networking less horrendous. It might help you get work in the future but that’s not it’s sole function. It’s just the social side of business. If we all worked in offices it would be the conversations at break or while you’re waiting for the lift, but because theatre is full of freelancers, we have to go to events to have those chats.

Here are some events to connect at!

TODAY: December 12th – Fringe Elevenses in Fringe Lab at 11am
A general gathering with cake. I’ve been to a few of these and they are well attended, chatty, informal mornings with treats. It lasts about an hour and you can drop in at anytime.

December 15th – Cultural Freelancers – Festive Get Together in Irish Theatre Institute at 11am
This is not a usual CFI meeting with provocations and themes, just food, drink and chats. It’s a nice one to attend as an introduction to Cultural Freelancers or if you just want to talk theatre on Monday morning.

December 15th – Fringe Fuse and Christmas drinks at Fringe Lab, Fringe Fuse starts at 7.30pm and the drinks happen after at 9.30pm
This is a scratch night as well as an opportunity to make connections. It’s also a nice one for those of us who don’t have an office Christmas party to attend. This is the freelancers Christmas party!

December 18th – Theatre Forum’s Tell a Good Story Event at Project Arts Centre, 4pm
I missed last year’s Tell A Good Story so I’m really looking forward to this on Thursday. It’s a really nice way to spend an afternoon because it celebrates the successes in theatre throughout the year, with a wide definition of success. It’s a different crowd as well, usually it’s more companies and less freelancers at Theatre Forum events.

You do have to be a Theatre Forum member to attend but it’s only €25 for a year’s membership as an individual and if you join now, you will be paid up until the end of 2015.

It’s well worth the money. Apart from the annual conference, the other big event is the funding meeting at the beginning of the year which is a great insight into where the Arts Council money is going – it’s a big chunk of information presented in a meaningful way. They also run sessions on tax and being self-employed and it’s another good way to connect with the theatre community.

Feminism and Theatre

Last week I went along to the theatre and feminism discussion at the Gate Lab. I wasn’t wild about their title: “Is Feminism a Dirty Word in the Theatre?” because it seemed too focused on the word feminism rather than the issues faced by women in theatre, but I was looking forward to an interesting discussion. I was not the only one – there was a great turn on the night, of male and female attendees. And thankfully the fantastic panellists – Anne Clarke, Róise Goan, Ingrid Craigie, Marina Carr and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman – didn’t reference the title and just got on with it.

Róise Goan began the discussion with some stats about where we are now and why it’s just not good enough. She said that as a woman working in theatre, she didn’t realise there was a glass ceiling until her head was banging off it. She pointed out that while there are more women than men working in theatre, and the gender balance is even more tilted towards the women in drama courses and youth theatres, as you move up the ladder there are fewer and fewer women in decision-making roles in the theatre. The Gate (our host for the evening) has produced only four plays directed by women in the last 10 years and an equally pitiful small number of plays written by women. The numbers are all pretty depressing but I don’t think any of these stats caused much shock or surprise among the audience. We all know that things are bad; they’ve been bad for a very long time and they don’t seem to be getting any better.

Anne Clark made the point that it’s not just theatre that suffers from this problem; discrimination against women can be seen in all areas of society. Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington’s case against NUI Galway last month demonstrates that it definitely exists in the academic world. It’s also not a new problem. Marina Carr talked about Virginia Wolf’s To The Lighthouse, and the character Mr. Tansey who repeats “Woman can’t paint. Woman can’t write”. She feels that attitude still exists consciously or not, in women’s minds as well as men’s. She herself is sick to the back teeth of being refereed to as a “female playwright”.

The actors Ingrid and Genevieve were also not particularly hopeful. Genevieve said that one of the reasons she wrote Pondling (her award-winning one woman show) was because she wasn’t getting work and had a lot of time on her hands. The lack of work for female actors is also not a new thing. I recently read Lay Up Your Ends, a book about the history of the Charabanc Theatre in Belfast. It was set up by a group of actresses who were fed up about the lack of parts for them on the stage and decided to create their own shows instead. They did not set out to be an all-female company but the government funding they received required everyone in the company to be out of work for a certain length of time and they couldn’t find any male actors that met that requirement. That was in the early 1980s. Ingrid said that she thinks young actresses today have a harder time than she did because they are expected to create a personal brand; it’s about more than just their performance on stage or in an audition, they also need the online presence, the right look, etc, while the media is always on the hunt for the newer, younger, Next Big Thing.

Ingrid described joining the Abbey at the start of her working life. She was part of the Abbey company and had a secure, regular job for three years. There was an audible ripple in the room at this information, it’s an idea that seems almost unimaginable now. It felt like there was a lot of young actresses in the room, just finished their training or still at it, there because they are afraid about what the future holds for them. They know that there are a lot of them and not nearly enough parts to go round.

At this point there didn’t seem to be a lot of optimistic in the room, just a general feeling of resignation at how bad things are. Then we moved on to questions from the audience and there were also a lot of people there who wanted to speak. A lot of the audience were people who worked in theatre – I saw a lot of familiar faces in the room – but there was a good mix of young and old, male and female. I think it could have become a very lively debate, but unfortunately the whole discussion only lasted an hour. It felt like it was just getting started when it was time to call it a day.

Some things that came up:

  1. How things are marketed. A couple of people made the point that work by women is often only marketed at women, and as a result is often seen as less important because it’s for women, it’s something that only women would be interested in.
  2. The use of mentors. This was suggested as something that is working well in tech companies, who have a huge problem with attracting women to that area. Maybe we need something like Women in Film and TV for theatre. WiFTV is a support network for women working in those areas and one of things they offer is mentorship. The Irish chapter has been dormant for a while but has been coming back to life over the last couple of years. You can connect with them here. I’m not sure what shape a theatre-focused organisation would take but I think there could be a need for it.
  3. Using funding to encourage parity. This was taking an idea from film. The Swedish Film Institute aims to have achieved equality in film production in Sweden by the end of 2015. One of the ways they are making that happen is to stipulate that funding provided by the Swedish Film Institute must be divided equally between women and men. This was a controversial idea in the room but some people did voice their support of quotas and forcing things to change, instead of waiting around for it. Personally I am in favour of it. If the Abbey and the Gate were told they had to have an equal number of female writers and directors on stage by 2017 or their funding would be cut, I am sure they would start having a lot more conversations with women in theatre.

And then, just as things were getting interesting, it was over. Any discussion on a topic of this scale is always going to feel unfinished but it felt like there was huge desire to hear more about possible solutions and ways of changing how things are. It felt like the beginning of something, an acknowledgement that things need to change. I don’t know if the Gate plan on running any more discussions like this, but I think there is a need for them. We need somewhere to direct all that anger and frustration and turn it into positive change.

Were you there? What did you think?