No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: BossLady

Australian Theatre Forum: Women in Theatre

“Convictions and Connections” is the theme of this year’s Australian Theatre Forum at the divine Brisbane Powerhouse.  I’ve walked away from day one with a few more connections, and a few less convictions.

In the afternoon, I took myself to the Women in Theatre Research salon, and this is where I lost my convictions of the day.  Clearly, it is an issue I find very important, and one I have placed time and energy into trying to grapple.  So why is it that when I go to forums or panels about the subject I just walk away feeling destroyed and disillusioned and wondering if anything will happen at all?

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It’s Pretty Clear.

Adam Cook comments on the lack of female writers and directors in the state theatre companies.

Interview with Cook, 18/3/2011,  from The Barefoot Review.  Listen here. Quoted from 15:00, talking about the vision for the State Theatre Company:

I make lists.  And you write: New Australian; Comedies; Classics; Radical; Imported Foreign Hit – you know, because there is always one of those, whether it’s God Of Carnage… this year in Sydney and Melbourne it’s a play called The Vibrator Play, there is always a brand new play from overseas that people are all doing or all considering because it’s a terrific play.

So that’s sort of how it happens.  And then working out what opportunities I can create for local directors.  I don’t import anybody.  Everybody who works here is from here.  Because I think you can’t turn up and bring your mates when you come to a new city.  And not even your mates, but people you esteem and admire from other cities.

So when we get criticisms about the lack of opportunities for woman directors: there aren’t any living here who’ve earned their stripes except for Catherine Fitzgerald.

People think just because they want to direct that they should be in a 600 seat theatre working with us, and David Mealor has earned it.  You know?  He’s so entrepreneurial, he’s so gifted. He’s done lots of work off his own back.  I had him assisting me on two shows last year specifically for that reason, so that I could have a better sense of him and how he works and how he thinks so I could give him a job on the main stage.  And he’s earned it.

So you know, there is a lot of talk in the cultural community at the moment about woman directors and woman playwrights and the lack of representation in State companies.

Q: Coming off the back of BossLady?

Well, before that.  Last year was all about woman directors and where are they, and this belief, frankly, that there was this conspiracy amongst male directors to keep women out. And I was at a forum in Melbourne, which was a two day forum, and I was one of the few men there, but I thought I’m very interested in all of this and to hear it all and to put our point, and what I didn’t have the guts to say, but I’ll say to you, is that there is no conspiracy, you just have to be talented, and the people who would hire you have to agree that you are.

And that is the blunt fact of getting a job.  You just have to be good.  And the same with playwrights, they think “why aren’t you doing my plays?”  Well, I don’t think it’s very good. There’s always one answer, isn’t there?  Why isn’t someone dating you, why isn’t someone returning your call or your text, whatever.  It’s pretty clear.

Are You There, Artists? It’s Me, Jane.

There is a particular rhetoric that gets thrown around Adelaide theatre circles (and I really do hope it is Adelaide specific) which goes along the lines of Arts Administrators exist only to steal money away from the artists. It is brought up frequently.  For every one time it is specifically brought up as an attacking piece of “conversation” or “debate”, it is mentioned ten times as a side remark or a snide comment.

It often stems out of the funding debate.  And there are certainly questions to be asked about distribution of arts funding.  But when this specifically is brought up this is not what is said, and is not what is heard.  What I hear is a pointed and deliberate attack on administrators as individuals.

Monday will be one year since I started my Arts Administration Traineeship.  That is one year of working hard on a crap wage for the belief that when I do my job well, I create the framework so artists can do their job better.

Are there dickheads who work in arts administration?  Absolutely.  Just as there are dickheads who are artists.  But in my experience, most administrators are there because they love art, and because they want to support artists.  They want to do all the crappy jobs (and there are a lot of crappy jobs, just as there are lots of good jobs) and ultimately get everyone paid.  Including themselves, for their long hours and crappy wage.

No one works in the arts to get rich.  We could be working in the corporate sector, “ripping off” big business, for a lot more money.

I hate feeling that I am working myself so hard at a job I am really good at and that people – the very people we do this all for – can’t see that.  I hate seeing people who have worked in this sector for years are still attacked, and must still defend their choice to be an administrator.  I hate seeing friends who describe themselves as equally proud of being an artist and an administrator, made to feel lesser because someone thinks half of that is selling out.

I am so glad I work in film, where the role of the producer and administrators is respected.  Vitriol like this makes me question if I will ever work within a theatre context.  Because I can’t handle being attacked in this way.

I can’t handle being accused of being lesser than my artist counterparts.  I can’t handle being accused of working this job only so I can steal and squander money from the artist.  I can’t handle being told that I wouldn’t be a good theatre curator, because as someone who isn’t an artist I will never truly understand the work.  I can’t handle being told all this, and then being told, by a woman, that I will never have a leadership position because of my gender.  I absolutely disagree with every one of these statements.

I am twenty-two.  I have been employed as an administrator for a year.  I love my job, and the people I work with, and all of the incredible people who have supported me throughout this year.   Most days I feel like I want to commit myself to this profession for life.  Some days I have to listen to things like this, and question why I think I want to work a job which affords so little respect from the very people we do this all for.

Not everyone is saying this.  I believe there are more artists who understand and respect the role of administrators than who don’t.  But the people who make these comments are often very loud.  They often speak very well.  I’m sure it can be attractive for an artist to hear these comments and think ‘I’m not getting paid enough.  Are these people the reason why?’ So it is very easy for these opinions to dominate a room; even if they’re not the thoughts of everyone, a room that is overall very anti-administrator can be the result.

