Women in Theatre – Scotland: Report from the Trav

Sep 27 2013 | By More

#Wits: it’s all about under-representation

The #wits panel. iPhone pic © @theJennaWatt

The #wits panel. iPhone pic © @theJennaWatt

Consultant Christine Hamilton has called for a new generation of women to come forward and carry on the fight for representation in Scottish Theatre. Here, Jen McGregor reports from the open debate held at the Traverse Theatre on Thursday 26 September 2013 as part of that process.

Four of Scotland’s seven theatre buildings are now run, or co-run, by women. You could be forgiven for thinking that the days when being a woman was an obstacle in the path of anyone seeking a career in the liberal world of theatre were over.

Yet you would be wrong. This might be an unusually fruitful time for female Artistic Directors, but the situation on stage is less positive. According to research carried out on behalf of actors’ union Equity, female actors are not only still offered fewer opportunities than their male counterparts – the ratio is actually getting worse.

And its not just on the stage:

  • Following Vicky Featherstone’s move to the Royal Court, not a single national producing company is headed by a woman.
  • Earlier this year, the Last Night of the Proms was conducted by a woman. It was for the very first time.
  • Neither Nicholas Hyntner (outgoing Artistic Director of the National Theatre) nor Gregory Doran (Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company) has ever directed a play written by a woman.
  • It was only as recently as 2008 that a living female writer (Rebecca Lenkiewicz) had a play on the National Theatre’s main stage.
  • In 2011, only 1 out of 36 English theatres surveyed by Equity employed more female actors than male.
  • In 30 out of the 36, more than 50% of the actors employed were male.

These examples and statistics are drawn from England rather than Scotland because, according to Christine Hamilton who conducted last year’s Theatre Sector Review for Creative Scotland, the national funding body for the arts does not monitor the Equal Opportunities policies of the companies it funds.

Which begs the question: If our national funding body is not keeping an eye on gender equality within the arts, who is?

Judging by the strong turnout in Traverse One for a debate titled Women in Theatre Scotland: Where Next?, it seems that Scotland’s female theatre practitioners are. Originally intended for the smaller studio, Traverse Two, the event was moved to the main stage due to the level of demand for tickets.

Chaired by Sheena McDonald, the debate included contributions from panellists Christine Hamilton (Christine Hamilton Consulting), Max Beckmann (Equalities Organiser, Equity) and Blandine Pelissier (Founder of French equalities association H/F).

The statistics and examples they quoted, including those mentioned above, point to a situation in which women still have some way to go before equality is achieved: there is a real danger in assuming that the problem of inequality is solved simply because we now have a small number of high-profile women.

While Artistic Directors are still laying the blame for unequal onstage representation on “the canon”, both the panel and the debate’s audience appear to believe there is still a huge amount of work to be done.

The debate continues. On Twitter, the hashtag is #wits – for Women in Theatre, Scotland. Jen is writing a more personal, opinion piece for her own website here:The Scenic Route

Anyone who wishes to add to this article, or continue the debate here on Æ, please make use of the comment form below.


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