RightAct10 Day One: Women and Theatre

by Jane

RightAct10 kicked off last night at Format, and continues tonight at 7pm.  Last night opened with a moved reading of Seven Jewish Children, followed by a panel on women in theatre.

I found it a hard piece to watch, primarily because I don’t know a lot of the details about the Israel/Palestine debate, and so I was simultaneously trying to watch and take in the piece while sorting through my mind, trying to anchor the sections of the script to the moments of history they are referring to.

I’m not going to get into a discussion on the themes of the play on my blog, because, love it as I do, writing on the internet is not a safe place to explore my very confused and not fully formed issues on the conflict (to read me being political, scroll down and read about my feminist opinions).  I appreciate Churchill’s script for giving me something to think about, but personally I got more out of My Name Is Rachel Corrie at the Adelaide Fringe this year.  I hope I will be able to sort though my thoughts and write some more about it in the coming days.

The Woman and Theatre debate, in my eyes, really came to the forefront of debate amongst the Australian Theatre Community at the announcement of Company B’s 2010 season, where there was just one woman in a creative leadership (writer/director) role.   Since then there have been talks in Melbourne and Sydney, online and on the radio, and last night RightAct10 brought the debate to Adelaide.

Anne Thompson from The Eleventh Hour and Flinders Drama Centre, Catherine Fitzgerald, recently announced as the STCSA’s new Associate Director for 2011, and Jennifer Greer Holmes, executive producer from Vitalstatistix, made up the panel, and some great issues and opinions were raised and discussed (both among the panel and off the floor), but unfortunately in my eyes, at moments, the debate steered away from the roles and positions of women in theatre, and onto what type of feminism we should subscribe to.

I’ve always been a feminist.  I’ve called myself a feminist since I was eleven or twelve and I learnt there was a word for it.   It has always been important to me.  I read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was 17 and that book influenced the way I see my world so much, and it was though reading that book my feminism became something that defined me.

The entire definition of feminism in my computer’s dictionary is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”  That is it.  And if you’re my friend, I expect you to agree with this.

My personal definition of feminism, and how it defines me and how it defines the way I look at this world extends beyond this, into gay rights, being pro-choice, in to opinions on advertising and fashion and objectification, on issues of unfair treatment in terms of race or disability.  In to actively thinking about and being part of the discussion of where women’s roles are in this world.

The idea that we as woman, or even as feminists, are homogeneous is ludicrous.  Going back to the definition of feminism, I think you can assume that everyone who was at the Woman and Theatre panel would agree that they agree in the advocacy of women’s positions in theatre, particularly in the “key creative” roles of the writer director.  We can’t assume that everyone has the same ideals beyond that: everyone’s definition of feminism is different.  We’re 50% of the population – of course we’re all different!

There are defined groups, and I found my group this week, defined by lack of definition, when Anna North of Jezebel wrote “It’s time for no wave feminism.”

So it was disappointing when the debate and discussion, particularly between Fitzgerald and Greer Holmes turned to what type of feminists we should be, and more specifically, what type of theatre company Vitalstatistix should be.

The focus in Adelaide is invariability shifted from that in Melbourne and Sydney simply due to the size and the nature of the theatre scene here and now.  Sydney has the Sydney Theatre Company and Belvoir Street, while Melbourne has the Melbourne Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre.  Melbourne in particular also has an incredibly strong independent theatre scene at the moment, and each have many second tier companies.  Adelaide doesn’t have this size and scope of companies these larger cities have, so the debate is shifted.

I think in some ways this shift is for the better, it means the focus can’t just be focused on some companies or groups of companies in isolation.  Adelaide is so small, you need to take it all in at once.

Talking about tiers, Thompson said while it is fine for people to want to move up through the tiers, sometimes there are people who want to work in the independent scene.  And she is right, we can’t expect everyone wants to be Artistic Director of one of our MPAG.   For the sake of this debate and all of the stakeholders we shouldn’t just be looking at one group of people.   This is everyone’s issue.

Towards the end of last year I did a quick summary of women in writer/director positions in Adelaide 2010, which can be found here.  Of the 37 shows I looked at there were just 4.5 female writers, and 10.5 female directors.

This morning, I did a quick summary looking at what productions I have seen so far this year:

This shows 13 female directors versus 30 male (30%), and 8.5 female writers versus 32.5 male (21%).

To me, this isn’t a pretty picture.

I think the first place to start is to talk about it, which is what we were doing last night, which is what I and many other bloggers are doing on-line, and what I hope all of our theatre companies are doing behind their doors.

I don’t know what I can do about it more so then that.  I hope I can get some people thinking about it by talking to them.  I hope I can see more theatre by women and support that theatre by putting my bum on a seat.  I hope when I find myself working in or involved with a new company, (theatre or otherwise) I can either look around and be happy with what I see or find the power, support, and convictions to change what I don’t see.

I love theatre, and so of course an inequality in that realm is something I am going to be deeply invested in.  I didn’t take notes during the panel, I chose to just be present and engaged and listen.  I wish I could give those of you who didn’t come a better picture of the debate and discussion and energy and ideas that were thrown around that room.  It was filmed, and I would love to see that be posted on line.

Seasons are about to be launched.  I hope next year gives us a prettier picture.  Thanks to ShoGo I will be live blogging/tweeting the State Theatre Company launch (yes, the girl against tweetseats.  It is a point of contention for me).    I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what will be landing on our stages, and keep on fighting to make it better.