And that really hurts.

I think it is important to note that this came up on International Women’s Day, at an event about women in the arts.  This is important to note, because I feel like I am more judged, more attacked, more sidelined, for being an arts administrator than I have ever felt for being a woman, or for being a feminist.

Is this really the arts culture I tell myself I love?  Some days I’m not too sure.

If I Were BossLady: Speak Up, and Listen

On International Women’s Day, I was invited to speak atBossLady: A Conversation About Women’s Arts Leadership. My panel was asked to consider the question What strategies promote a gender-aware, progressive culture in the arts industry? I choose to look primarily at this problem in the MPAG theatre companies.  Thoughts on the day will come later, for now here is what I said.

I think the main strategy is to question.  To question loudly and to question publically.  Question the right people. The artistic directors, the general managers, the board members, can’t ignore us forever and will be forced to listen.  And those who don’t?  They will become redundant.  As an answer?  Nothing speaks louder or more damming than “no comment.”

The problem with any strategy we are going to propose today is this is a global problem.   In the Greater Los Angeles Area, current figures are 20% female playwrights [1]; the US national average is 17% [1], as is the UK [2] average.  12.6% of plays on Broadway in the 2008/2009 season were written by women.  In 1908/1909, 12.8% were [3].

So this makes it easy for people to say, “It’s too hard.” So we should demand things should change.  We need to tell Australian companies that we demand better than what everyone else is doing.   We don’t have a shortage of female artists.  We have a lack of support, and a lack of creativity in curated seasons.

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BossLady

Next Tuesday is the 100th International Women’s Day. I will be spending my day surrounded by wonderful women at Vitalstatistix’s BossLady in the Fringe Club.

I will also be speaking. I’m a tad worried about this. Honoured to be asked, absolutely. But a bit worried I will at some stage want to say “and this is why I am a writer…” But if you like things like women and the arts then you should come and hear some amazing women talk about their experience and opinions and ideas for the future.

Anyway! On to the Press Release!

26 years ago Vitalstatistix was founded by three visionary women, who improved opportunities for women in the arts industry in Adelaide. In 2011, on the one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD), Vitalstatistix Theatre Company is championing women making art and art made by women by presenting BossLady: a conversation about women’s arts leadership at the Fringe Club (Rymill Park).

Around Australia, women in theatre have been discussing the barriers to their career advancement, and industry bosses have been dusting off their EO policies. Yes, it’s true – gender and feminism is back on the table. Yet despite this, in 2011, the eight Major Performing Arts Group members are presenting shows primarily created by men. 16% of the works are written by women and 39% are directed by women. In leadership positions (Artistic Director or Associate Director), women are employed in just 17.6% of roles. On the other side of the coin, women, and creative teams led by women, are presenting extraordinary independent work, on the smell of oily rags, around the country.

BossLady will focus on the experiences and voices of independent artists – from their individual career experiences to their ideas around what kind of strategies can promote a more gender-aware and progressive culture in the arts industry.

Hosted by writer, broadcaster, musician and feminist-trouble-maker, Clementine Ford, BossLady will feature three panels of speakers in the course of the day. Artists contributing to the conversation include Daisy Brown (The Misery Children), Gaelle Mellis (Ladykillers), Sarah Dunn (ActNow Theatre), Jane Howard (theatre reviewer & blogger), Brown Council and of course, the Vitals BossLadies, Emma Webb (Creative Producer) and Jennifer Greer Holmes (Managing Producer).

Emma said, “BossLady is a big conversation. It’s more than just career advancement we are talking about – although that is very important. It’s also about the place women artists occupy in our industry’s own culture. This conversation is going to be feisty and affirming for women artists – get along to have a say.”

Jennifer said, “Unfortunately, BossLady is a necessary conversation to have. It’s appalling that in 2011 the issues that need resolving such as flexibility of work hours, caring/ parenting, discrimination and wage parity remain.”

With a TV talk show format, social media commentary on Twitter encouraged (#vitalbosslady is the official hashtag) and entertainment by Brown Council, Jo Zealand and more, BossLady will provoke thought, stimulate conversation and will be honest, loud and, no doubt, vibrant.

WHAT: BossLady, a conversation about women’s arts leadership.

WHEN: Tuesday, 8th March (International Women’s Day) 11am – 5pm (I’ll be on the panel at 3:30pm), followed by performances and drinks until 8pm.

WHERE: Fringe Club Mullawirraburka, Rymill Park, Adelaide

HOW MUCH: FREE (donations gratefully received) RSVP to admin@vitalstatistix.com.au by March 4th.

To celebrate I made some graphs demonstrating the gender break down in the key creative roles of Director and Playwright at the State Theatre Company of South Australia over the twelve years to 2011!  Aren’t you all jealous you don’t have my life?

All information compiled from Annual Reports, most available for download here.  The differences under the artistic directorships of Rosalba Clemente and Adam Cook are striking.  I honestly wasn’t thinking I would get any results like this when I compiled the data; I was expecting the results over the twelve years to more or less conform to the national data I compiled for 2011.  I don’t even know what to say about these results.  Over five years of Clemente’s AD, the numbers for woman playwrights and directors is significantly higher than the 2011 national average, while, at best under Cook, numbers conform to the national average.  Does this mean the whole issue is just a question of leadership in the MPAG?  I think I might be talking about this a bit next Tuesday (mainly because I have no idea what I will be talking about!).

Hope to see you there!

Update: You can read my speech here.

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